Sarah McLachlan bathes Clearwater in sweet, glorious sadness

The Lilith Fair matriarch even played a new song at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

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click to enlarge Sarah McLachlan plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on February 27, 2019. - Caesar Carbajal
Caesar Carbajal
Sarah McLachlan plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on February 27, 2019.

God bless the monstrous, narcissistic sociopaths. Well, the ones in Sarah McLachlan’s life at the least. The 51-year-old songwriter dedicated her 2014 single, “Monsters,” to one on Tuesday night, and the nearly sold-out crowd at Ruth Eckerd Hall lapped it up as the Lilith Fair founder cruised toward the end of a 21-song set.

The Juno and Grammy-winning Canadian export last visited Tampa Bay in 2015, and she addressed her extended absence right out of the gate.

Photos: Sarah McLachlan at Ruth Eckerd Hall — February 27, 2019.

“I still don’t have a new record out,” McLachlan surrendered, although she did play a new song, "Wilderness" at the tail end of the show. “But it is nice to bring a lot of these songs back to their original form, just me and my piano."

For nearly two hours, McLachlan, with the help of guitarist and cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith (of Sonus Quartet), did just that. A set-opening run through “In Your Shoes” was more toned down than it is on 2014’s Shine On (McLachlan’s last album of original material), while the already melancholy “I Will Remember You” felt even more pensive than it did when it rolled in the background of 1995 rom-com The Brothers McMullen.

McLachlan rose to fame on the strength of a vocal that was painfully vulnerable and formidably assertive at the same time, but the lilt and delicateness from the melodies on “Adia” somehow wore an extra layer of smokiness as Freebairn-Smith strummed an acoustic and harmonized with McLachlan; the song, like so much of the set, reminded folks that the range on the her voice knows almost no bounds. Several standouts from her 1993 breakout, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (“Elsewhere,” the almost painfully-saccharine “Ice Cream”) also got play, but it was particularly rewarding to watch and hear McLachlan pick and strum guitar on lonesome Fumbling highlight “Good Enough.”

Most impressive was how McLachlan handled the electric on the aforementioned “Monsters” and “Drifting.” The latter is an oft-overlooked, if not forgettable, three-and-a-half minutes from the songwriter’s 2003 album Afterglow, but it gained new life on Wednesday as the thick tone of the guitar’s charged-up strings matched the power of McLachlan’s voice every step of the way. Watching a piano player on guitar always offers observers a less opaque view of a the composition process, and seeing McLachlan handle the instrument (which she described as sort of an unpredictable “wild animal”) might’ve been the best part of a performance that — at the end of the night — still rightfully played to the greatest strength of McLachlan’s catalog: sadness.

“Sweet Surrender” — which has a backbeat and electric guitar on 1997’s Surfacing — got all the way stripped back and slowed down to a nearly half-speed piano piece, which allowed the insecurity of the song’s lyrics to cut deep in the fashion that they do on paper. McLachlan told Ruth Eckerd that the song was the most depressing one that she’s ever written.

“The darker and sadder the song, they more joy I get from it,” she said, explaining the cathartic nature of her songwriting. “Singing the dark stuff is glorious.”

That sentiment might have been hard to believe during the finger-snapping, naked joy of ukulele-driven encore closer “The Sound That Love Makes,” but it was painfully clear on “Angel.” ASPCA commercials have understandably ruined the cut for casual observers, but the power of the tune’s somber chords and dreadfully desolate melody were undeniable when McLachlan almost effortlessly navigated and interpolated the arrangement as Freebairn-Smith dressed the song up in an extra layer of downcast cello.

There probably aren’t many reasons for folks to spend significant amounts of time with the kind of disconsolate distractions McLachlan seems to dish out with ease, but fans bonded over, and bathed in, that glorious sadness for a couple of hours on Wednesday.

In some ways, it was magnificent; in others, masochistic. Still, someone out there probably found comfort in all of it. And there’s honestly nothing monstrous about that at all.

Listen to songs from the setlist via Spotify.


In Your Shoes
I Will Remember You
Good Enough
Building A Mystery
Song For My Father
World On Fire
Beautiful Girl
Sweet Surrender
Rivers of Love
Loving You Is Easy
Ice Cream

Wilderness (working title)
The Sound That Love Makes

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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