“People have this preconceived notion of me, and often it upsets them when I try to set the record straight,” said 30-year-old Sarah McLachlan in a 1998 Rolling Stone interview. “But at this point I could give a shit if the Internet is all atwitter. You wouldn’t believe the video treatments we get. It’s all me on some white stallion with long, flowing robes in a forest. Jesus Christ, enough already!”
Twenty-one years later, the Grammy- and Juno-winning artist returned to the woods — namely, the Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York — to perform a dazzling retrospective, billed as “An Intimate Evening with Sarah McLachlan.” With support from the New York Pops, the largest independent pop music orchestra in the United States, McLachlan emerged at sundown to share 20 of her greatest hits and deep cuts, and of course, a little gossip.
“I feel like this is a safe space,” professed McLachlan. Dressed in a (long, flowing) champagne gown, McLachlan set a familiar tone early on with the smoldering rocker, “Possession”; then tempered the flame with her 1995 piano ballad, “I Will Remember You.” By the time she reached her 1997 hit, “Adia,” she matched her velveteen croon with the same candor she uses to color her interviews.
“So, I fell in love with my best friend’s ex,” she said of writing the song. “Some lines you don’t cross… but it wasn’t a fling! We got married and had kids. She got married and had kids.”
“Then she got divorced, then I got divorced,” added McLachlan, referring to ex-husband and former drummer, Ashwin Sood. “But [she and I] are still tight. Hey, isn’t it National Girlfriends Day?”
Guided by the surgical precision of conductor Steven Reineke, the New York Pops carefully trailed McLachlan as she ambled through cuts from her best-selling record, 1997’s Surfacing. Wielding an acoustic guitar, she opened “Building a Mystery” by recounting her old apartment on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. And during the slow-burning, piano version of “Sweet Surrender” — which she said was inspired by the 1995 movie starring Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas, plus “one hideous breakup” — her silken verses were underscored by a mighty choir of cicadas in the trees. (Perhaps there was some substance behind her enchanted, Nineties sorceress cosplay.)
Rarely one to discuss politics, McLachlan carefully alluded to current affairs through her personal lens, as a mother to two daughters — who she described as her “greatest joys, greatest loves,” and winkingly, her “greatest concerns.” Before performing 2003’s “World On Fire,” written in the wake of the September 11th attacks, marveled McLachlan: “What a crazy world our kids are growing up in! I get a little bit sad when I turn on the news, there’s so much negative and so much divisive stuff. There is so much beauty and goodness in this world, and the news never tends to pick up on it.”
As if to quell the residual anxiety of “World On Fire,” McLachlan kicked off her treat of an acoustic song (“my only singalong,” she told the audience), 1993’s “Ice Cream.” Then, upon leaving the stage, McLachlan put on very little pretense — mere seconds’ worth — before she resurfaced to play a three-song encore. She flexed her operatic falsetto with the electro-pop number, “Fear”; drew the crowd in closer in “Love Come”; then brought it all back home with her signature tearjerker, “Angel.” McLachlan’s touring bassist, vocalist and not-so-secret weapon Melissa McClellan, took over the second verse with gusto, stepping up the shattering lullaby to a power ballad that rivaled both a crying audience and the ever-persistent cicadas.
Yet the concert left many of her diehard fans wondering aloud: what’s next for the folk-pop superstar? In 2016 she recorded a Christmas album, Wonderland; there’s also her work as founder of Sarah McLachlan Music School, an academy for underserved and at-risk youth in Canada. But she has recently mused the possible resurgence of her iconic women’s music festival, Lilith Fair.
The singer also outlined her present-day dream lineup, comprised of contemporary pop divas. “Lizzo,” said McLachlan, “That’s all I’ve been listening to right now; I love her so much. Lorde would be great. Alessia Cara. Billie Eilish for sure. And Meghan Trainor. There’s a shit-ton of great artists!” As both the popularity and diversity of female artists grows exponentially across the globe, 2020 begs a revival of McLachlan’s legacy fest.
Sarah McLachlan and the New York Pops Setlist
I Will Remember You
In Your Shoes
Song For My Father
Rivers of Love
Building A Mystery
U Want Me 2
Loving You Is Easy
World On Fire