- Shannon Webb-Campbell
Music has a transformative quality. It’s like time travel. Last night at Sarah McLachlan’s two-act concert at Scotiabank Centre (formerly known as the Metro Centre), I returned to my teenage years, nostalgia-soaked. A time when I quaked with aliveness and felt raw yearning for experience, I wanted the moon, stars and whole night sky to fit in my mouth. It was an era of awkward exploration, relentless self-loathing and wild curiosity. With her angst-ridden confessional lyrics, clothed in that angelic voice, Sarah McLachlan’s discography played soundtrack (Fumbling Towards Ecstacy, Surfacing and later Afterglow, in particular).
I felt a kinship with McLachlan, as if she was a wise older sister, or an aunt who, instead of nagging, sung her life lessons through my stereo. She soothed as well as provoked. My first sweet surrender? A lanky boy, with a crooked nose, who played acoustic guitar, smoked cigarettes, and wore plaids shirts before it was lumberjack chic.
Our indie love story included McLachlan songs—“Drawn To The Rhythm,” “Hold On, and “Building A Mystery,” that made their way onto mix tapes, late night acoustic serenades over bottles of Blue Star, and that one night a crew of us ended up at The Cotton Club in St. John’s, a strip bar at the end of George Street, where I suspect to this day, women have to be escorted by a male companion. Against my beau’s wishes, I pleaded with him to accompany my friends and I, so he obliged, somewhat reluctantly.
Some things you can’t un-see, and this night was one of them. As far as strip bars go, The Cotton Club is fairly classy, so classy in fact, one of the dancers chose McLachlan’s “Angel.” to undress to, and wrap her naked body around a pole, while a burning hula-hoop blazed on stage.
Over a decade later, as McLachlan sang “Angel,” to an audience of over 5,000, who later stood in ovation, all I could think of was that night at The Cotton Club, with the statuesque stripper and her flowing brown hair. How she artfully wrapped her nude body around a cold metal pole, and later finished her performance to “Angel,” by making out with one of my girlfriends (us being the only female patrons, naturally), and the look of complete shock across my then-boyfriend’s face.
“In the arms of the angel, may you find some comfort here.”
I’m not gonna lie, I wept (like ugly cried) through majority of her set. McLachlan is a skilled musician, with a killer voice, and has perfected her game since she was a 19-year-old kicking around Halifax (now 46, long since calling Vancouver home). With her international reputation, and over two decades in the spotlight, McLachlan is a Canadian legend in a league of her own. Songs like, “Adia, “Building A Mystery,” and “World On Fire,” lit up the space.
“I totally believe in the power of one being the power of millions, one action can have a powerful effect, whether it’s giving a hug to someone who’s having a bad day or giving to charity,” she said. “It’s our only hope for humanity, to be kind to others and go easy on ourselves, and share that hope with others.”
McLachlan created a living room atmosphere to her beautifully lit live show. The personal touches included several lucky audience members, who were invited after winning social media prizes, on stage for a meet and greet on the couch, photo op, and later, she took questions gathered in a hat at the merchandise table from the crowd.
One of the questions was a request to perform a Christmas tune. Reluctant at first, she played a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” with stunning ease. Another audience question: what do you miss most about Halifax?
“I miss my friends who are still here, they’re my heart and my soul,” said McLachlan, who regretted that she never got to go surfing while she lived here. “There was no surf culture when I lived here, so I have to come back in the summer and try it out.
“I’ve heard of people surfing off of Point Pleasant Park, I’m not sure if I want to go in the water there, though.”
Throughout the course of the night she talked about songwriting, and how it’s storytelling, essentially—“the telling of our emotional world,” and mentioned “the depths of love and terror” one can only experience simultaneously when you become a parent, and later in the set, about her father who died four years ago of cancer, and without him, how she missed her “soft place to fall.”
Her song, “Song For My Father,” from her latest album, Shine On, an upbeat collection of inspiring, gracious and piano-pop tunes, worthy of its glowing title. True to the seven albums of her discography, majority based on the theme of melancholy heartbreak songs, McLachlan talked about complicated relationships, and just when she had given up on finding another one, a new love walked into her life—literally through her front door.
McLachlan was in glowing spirits, gracious and appreciative of the crowd for choosing to come see her over sitting at home with Taylor Swift, and for supporting live music in general.