Entertainment

McLachlan keeps it calm and cozy for Fallsview show

John Law

By John Law, Niagara Falls Review

Canadian singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan plays the first of two shows Thursday November 9, 2017 at the Avalon Ballroom Theatre at Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls.  Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

Canadian singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan plays the first of two shows Thursday November 9, 2017 at the Avalon Ballroom Theatre at Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls. Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

Sarah McLachlan and her Niagara fans had some catching up to do Thursday.

Outside of some on the U.S. side, she hasn't played the region in years, and her Niagara Fallsview Casino show was like opening the door to an old friend: Some laughs, a few tears, and a reminder why you liked her so much to begin with.

McLachlan last played Niagara at Brock University in 1993, just as Fumbling Towards Ecstacy was released. She went on to become a Canadian legend by founding the Lilith Fair festival, selling 30 million records along the way.

But it wasn't the superstar McLachlan who showed up Thursday for the first of two Fallsview shows (the second is Friday, 9 p.m.). With a simple three-piece band accompanying her on piano, her already intimate songs were brought a notch above a whisper. Even some of her edgier songs like Possession and Sweet Surrender were scaled back, emphasizing the dark lyrics. After one particularly morose stretch, even she was feeling it: “Geez, that's a lot of depressing songs,” she crackled.

Is it any wonder someone yelled out Ice Cream midway through the set? Everyone needed a break.

Alas, McLachlan's bouncy crowd-pleaser would have to wait for the encore. But it's not like Thursday's show was a total buzzkill. If anything, McLachlan found the humour in her sad songs, working out some apparent jitters during her first full concert in awhile and first with a new drummer.

As she started Frozen, she actually started singing a song she had already played. For Sweet Surrender, she stumbled on the opening line. “That's not scotch, by the way,” she laughed, pointing to her tea cup.

The mishaps just added to the charm. Whereas McLachlan's early concerts felt chilly and distant, she's now a chatterbox between songs, talking about her kids, about her inspirations, and – most amusingly – about her bad relationships.

Loving You Is Easy, she says, was written during the early stages of a new romance. The guy ended up being “an a—hole...but it's all right, I got a song out of it.”

The show started with McLachlan in her familiar position behind the piano for her fan-boy horror story Possession, followed by her classic weepie I Will Remember You. It wasn't until the third song, the punchy In Your Shoes from 2014's Shine On, that things loosened up.

Building a Mystery brought her centre stage with a guitar (“There will be a little bit of to'ing and fro'ing this evening,” she said), before taking her seat again for a warm Adia and timely World on Fire (“It's more than I can handle”). It set the plate for a radiant version of Elsewhere, still one of her most stunning songs.

The show's intimate vibe (and really, no one does intimate better than McLachlan) got even more calm with the emotional Song For My Father and her classic ballad Angel, a showcase for McLachlan's mezzo-soprano vocals in concert. It might be one of the most beautiful Canadian songs ever written, and it will be a highlight of her concerts as long as she performs.

If there's a gripe, it's that McLachlan now completely ignores her first two albums live, removing great early songs like Vox and Into the Fire from her set list. And while her band – which includes Whitehorse's Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland – are capable players, the songs sound a bit undercooked with less musicians on stage. This was close to being Sarah McLachlan Unplugged.

Which her longtime fans may overlook for a chance to see her in a small venue again. “I haven't done this in awhile,” she said. “But it feels good.”

Better than ice cream, even.

jlaw@postmedia.com

Set list:

  • Possession
  • I Will Remember You
  • In Your Shoes
  • Building a Mystery
  • Adia
  • Beautiful Girl
  • World on Fire
  • Elsewhere
  • River (Joni Mitchell cover)
  • Rivers of Love
  • Fallen
  • Loving You is Easy
  • Monsters
  • Song For My Father
  • Angel

Encore:

  • Sweet Surrender
  • Ice Cream
  • Sound That Love Makes