Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre
May 1, 2011
On Sunday night, during Sarah McLachlan's concert in Abbotsford, I was informed via text message that Al Qaida mastermind-slash-quantum douchebag Osama Bin Laden had been killed in Abbotabad, Pakistan. Far be it from me to politicize a concert experience, but sometimes life provides a storyline that's too good to pass up. I mean, if I learned about OBL's timely demise midway through a Slayer concert, we all would have just punched each other in the face and celebrated the raw power of chaos, hatred, and vengeance. I imagine we all absorbed the news in our own way, but to learn of such a momentous event during Sarah's classic “Building A Mystery” is definitely one of the more absurd and memorable concert experiences I have ever had. It may even have given me a chance to appreciate the night's music much more than I would have otherwise.
Not only was this my first Sarah McLachlan concert, it marked the first time I have set foot into the fantastic new Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre, which also plays home to the Abbotsford Heat, and has come into its own as the Fraser Valley's premiere concert arena. The venue did not disappoint. With ample parking, immaculate facilities, a brilliantly lit stage, great views from every seat, and outstanding acoustics, this new venue is bound to become a favourite of artists and fans alike.
Although billed as the “Laws Of Illusion” tour, named after her latest album, this show was a continuation of the “Sarah McLachlan And Friends” tour that has been so well received across North America. Joined onstage by her musical friends Butterfly Boucher and Melissa McLelland, Sarah dug deep into her catalogue, showcasing her amazing vocals and songwriting strength during nearly three hours of musical magic.
While most artists would be reluctant to take a backseat and let their accompanying musicians take the center stage, Sarah gave her backup band plenty of room to showcase their own material. Between Butterfly Boucher's heartbreaking “Bitter Song”, and McLelland's moonshine-drenched zydeco blues romp “God Loves Me”, there were a few moments where the backup musicians nearly stole the show. As Boucher and McLelland shone in their respective spotlights, McLachlan played third star, delivering equally powerful performances as band leader and supporting cast. Although there was no doubt in anybody's mind that this was Sarah's show, you have to admire the effort Sarah put into bringing her bandmates' solo projects to new audiences.
In a truly unique twist, concertgoers were given the opportunity to interact with Sarah by writing down questions and dropping them off at the merch table. Sarah took several breaks throughout the night to break out the tophat full of fan questions and deliver some surprisingly candid, hilarious, and deeply personal answers to fan questions. This question brought the biggest laugh of the night:
Q: “Have you ever been with a woman? If yes, what are you doing after the show?”
A: “Um…no, but I've been tempted!” (looks naughtily at band members)
Another fan's question revealed that Sarah also plays drums, which inspired an impromptu jam session featuring Sarah on drums, drawing some wild applause as she led the band on a brief funk-rock jam complete with several drum fills. Although McLachlan tends to present herself as a serious musician, there is no questioning that she has a razor-sharp sense of humor and is absolutely in love with music, as she showed throughout the night, switching from the piano to acoustic guitar, or roaming the stage with a mic. As her fans can attest, the last few years have been difficult, with a divorce, lagging tour and album sales, and facing single motherhood. Whatever woes she may have been through, however, are ancient history, as she explained to the audience how she's embracing the moment and moving on.
In another interesting turn of events, Sarah took an intermission, handing the stage over to another act who also nearly stole the show: the Sardis Senior Secondary drum line. With some sharp choreography and several nods to pop culture, this energetic group of young musicians managed to weave in some nods to Coldplay (Clocks) and Tag Team's 'Whoomp! There It Is', between their thundering cadences and contagious energy. Fantastic performance, kids.
Sarah's return to the stage for the second half of the night re-ignited the enthusiastic “girlfriend” section to the right of the stage, which was made up of several of McLachlan's (apparent) closest friends/biggest fans. As most of the audience sat in composed admiration throughout the performance, these ladies were on their feet, singing, cheering, and dancing from start to finish. It wasn't until near the end of the night that the stoic crowd broke out their dancing shoes during 'Sweet Surrender', bum-rushing the stage in a climactic dance-off that had McLachlan and her friends beaming from ear to ear until the end of the set.
So, what does Osama Bin Laden really have to do with this? Nothing, really. But there are times when I'm truly struck by just how blessed we are, and how important it is to celebrate these gifts that we have been given: love, creativity, healing, growth, openness, freedom. Sarah McLachlan has always represented these things, and has always managed to find a way to translate them into her music. It's nice to be reminded of these things in a world that sometimes seems filled with darkness. I am still fully expecting to be punched in the face at a Slayer concert for enjoying this show, but whatevs.