Sarah McLachlan's Voices in the Park scores a lot of hits and not many misses

At Stanley Park on Saturday, September 15

Nothing's perfect, but this came close.

Just about the only thing missing from Saturday's marathon benefit concert for the Sarah McLachlan School of Music was a big harvest moon rising over Burrard Inlet. Organizers, put that in your wish list for next year!

Oh, and Hedley could have stayed home. But that's just me.

Otherwise, Voices in the Park was a near-total success. And although it was not thronged, the day-long affair was well attended enough that it raised a significant chunk of change for McLachlan's Mount Pleasant facility, which provides free music lessons for inner-city kids. As guest speaker Bill Clinton pointed out in an admirably brief and heartfelt statement, music, art, and poetry are among "the things that open our minds to take in chemistry and physics in a different way."

Political science, too: the former POTUS and amateur saxman claimed he would never have risen to high office without the discipline of grade-school music lessons.

Based on his success at the recent Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Clinton could have monopolized the stage for much longer than he did. But it was McLachlan herself who reigned over the show, making multiple appearances and suffering Saturday's only technical disaster, when her microphone malfunctioned at the start of her 6:35 p.m. mini-set on the intimate Park Stage. If that fazed her, it didn't show: she graciously let band members Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland deliver a tough, gospel-tinged take on Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire", harmonizing over McClelland's shoulder until the problem was solved.

It was McLachlan's show-closing mainstage performance that was the day's emotional highlight, though. Sticking to a short list of fan favourites—including "Adia", "Building a Mystery", "Sweet Surrender", and a two-part encore of "Arms of the Angels" and "Ice Cream"—she nonetheless reinvigorated these familiar tunes with her radiant energy and muscular singing. Whether it was the presence of the NBC cameras—the concert was filmed for a later broadcast—or the sheer relief of having steered the day to a successful conclusion, this was one of the most joyous sets she's ever given in her hometown.

Even if, as she noted, depressing songs are her "happy place".

The day's best music, and its only real surprise, had taken place on the Park Stage a couple of hours earlier, however—and once again it involved Doucet and McClelland. In addition to being core members of McLachlan's band, the married couple have successful solo careers of their own. But it was their new duo project, Whitehorse, that stole the show with a welcome injection of grit and energy.

They've invented a kind of loop-based folk rock, in which they record and then play over their own drum tracks. Working a kick drum, floor tom, shakers, and an assortment of kitchen pots and pans, Doucet drove most of the rhythms, but McClelland held her own in the instrumental department, contributing rock-solid basslines, chiming keys, and aggressively twangy surf guitar to various tunes. As a duo they have an infectious energy: they're in love with each other and with playing music together, and they give off a slightly goofy, slightly manic, and utterly winning sense of fun.

The highlight of the set was undoubtedly McClelland's guitar showcase, which morphed from a Link Wray rumbler into a full-on club banger and then back again, in a remarkably entertaining collision of idioms. Whitehorse. Remember that name.

The rest of the day proceeded pretty much as planned. Hey Ocean! was up when this writer arrived, singing songs of sky and sea and islands and mountains; a perfect fit for a paradisiacal afternoon. Various McLachlan School of Music units made cameo appearances, unveiling a couple of future stars and lots of cohesive ensemble interplay. Jann Arden had the audience eating out of her hand in her inimitable fashion: after being introduced as an emaciated, six-foot-one mountaineer she yelled "It's gonna snow!", then threatened a "a 17-minute version of 'Snowbird'". That didn't happen, but McLachlan did join Arden and guitarist Graham Powell on "I Would Die for You", after which Calgary's favourite daughter quipped "I'd like to bring up Abba.…and now my mother on kazoo!"

Arden often writes about her romantic insecurities; here's hoping she knows that everyone adores her.

Pop fans loved Hedley, too, even if there's nothing even remotely original about their tunes. Frontman Jacob Hoggard put on an energetic performance, but he's never met a cliché he didn't like and he seems, at times, overly in love with his own voice, wailing wordlessly away atop various instrumental passages. Perhaps surprisingly, another McLachlan cameo didn't improve matters.

