TORONTO - Talk about orchestral manoeuvres in the dark.
Sarah McLachlan, who went back to theatre shows last year with guests in tow after her female music festival Lilith Fair failed to make a solid comeback in 2010, is once again playing amphitheatres this summer, this time touring with orchestras.
In fact, the 44-year-old Vancouver-based singer-songwriter and mother of two - whose last studio album was 2010’s Laws Of Illusion - kicked off her North American symphonic tour on Friday night at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and members of Whitehorse - guitarist Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland (real life husband-and-wife), the latter who were also part of her Massey Hall show in 2011.
And after a ho-hum first half, the soaring-voiced McLachan - who alternated between playing piano and acoustic guitar or singing without an instrument - came out swinging in the second half with much more dramatic and dynamic interaction with the TSO who were hardly noticeable in the first 45-minute set.
McLachlan, dressed in a flowing white sleeveless top and silver pants, opened the evening with Building a Mystery.
And while hit after hit were there they didn’t seem fully realized until the opening set’s final two songs World On Fire and Rivers Of Love when the under-utilitzed orchestra, conducted by Sean O’ Loughlin, seemed to suddenly spring to life.
“I was a little nervous,” admitted McLachan in the first half. “I haven’t done some of these songs for a little while.”
The staging, meanwhile, was formal with tall lighting panels which lent itself to McLachlan’s melancholy and romantic pop sound.
But what really worked were the backup harmonies and playing provided by the sweet-sounding McClelland, often on acoustic guitar, and the electric-guitar toting Doucet.
After a 20 minute intermission, it was like a different show.
McLachlan opened the second set with just her four-piece band playing Good Enough and then generously handed over the spotlight to both McClelland and Doucet so they could take solo lead vocal turns on their own Brake and Broken One, respectively.
From that point the concert slowly ramped up to reach its full potential starting with Adia and Forgiveness, due in no small part to the interaction between McLachlan and the orchestra, and then turned a major corner with a slowed down, suitably “beautiful and dark” version of Sweet Surrender, and the vocally stunning duo of Fear and Possession, producing wave after wave of standing ovations. Before her encore trio of Bring On The Wonder, the ethereal Angel and finally Ice Cream, McLachlan even signed autographs at the front of the stage.
“I didn’t even get to pee,” she joked.
Maybe not, but she finally got the show to where it should have been all along.
Building A Mystery
U Want Me 2
I Will Remember You
Loving You Is Easy
World on Fire
Rivers Of Love
Brake (Melissa McClelland)
Broken One (Luke Doucet)
Illusions of Bliss
Bring On The Wonder