Review: The Sarah McLachlan and Friends show in Los Angeles

After going to four Lilith Fairs, including last year’s revival, and several Sarah McLachlan solo shows, I thought I’d seen everything in the singer-songwriter’s stage arsenal. That was until I saw the Sarah McLachlan and Friends tour Wednesday night at the 5-year-old Nokia Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles where she shared the stage with Butterfly Boucher and Melissa McClelland.

photos by Erik Jordan

For nearly three hours, the trio of friends took turns performing songs from their respective catalogs with McLachlan equally comfortable center stage and singing background harmonies behind Boucher and McClelland. Touring together since November, it’s clear that the trio is comfortable with one another and aware of how well they compliment one another.

The tour is as it is billed: as an intimate evening among friends where fans have the opportunity via notes collected at the merchandise stand to ask questions of the Canadian singer and Lilith creator. Questions ranged from the light-hearted — Sarah obliged a lucky fan who asked for a hug — to more serious fare like McLachlan sharing that “Hold On” (off 1994’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy) was inspired by a documentary about a woman caring for her husband dying of AIDS.

Perhaps the most intimate part of the set was when McLachlan confessed that she sometimes disconnects with her older material, while some songs have new meaning after her recent divorce from husband and former drummer Ashwin Sood, including “The Path of Thorns (Terms)” off 1991’s Solace, which she noted felt “relevant again.”

As for her performance, McLachlan graced the stage with a calm and relaxed confidence that made her famously depressing material — which she joked that she has the most fun performing — almost reflective instead of somber on tracks like “I Will Remember You” (from 1996’s “Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff”) and “Hold On,” for which she belted out as is the song was as fresh now as it was when it debuted 17 years ago.

Pop anthem “Sweet Surrender” (from 1998’s Surfacing) saw McLachlan ditch her acoustic guitar and roam the stage, embracing the freedom she confessed to discovering after learning to let go of things that she can’t control. During “Don’t Give Up on Us” — from last year’s Laws of Illusion, which she referred to as “the divorce record” — she noted that the song’s subject matter of loss, sadness and denial has now been replaced with hope and possibility, and that she’s learned that she’s OK knowing she can’t fix everything, including a marriage. Her courageous and relaxed vocals exemplified it.

The real treat, however, was the song selection — which she noted during one of the evening’s two Q&A sessions was partially selected by fans. For those who didn’t get enough of McLachlan’s catalog hits during her brief 50-minute sets at Lilith Fair, this tour satisfies that — and more. “Good Enough,” “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy,” “Adia,” “Angel,” “Fallen” and “World on Fire” all made it on to the set list. And what was for dessert? A sing-along to “Ice Cream,” of course.

Sarah McLachlan and Friends continues through the end of March with stops in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Montana and Indianapolis before heading to Canada next month.