Opening with her hit "Possession", Sarah McLachlan is as close to an angel incarnate as any of us are likely to encounter. Her extremely up-close and personal acoustic set possessed us all, and afterwards we felt as though we knew her.
"Oh! Thank you," she responded over and over again to the audience applause and comments, sounding genuinely surprised by adoring remarks hollered out from the crowd. Playing all of the songs from The Freedom Sessions and most of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Sarah preceded the song "Plenty" by laughing, "Sometimes I think the 90's sensitive-male-thing is just an excuse to get laid. The poetry-loving, flower-sniffing, baby-kissing, animal-loving sensitive-kind-of-guy!" And then, more sober, "I've learned about deception."
Sarah is the first to admit her lyrics are dark and often times depressing. She remarks, almost lightheartedly after performing "Path of Thorns", "Well that was one jilted love song- here's another! I keep repeating them. I forget to learn anything! I believe it's the point of my existence - to put myself through trauma so I can write songs."
"My one and only happy love song", is how Sarah introduced "Ice Cream". "The more depressing songs are, the more joy I get in singing them - not that I didn't enjoy that last one." Sarah definitely enjoyed the song "Mary", as did we all. The high point of her set, she broke into an unexpected funky jam with keyboard, drums, clapping and audience participation, almost out-of-character with the mellow feel of the acoustic evening. Sarah explained the beginnings of some of her songs, such as "Elsewhere," which came from being sick with the flu and high on too many Contac C's in a tour bus. Her encore, "Good Enough" is, she says, "about sisterhood", and about patterns of bad treatment from guys and a girlfriend telling her friend "You deserve so much more than this."
"I've got one more song to play for you," she announced, winding down the evening. "Sarah, you have to play 'Hold On', " yelled a fan from the crowd. "Oh, Okay," she replied cheerfully, fulfilling his request and bringing to close a set filled with standing ovations and an endless stream of long-stem red roses carried to the stage. Sarah McLachlan spoke and sang of her trip to Thailand working with World Vision, one of the highlights of the multimedia half of The Freedom Sessions. Six Macintosh Power PC stations were set up on the grounds for those to explore The Freedom Sessions video clips, interviews, and information on CD-ROM.
Sharing the evening with Sarah McLachlan were the Chieftains, who amazed us with their blend of Irish folk music and rock and roll. Extremely talented guests such as punk violinist Ashley McIsaac graced the stage playing a hardcore version of the BeeGees hit "Stayin' Alive", dressed in Doc Martins, baggy pants, shaved head, and goatee. Chieftains' leader, Paddy Moloney, joined Sarah in a few numbers on flute and recorder. Sarah came back onstage to perform with the band for a few numbers, including, "Did You Ever Go A Courtin' Uncle Joe," which stretched into a Grateful Dead-style jam, featuring solos from all the evening's performers.
An impending thunderstorm held out until well after the Riverport show was complete, giving everyone time to get safely into their vehicles and feeling euphoric all the way home. Even Mother Nature wouldn't have interrupted such musical perfection, for which Sarah, The Chieftains, and we say "Thank you".
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