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Sarah McLachlan

by Tim Mack on July 23, 2014

SPAC, JULY 16

Sarah McLachlan is a brave woman.

P!nk has her trapeze, Wayne Coyne has his hamster ball, but if you really want to live on the edge, bring your couch. McLachlan hauled some sofas and a loveseat all the way from British Columbia for a welcoming show at SPAC last week, and then invited some audience members to sit on them. And handed them the mic.

But the couch wasn’t the only surprise accessory on this trip. She also brought a pale yellow Telecaster, which is what she wore when she followed her four-piece band on stage to greet a gentle crowd on a warm Wednesday night. With a smile and a few words of apology for a set list skewed heavily toward her new material, McLachlan launched into the driving “Flesh and Blood” from the new Bob Rock-produced album Shine On.

Comfy: Sarah McLachlan at SPAC. Photo by Tim Mack.

Sure, it wasn’t exactly Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival. Still, it was eyebrow-raising if you’re used to seeing the Canadian songstress behind a piano or holding an acoustic guitar, which ultimately is how she spent most of an evening that mixed her impressive run of hits along with more than half a dozen new works. Songs like the new single “In Your Shoes” stood nicely alongside her better known material, particularly with some of the glossy production stripped away. The same was true on many of the hits like “Adia,” “Sweet Surrender,” and “Possession.” “Building a Mystery” in particular showcased a more muscular vocal than the one on record. A 46-year old who was offered her first record deal right out of high school, McLachlan made it clear she hasn’t lost anything off her fastball.

And because she’s been around a while, she’s apparently looking for new challenges. So in both her first and second sets she picked fan-submitted questions out of a hat and answered them on the fly, both as a way to connect with fans and to make each show seem more like a friendly conversation in her living room. A living room with bohemian furniture, great lighting and three massive video screens. It’s a Sarah McLachlan crowd,so this was hardly the Spanish Inquisition (actual question: “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”), but thanks to the entertaining Q&A, we now know she’s good at making pies, she’s a big Peter Gabriel fan,and in case you’re wondering if she’s ever hallucinated, the answer is “Yes!” (No further details provided.)

Then she kicked it up a notch and invited some fans to sit on those onstage couches for a few songs in each set. She welcomed each one personally, kneeling on her ottoman to ask if they had any questions, and at one point even handed over the microphone. This could have gone wrong in many, many ways, but with her wonderful Canadian accent, and star-struck fans delighted to have the best seats in the house, it was like an impromptu CBC version of The View. McLachlan chatted amiably and posed for selfies, yet remarkably never tested the patience of the rest of the audience (an impressive feat in its own right).

By the time she closed out the encore with a sing-along of “Ice Cream” and a ukulele-led finger-snap-along for “The Sound That Love Makes,” the crowd was on its feet. This friendly little living-room party was over, but you could tell everyone was hoping to get invited back.