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28 mai 2005

McLachlan revives songs

Sarah McLachlan

Given her exceptional voice and sympathetic band, Sarah McLachlan might be tempted to play live versions of her songs that sound just like they do on her CDs. Rarely did she succumb to such desires at her Mellon Arena concert Wednesday night.

Fear not: McLachlan and her seven-piece group didn't pull a Bob Dylan and render certain tunes impenetrable. Rather, they subtly toyed with melodies and arrangements in service of the songs. For instance, McLachlan bent the already moving melody of "Adia" into inspiring new shapes and slowed down her delivery to emphasize the tough, direct lyrics of the final verse.

"Witness," another song from her commercial breakthrough album "Surfacing," also took on new life. Perhaps a bit restrained in its recorded version, the piece became a lusty, snaking powerhouse live. The performance perfectly blended matters of the flesh and the spirit as McLachlan drew out the lyrical question, "Will we burn in heaven like we do down here?" A churchy piano coda to the song only heightened the musical and lyrical tension.

Not surprisingly, the tracks from McLachlan's last studio album, the 2003 release "Afterglow," felt far less loose and lived-in. "Stupid" swirled angrily, "Fallen" swelled during its punchy choruses and "World on Fire" swayed with majesty, but all were largely faithful reproductions. Only "Push," a love song for her husband, drummer Ashwin Sood, stood as tall as her best earlier work.

Perhaps that was most evident when, for an encore, McLachlan chose three songs from 1993's "Fumbling Toward Ecstasy." The title song, "Hold On," and "Ice Cream" finally had a welcoming, but somewhat staid, crowd standing and singing along. Combined with an earnest, dramatic take on Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill," the quartet of songs marked the show's high point.

Some sparks flew early, though, when The Perishers opened with a 45-minute set of textured rock tunes in the vein of Coldplay and Keane. The six lads acquitted themselves nicely, particularly when McLachlan joined singer Ola Kluft for a duet on "Pills."

-- John Young, freelance writer--

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