If there was any need for evidence that things only get better with age, evidence to support that assumption was clearly exposed Tuesday night at Sarah McLachlan’s concert in San Diego.
The Grammy-winning singer – in town at the Civic Theater for an engagement billed as “An Evening with Sarah McLachlan” – delivered a flawless performance that served as a melancholy retrospective of a career spanning more than three decades , dating back to 1987, when she released her debut album, “Touch”.
Before an almost packed crowd, McLachlan – whose last studio album, “Wonderland” was released in 2016 – performed a 21-song set that mixed his greatest hits with deep cuts alongside a cover of Peter Gabriel ( “Mercy Street”) and a new song (“Wilderness”) from a new album that is not yet finished.
“I’m having such a good time,” McLachlan said midway through his 90-minute non-intermission concert. “I love it. I love the energy. I love everything.”
The Civic Theater, which at full capacity can accommodate 2,967 seats, has proven to be a less than adequate venue in the past, especially when it comes to music. The touring musical comedy productions suffered from the muffled sound, making some songs and dialogue unintelligible. On Tuesday, the acoustics of the hall kicked in, with the Canadian singer-songwriter’s voice as crisp and clear as a Nova Scotian summer.
When she started singing the opening notes of “In Your Shoes”, from her 2014 album “Shine On”, it was obvious that McLachlan, now 52, still possesses the pristine voice that made her sound only the sienna – velvety and vulnerable that can soar. and flow at its full disposal.
Twenty-three years after releasing her best-selling album, “Surfacing”, she demonstrated the same musical prowess that catapulted her to the Grammy Awards in 1998, for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for “Building a Mystery” ) and for Best Pop Instrumental Performance (for “Last Dance”).
For her second song, McLachlan, accompanied by the very talented singer and cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, dived into her 1993 album, “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy”, and delivered a dazzling rendition of “Possession”, the dark and brooding ballad. she says, “a lot of people tell me they walked down the aisle.”
“If only they knew he was a stalker!” she said, eliciting a laugh.
Dressed in tight black leather pants and a salmon-colored top, McLachlan looked and sounded at home on stage, outfitted only with a grand piano and the occasional guitar (acoustic and electric ) and a ukulele (used with a non-McLachlan bounce in the closing song, “The Sound That Love Makes”, from his 2014 album “Shine On”).
By the third song – the ballad “I Will Remember You” from the 1995 movie “The Brothers McMullen” – we were definitely in very familiar McLachlan territory, a folk, country, rock and American musical landscape. At the piano, eyes closed, she spoke every word and sang every note with so much emotion and honesty, it was a real voyeurism to be in the same room, not to mention enjoying every minute of it.
It was this kind of powerful vulnerability that made “An Evening with Sarah McLachlan” special. The singer proudly wears her badge of honor: “Yes, I like dark stuff.” Most of his biggest hits were created using a formula straight out of McLachlan’s playbook: girl meets boy, boy turns out to be a jerk, girl breaks up boy, girl writes story. song about the breakup.
It’s a sure-fire formula that paid dividends on Tuesday’s triumphant return to San Diego, from the slow-burning “Sweet Surrender” (from the 1997 “Surfacing” album) to the “Angel” (Tuesday night, it was part of a three song encore).
She paid homage to her father, who died several years ago, with “Song for My Father”, a tender ballad, also from “Surfacing”, whose words, she says, still ring true: How I wish I could lean on you now / In the midst of chaos and noise.
She also paid tribute to Peter Gabriel, whom she said in a recent Union-Tribune interview “is my singular hero!” I studied it. I’ve studied everything about him, his music and his lyrics, and why it makes me feel that way. I want others to feel what he makes me feel with his music.
Her cover of “Mercy Street”, Gabriel’s song from his 1986 album “So”, was terribly haunting, musically and lyrically. She followed the goosebumps interpretation with a loving tribute to her daughters, a touching “Beautiful Girl”.
Then she changed the pace with the playful and alluring “Loving You Is Easy”, her 2010 song from the album of the same name. The rest of the night was a vintage McLachlan: rebellious and honest, unafraid to juxtapose “Monsters” alongside easygoing “Ice Cream” – “my one singalong,” she joked.
McLachlan might not top the charts these days, but it’s not going anywhere. Then, she promises, it’s an “it’s almost finished” album.
If the Sarah McLachlan we’ve heard and seen is any indication – one that displays a refreshing mix of candor and courage – this album will be a keeper once it’s finally released.
Until then, we’ll still have Tuesday night at the Civic.