Sarah McLachlan kicks off MusicFest with a love-in

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      Any doubts as to Sarah McLachlan's ability to still pull in a crowd evaporated this evening when the Vancouver-based songstress took to the Orpheum stage to kick off MusicFest 2011, backed by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and her band. The place looked to be completely sold out, which has got to have the festival organizers feeling chipper about doing away with their traditional opera gala opener in favour of the queen of melancholy pop.

      I'll say this for Sarah: she knows how to pack a stage. Between the full orchestra, piano, drum kit, keyboardist, electric guitarist, bassist-backing vocalist and guitarist-backing vocalist, it was like a game of Tetris brought to life. They managed it somehow, but it was enough to give me flashbacks of the Suzuki end-of-year recitals I took part in as a child at the Orpheum, where row upon row of kids crammed together with their cellos or violins to croak out "Twinkle Twinkle" (or, as it is known in Suzuki circles, "take take ti ti"). But I digress.

      Back to McLachlan—who, by the way, is looking hawt. In a slinky black dress, bare feet, she looked tanned, radiant, and relaxed—as if she'd just returned from a New Age retreat in New Mexico. And judging from her rock-hard physique, she's been finding plenty of time for yoga and/or Pilates.

      I choose those words because the concert had an aura of Deepak Chopra and healing circle about it: from the opening "Building A Mystery" to the post-intermission "Rivers Of Love", and the closing "Possession"—plus the encores "Angel" and "Love Come"—McLachlan was sending out the good vibes to an audience only too eager to bliss out on them.

      Her introduction to "Rivers Of Love" included this line: "This is a song about reconnecting with the love we should always feel for ourselves."

      World On Fire, she said, was written after a trip to Thailand and Cambodia, and is about trying to "think of the good in everybody to make positive change" and that "that intention is so powerful in how I live my life."

      With the VSO adding cinematic swells and flourishes (okay, I'll say it: bordering on the cheesy at times), McLachlan worked through two sets of material, with favourites like "I Will Remember You" and "Adia" garnering the biggest response.

      She endeared herself further with self-deprecating banter about her propensity for dark, brooding love songs, introducing Fallen as a "dark, depressing love song about betrayal, screwing up, and doing it again," and admitting "I lean towards writing dark, depressing love songs, which just happens to be my happy place."

      She's like that kooky friend you have whose devotion to Mother Earth and Energy with a capital E would be cringe-worthy if she weren't so sweetly earnest about it. Not to mention talented: say what you will about our granola girl, but that clear and radiant voice, so effortlessly fluid and easy, is truly a thing of beauty.

      Even the orchestra members were caught up in the moment: I spotted at least one first violinist singing along with the crowd to the final encore, "Ice Cream".

      After that, McLachlan was gone: but not before urging everyone to get home safely. She may as well have said Namaste.