Sarah McLachlan

As the curtains (painted to look like massive castle doors) part, they reveal Sarah McLachlan standing amid a rustic set, with stony outcrops, wrought iron fences, moss-covered steps, trompe l'oeil trees carved to look like columns and a canopy of craggy vines. It looks like Middle-earth redecorated on a cable channel's household makeover shows -- meticulously, beautifully distressed.

With:
Band: McLachlan, Catherine Rose, Sean Ashby, Luke Doucet, Brian Minato, Dave Kershaw, Vince Jones, Ash Sood.
Also appearing: Butterfly Boucher.

As the curtains (painted to look like massive castle doors) part, they reveal Sarah McLachlan standing amid a rustic set, with stony outcrops, wrought iron fences, moss-covered steps, trompe l’oeil trees carved to look like columns and a canopy of craggy vines. It looks like Middle-earth redecorated on a cable channel’s household makeover shows — meticulously, beautifully distressed.

It’s a metaphor for McLachlan’s music: The messy romances of her songs are swaddled in carefully groomed layers of guitar and keyboards buttressed by her husband Ash Sood’s deliberate drumming. At the center is McLachlan’s dusky, discursive voice, which in the high end of her range can achieve the dewy vulnerability of Joni Mitchell.

McLachlan performs with a down-to-earth ease that keeps the show from turning into ethereal therapy. Her stage patter moves between self-deprecating humor (calling herself the “queen of sad, depressing love songs”) and gushing appreciation for her fans’ “patience in putting up with me.”

She dispenses the romantic counsel of “Hold On” perched on a high stool. “Push” (from her Arista/Nettwerk album “Afterglow”), which is striking in its direct and unguarded lyrics, is the evening’s most optimistic song (and dedicated to Sood) — but that song was the exception. Most of the night was given over to minor key regret. “Jump in with both feet,” she advises, but the two-hour show never really steps off the shore. The aud responds in kind, politely appreciative but not especially demonstrative, content to let the music gently swell over them.

Opening act Butterfly Boucher continues McLachlan’s Lilith Fair aim of exposing talented young female musicians to a new audience. Like her A&M debut “Flutterby,” Boucher’s short set was a spunkier, more rock-edged take on romance, with her crystal vocals sounding notes of both defiance and indecision.

McLachlan and Boucher play Continental Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 9 and the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on Aug. 10.

Sarah McLachlan

Staples Center, Los Angeles; 18,500 seats; $57.50 top

Production: Presented by Nederlander and Star 98.7. Reviewed July 14, 2004.

Cast: Band: McLachlan, Catherine Rose, Sean Ashby, Luke Doucet, Brian Minato, Dave Kershaw, Vince Jones, Ash Sood.
Also appearing: Butterfly Boucher.

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