In what she described as “one of the most beautiful places in the world,” Sarah McLachlan played her first-ever show backed by a symphony orchestra on Sunday — in this case, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Over the course of two sets at Red Rocks, McLachlan mixed most of her old favorites from the live album “Mirrorball” with some of the sad, introspective songs from her 2010 release “Laws of Illusion.”
Walking on stage with a luminous smile, a beautiful black gown, bare feet, and a lovely acoustic guitar, McLachlan wasted no time in connecting with her audience, opening with “Building a Mystery.” McLachlan’s richly textured, achingly resonant voice sparkled in the confines of Red Rocks, making the song feel part prayer, part celebration.
The CSO was conducted by Scott O’Neil. Never overpowering, for much of the evening the orchestra provided sweeping string fills, punctuated with blasts of bombast when appropriate. The arrangement on “World on Fire” provided a lush grandeur that infused the song with new meaning, moving it from quietly hopeful to powerfully uplifting.
After a short set break, McLachlan returned and launched into “Adia,” following with “Forgiveness,” perhaps the best song on her last album. McLachlan stated that the album had been called a “divorce record,” but feels that she has grown “much stronger, so that I can sing these darker songs with joy.” The ironic thing about the “divorce record” idea is that many of McLachlan’s older songs, such as “Hold On” and “I Will Remember You,” also fit with that theme.
On “Good Enough,” McLachlan went sans orchestra, stripping the song to the basics. She also reworked “Sweet Surrender” from its rocking incarnation on “Mirrorball” to what she said was its original, simpler form. Even backed by one instrument, you felt like you could hear a pin drop, so enthralled was the audience by McLachlan’s magnetic delivery.
McLachlan rocked out on the set-closing “Possession,” as guitarist Peter Stroud, who celebrated his birthday at the concert, built a simple guitar solo to a ripping crescendo. On the encore, McLachlan gave her fans both the dark and the light, first with the somber “Angel,” where the CSO’s backing filled in parts around McLachlan’s heartbreaking piano riffs. She ended with “Ice Cream” asking for help from the crowd to sing along, who was only too happy to oblige.