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Friends in song ; McLachlan takes new approach with success

Women rock!" exclaimed a zealous patron about three songs into Thursday's Sarah McLachlan and Friends show in Shea's.

The point was taken, though of course this seems incredibly obvious. Music doesn't acknowledge gender any more than it acknowledges skin color. If you've got it, you've got it. If you want to share it, all the better.

A full house welcomed McLachlan back into the touring life following her ill-fated attempt to relaunch her Lilith Fair last summer. The concert industry slump hit that tour hard, and many dates were canceled because of minuscule ticket sales.

McLachlan seemed far more comfortable playing the 3,000-seat Shea's than she did at HSBC Arena or Darien Lake, the two venues she played on her last stops in our region.

In Shea's, McLachlan essentially offered a more intimate version of Lilith. With fellow singers/songwriters/musicians Butterfly Boucher and Melissa McClelland -- the "Friends" in the billing -- McLachlan brought a stirring blend of the feminine, the visceral and the just plain soul-stirring to the 2 1/2 -hour show. It was a performance with an unusual structure, as McLachlan explained that, instead of having her friends and fellow Lilith survivors McLelland and Boucher open for her, she had opted to make them part of the band, and offer them some ample time of their own. The pair played four songs each on Thursday, during which McLachlan became part of the band, offering delicious vocal harmonies, playing electric guitar, or sitting at the piano, appearing all the while to be having the time of her life.

This might've been a bad move, were it not for the fact that both McLelland and Boucher were simply stunning during their spotlight moments. Boucher came first, following a rather glorious take on McLachlan's "Building A Mystery." Her role in the band is as bassist, and she was just plain killer throughout, thumping her long-scale Gibson Firebird through an Ampeg SVT amp -- the deadliest combination in rock -- and adding pitch-perfect harmonies in the three-part McLachlan-McLelland-Boucher triad. Her own songs were wonderful, too, an imaginative blend of rock and pop tropes anchored by her strong melodic bass lines and perfectly intonated singing. McLelland followed with some swanky blues with an alt-country twist, and the crowd responded enthusiastically when they realized McClelland can sing like Bonnie Raitt. Amazing.

McLachlan then reached into a top hat and pulled out questions submitted from the crowd, which she answered with good humor.. Then it was back to business, as McLachlan -- in perfect voice, it must be said, as if the years since the release of her career-defining early '90s record "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" had meant not a thing -- offered healthy blend of new and older. She dug deeply into her recent "Laws Of Illusion" album, a record she referred to on Thursday as her "divorce album," acknowledging her split from drummer Ashwin Sood, and then took what sure looked like pleasure in songs from throughout the rest of her career.

"Divorce" songs packed some menace, particularly "Stupid," which was played with some serious low-end muscle by the Boucher-led rhythm section. All of this was well-received, but many in the crowd appeared to be anxious to hear "the hits." . "Adia" was delivered with abundant emotional investment, "Fallen" was as heart-rending in 2011 as it was upon initial release, and "I Will Remember You" reminded us that McLachlan is simply masterful in the ballad form.

So waddya say, Sarah? Why not keep this band together? It's got the goods, beyond a doubt.

e-mail: jmiers@buffnews.com

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WHO: Sarah McLachlan    

WHEN: Thursday night    

WHERE: Shea's Performing Arts Center

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