Queen Sarah didn't sing with Bryan Adams, although Arden reappeared mid-set to grope the still-boyish star's still-boyish bum. And even if you're thoroughly sick of hearing the North Vancouver native's radio staples, there's no denying that he delivered a killer performance: great voice, great acoustic guitar tone, and a great sideman in Toronto's Gary Breit on piano.

Less sometimes is more—a lesson obviously lost on Stevie Nicks, Voices in the Park's penultimate attraction. Her appearance was entertainingly bizarre but not necessarily artistically successful. Backed by a powerful but tasteless L.A. band—was that the great Waddy Wachtel on guitar?—she flat-out stank on on her Led Zeppelin–penned opener, "Rock and Roll", before attacking Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon" and "Gold Dust Woman" with a heavy-metal truncheon. Mega-hits thanks to their graceful blend of intensity and economy, they were just loud here.

Nicks's vocal range has shrunk to a fraction of what it once was, her one new song was embarrassingly unfocused, and her stagecraft was less witchy than clumsy. Still, she came so close to a rock ’n' roll train wreck that she was compulsively watchable—and then McLachlan sent us all home happy.

Comments (12) Add New Comment
Len
Boo! Stevie nicks was amazing. She can still wail! Her video was awesome! The only thing that sucked about that performance was the lack of the Mac. But she still is the queen of rock!
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Sal Bass
Boredom
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Rating: -6
Donna Morgan
Well, I have to agree that Nicks was a bit of a let down, as a former big fan of Fleetwood Mac, and the visuals accompanying her performance were downright embarassing.
But one thing you forgot to mention was the opening act, The Boom Booms, who did an impressive job even though their audience in the cheap seats was separated from them by an acre of empty chairs reserved for wealthy latecomers!
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Charlie Smith
Hi Donna,

Mike Usinger has written a couple of articles about the Boom Booms recently, including this one, which appeared last week:

http://www.straight.com/article-776701/vancouver/join-band-see-world

He also reviewed a show of theirs in March:

http://www.straight.com/article-650996/vancouver/boom-booms-bring-little...

Charlie Smith
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Rating: -9
Mark Fornataro
As a musician I think its great to see support for this important cause. Good for you Sarah. I noticed Bill Clinton referred in his speech to politics being a 'contact sport'. Who can argue with that? Certainly not Monica Lewinsky.
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dave19
The POTUS spent all the money on bombs. Music Education is now up to the fans.

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Sam M
Isn't Sarah's song called "Angel"?
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Dom
Bang on review - completely agree with yours comments about Hedley. He sang OVER Sarah McLachlan, that is sheer criminal in my mind.

More of Jann Arden, no Hedley, and it would have been perfect.
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Rating: -10
karen t
I feel rather sickened about the treatment of critics, both professional and trollish, who are attacking Stevie Nicks for adding her international star factor to a local fest that raised money for an important program in this city.

What is with this idea that an elder in our music culture cannot age normally and naturally (which means losing some of her higher register)?Instead you denigrate her for not retaining her youthfulness and former band members.

I was one of the masses on the hill. 1/3 of the crowd left after the Nicks set. Whether or not you appreciate her vocal abilities at this stage in her life, I observed she was a huge draw for this fundraiser. Give her credit for the show she brought. We enjoyed her realness very much. I mean, would you rather she had lip-synched to hit the high notes notes, like Madonna, Brittany and all do?

I saw a great legend at a stage in her life -- the only chance I've ever had. I'm grateful to have had that opportunity for myself and my children. Being critical of her offering is just plain curmudgeonly, unimaginative and sad.
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Jamie Smith
I thought Stevie Nicks was great -- considering she has been singing for decades and is in her 60's. She is a legend and showed up for charity. Winner in my book!!!! Best concert in Vancouver in years ....... way to go homegirl McLachlan
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karen c
same time same place next year .
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Forty Fun
there were too many people in the aid sections who thought they were at a violin recital. Barely got up out of there seats, didn't dance, sing along, told people to Shush etc. They didn't even give Stevie Nicks a standing ovation and he was marvellous! Are Sarah McLachlan fans super boring and uptight, YES! I was also in the paid section, and I can't tell you how many times I was asked to sit down to move and to be quiet. I have never been to a popular music concert anywhere where you were not allowed to enjoy the music by singing along or dancing. Te opera or the symphony sure. BORING!
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