Concert: Sarah McLachlan Symphonic Tour in Mashantucket, CT
Many fans of Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan keep coming back to see her perform in concert time and time again because they are touched by the combination of sensitivity and power in her musical creations.
But those devoted followers who attended McLachlan's stop at Connecticut's MGM Grand at Foxwoods on Saturday (7/7) certainly had to be driven to the peak of ecstasy as the more delicate aspects of her material were lifted on clouds of swirling strings, while her more powerful passages exploded with the thunder of pounding kettle drums and the clarion call of a massive brass section.
Instead of just bringing her regular band to back her on this summer's tour, McLachlan hand-picked a foursome from among her capable backing ensemble to join her. Then, with the assistance of conductor Sean O'Loughlin, she assembled a massive orchestra to deliver an incomparable showcase of her most popular songs.
This program had to be most affecting for those who have never witnessed the intensity of a full orchestra concert before. Just one verse into her opener "Building A Mystery," the orchestra kicked in and one could feel the energy level of both the performers and the audience soar.
McLachlan appeared and sounded completely confident throughout, and her vocal delivery exhibited a quality seldom heard in previous performances, whether it was with her own band or being backed by various musicians and peers during her Lilith Fair outings.
Up to now, the waifish soprano tended to be more tentative and breathy in her delivery. And while she was singing the very same songs, there was obviously something about having dozens of musicians at her back that brought forth a new level of maturity, even sophistication to her vocals.
Or maybe it was just having survived some of the more challenging personal experiences she has weathered in recent years, including her divorce and the rigors of being a single mom to a pair of precocious young daughters.
McLachlan did not shy away from those subjects this evening, however, introducing the second number of the set, "U Want Me 2," as a song she penned about the demise of her marriage. Similar themes followed, with each successive song providing an opportunity for McLachlan to convey the pain or exhilaration she experienced as those songs first took shape.
She did not apologize for the many sad selections during her 22-song set. Instead, she joked about them, choosing to warn the audience ahead of the few upbeat numbers she included like "Loving You Is Easy," with its Beatlesque orchestration and pumping piano.
"I Will Remember You," gave guitarist Luke Doucet a few moments to shine with a trademark playing style combining complex riffs and the understated manipulation of atmospheric effects.
"Hold On" was one of just a few songs during the show that brought all the elements together in perfect balance, with McLachlan, her bandmates, and the orchestra all pouring it on at full capacity, but never teetering over the edge into overkill.
This same controlled intensity was evident during "World On Fire," as well as near the end of the second set, as the double-punch of "Fear" and "Possession" produced several climactic moments that brought most of the packed MGM Grand audience to its feet howling in approval.
But that is not to say the quieter moments of the show were lacking in any way. "Good Enough," which opened the second set, featured only McLachlan and the core band lending sweet, perfect harmonies to the plaintive tune.
She also did something quite rare by sharing the spotlight with Doucet and his wife, backup singer and multi-instrumentalist Melissa McClelland. Each of them, in turn, performed selections from their own band's catalog -- with McClelland taking the lead on "Brake," and Doucet bringing the sassy attitude on "Broken One."
A lengthy new introduction tagged on to "Sweet Surrender" helped spotlight the talent of the orchestra's massive string section, while it was the horns that brought a new dimension to the formerly sparse "Aidia."
Perhaps the only clunker of the evening -- if it can be described as such -- was McLachlan's choice of "Bring On The Wonder," as her encore opener. While performed capably, it seemed to fall flat with the otherwise enthusiastic crowd.
But the remainder of the set, "Angel," and "Ice Cream" were redeeming, leaving the audience either satisfied or hungering for more. With the apparent success of this symphonic tour under her belt, hopefully McLachlan will opt to return to this format in the future as it provided a very desirable balance of familiarity and novelty that is sorely lacking across today's concert landscape.