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For Sarah McLachlan, A Different Kind of Tour

Mar. 9, 2011
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"As one door closes, another one opens."

Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan invokes that old homily while discussing changes in the music business, but it could just as easily describe her recent experiences with divorce and trying to revive her groundbreaking Lilith Fair tour. The traveling concert festival McLachlan founded and headlined in the 1990s proved an all-female bill could indeed sell tickets—it broke records at several venues—and even opened the minds of radio programmers that had refused to play two songs in a row by women artists.

But it didn't fare so well in the festival-saturated, recessionary summer of 2010. At least a dozen tour dates were canceled, and Lilith was part of a long list of tours (including the Eagles, Jonas Brothers and the Country Throwdown festival package) that canceled dates and became prime examples of the downturn in last summer's concert season.

Still, McLachlan was able to morph Lilith into the "Taste of Lilith" tour she took to Australia in the fall, and then her current "Sarah & Friends" tour, which stops in Milwaukee on Friday, March 11.

The tour showcases songs from Laws ofIllusion, McLachlan's first album of new material in seven years, and the first since her traumatic divorce from her former drummer, Ashwin Sood. She couldn't do that with her Lilith slot, which came at the end of a long day for fans. By then, she says, fans want to hear songs they already know and love, and don't have the patience to sit through a lot of unfamiliar material.

By now, however, they've had more exposure to the album's songs. The intimate theater settings for the "Friends" tour also better lends itself to mixing new with old. McLachlan also holds a Q&A with these audiences, offering a rare opportunity for direct interaction with the nine-time Juno- and three-time Grammy Award winner, and shines the spotlight on Lilith accompanists Butterfly Boucher and Melissa McClelland, who each get a short set of their own.

Though she usually tours only in the summer, McLachlan knows one must ride whatever momentum one has when it comes to "getting your music out there"—and selling tickets is still one of the best ways to achieve that. She can also share cathartic moments with live audiences that neither could experience any other way.

"People connect to my songs on a really human, visceral, emotional level," McLachlan says. "Getting to sing those songs in front of people, whether it's a large audience or a small audience, it's exciting because, just judging from the feedback and the people you get to talk to, they connect to my songs on a really personal level. I always hear, 'You're talking to me about my feelings.'"

Of the sometimes nakedly emotional tracks on Illusion, she admits, "I had no idea what kind of record I was going to write. I never do. I don't start out with any preconceived notions; I just write what comes out."

Though the songs are autobiographical, she says, "There is a lot of creative license." Despite the anguish contained in lyrics about love's dissolution, there's also euphoria on Illusion. It's captured in songs like "Loving You Is Easy," within the lines, "'Cause I'm alive and I'm on fire/ Shot like a starburst into the sky/ Ahh the fury of desire it burns so bright electrifies/ You light me up you take me higher."

Yet McLachlan dismisses the notion of wrapping herself up in love again—at least for now.

"There was a time when I felt real sorry for myself and thought, 'I've just turned 40. I've got two small kids.' That's a tricky place to be in," she says. "But I have a really full, fantastic life. I have great friends, a great family. I'm happily single right now. I couldn't imagine being involved in a new relationship right now because I've got too much going on.

"And you know what?" she adds. "It'll happen when it happens. I'm not searching it out because my life is really full. If it happens, great; if not, that's OK, too."

Sarah McLachlan, Butterfly Boucher and Melissa McClelland perform at the Riverside Theater at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 11.


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