Sarah McLachlan's music is often about finding great meaning in small moments, the dark, little mysteries shared between two people and the aching silences that often speak more eloquently than words possibly can. They are records often best played by candlelight late at night when private reveries rule and the world does not intrude. You'd think it would be impossible for her to translate her songbook to an arena like the Worcester Centrum Centre, but the Canadian superstar pulled it off with a finely calibrated set Saturday night before a near sell-out audience.
Dressed in a black sheer top and jeans, the radiant McLachlan fronted a superb seven-piece band anchored by her husband, drummer Ashwin Sood. She shifted from playing acoustic and electric guitar to piano and sang with remarkable range and agility. Her voice is a beautiful instrument, and she used it with precision and a keen understanding of nuance. It would have been easy for her to over-emote and try to instill false sentiment as she fumbled toward ecstasy, but she never did. She understood on songs such as the new love song, "Push," dedicated to Sood, that understatement is more powerful than overwrought notes aimed at the rafters.
Clearly, McLachlan tried to reduce the arena atmosphere by implementing a highly ornamental stage. It featured three large columns that appeared to be gnarled trees, which broke off into branches that hovered above the stage. The sides were adorned with rock formations and grassy patches. While Jim Lanahan's set design might have seemed clever in theory, it looked corny, almost Spinal-Tap-like. You almost expected a Stonehenge to drop down during "Building a Mystery." So it was McLachlan's music that made the night feel intimate and revealing. Her catalog is deep and her two-hour show drew from most phases of her career, including her most recent record, "Afterglow." The opening "Fallen" and "World on Fire" from the new disc were particularly vivid. Even her hit, "Adia," a song least likely to work in a hockey rink, was resonant and rendered with style. And when the band needed to muscle up, they did so as the richly textured soundscapes were punctuated by guitar squalls from Sean Ashby, who provided ample support all night.
You come away from a Sarah McLachlan show almost feeling as if you have stepped into an alternative universe from most rock music. Her songs are devoid of irony and cynicism and filled with a rare humanism and compassion. Sure, some of her sentiments approach a gauzy new age spirit, but there's a refreshing sincerity to her approach and execution.
Not many artists could get away with singing a song like "Angel" and convince you that she believes every word, as she did while sitting solo at her piano. And when she sang a spry cover of "Blackbird" with just Ashby on guitar or led a sing-along version of "Ice Cream" there was beauty in the simplicity. A small oasis in these often ugly days.
Butterfly Boucher opened with a pleasing half hour that showed promise but also that she needs to get her stage chops down. The Australian played bass and sang songs from her debut, "Flutterby." She has a good ear for melody but most of her set was a walk on the mild side.