Can we just say it? Sarah McLachlan was ahead of her time.

In her 90s heyday, the Canadian artist wrote heartfelt music that bridged the introspective independent songwriter scene with the mass-appeal of pop — a vibe we’ve seen come back around today in artists like Brandi Carlile and boygenius. McLachlan also realized, at a time when it was not yet conventional wisdom in the music industry, that large-scale femme-centered live music lineups a la Lilth Fair can not only be successful, but ridiculously profitable — decades ahead of the Girls Just Wanna Weekend or the Eras Tour. And though it’s often the thing that she’s most derided for by folks looking to get in an easy dig, McLachlan used her platform to talk about animal welfare long before “vegan” and “plant-based” were fashionable buzzwords you could spot in your average midwestern supermarket.

Maybe we can agree on those points? Maybe we can’t? If nothing else, it shouldn’t be a controversial take that her third album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, is a dang masterpiece, and has aged remarkably well. The shimmering and otherworldly production by longtime collaborator Pierre Marchand; the vulnerable lyricism unpacking passion, betrayal, family, friendship, and identity; the mix of easy-to-love singles (“Possession,” “Hold On”) with dark slow-burning album tracks (“Fear,” “Plenty”), and one goofy and mildly sappy song that’s nonetheless cute to sing along with (“Ice Cream,” obvs); it’s all pure magic that gets you in your feelings, uplifts you, and back and forth, over and again.

Performing for a packed house at the Mann Center on Wednesday night — the venue that, speaking of those artists earlier, boygenius headlined last summer, and Brandi Carlile sold out the summer before that — McLachlan played the album in full for its 30th anniversary, and reflected on its songs and legacy. “It’s my favorite of my records,” she told the audience. “I was young, unencumbered. I had no kids, no boyfriends, no husband. No animals even. I could fully immerse myself in music.”

Sarah McLachlan | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Easing into the show with a trio of contemporaneous 90s hits (“Sweet Surrender,” “Building A Mystery,” “I Will Remember You”), McLachlan quickly took us to the main act, which was very much framed as a journey through Fumbling, song by song. The simmering “Good Enough” was explained as a song of solidarity for her girl friends, a testament to the power of friendship, particularly between women. The scorching “Elsewhere” was framed with reflections about claiming your space and identity — like the lyrics go, “Mother, can’t you see I’ve got to live my life the way I feel is right for me? Might not be right for you, but it’s right for me.” It got an added degree of impact when McLachlan sent it out to everyone celebrating Pride (rousing cheers came from the stands at this, naturally). And, as much as I knocked its sappiness earlier, “Ice Cream” was backdropped with crowdsourced video of fans (and their kids, and their pets) singing along with it, joining the Mann Center audience to come together for a love song so dumb it’s kind of sweet.

Taking the epic suite of songs that comprise Fumbling and running with it was McLachlan’s band: Lyle Workman on guitar, Vincent Jones on keys, Matt Starr on drums, Melissa McClellan on bass and vocals, and Luke Doucet on bass, acoustic guitar, and vocals. For an album as bathed in layered texture as this one, they made it come alive remarkably well, without resorting to too much (or any? hard to say) in the way of backing-track support.

Feist | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Opening the night was a short and stormy performance by fellow Canadian Feist, still on the road in support of her 2023 album Multitudes. While the show wasn’t the immersive, interactive multimedia spectacle she brought to the Fillmore last year, Leslie Feist and her bandmates sounded stellar in their half hour on stage, mixing in favorites like “Mushaboom” and “I Feel It All” in with her latest work. She stopped by WXPN earlier that day to tape a segment for World Cafe with Raina Douris; listen for it on the show this summer.

After closing the book on Fumbling and stepping briefly offstage, McLachlan and her band returned for an encore that found her seated at the center stage grand piano, beginning with a new song called “Gravity” — a soft jazzy number written about her relationship with her 22 year old daughter, reflecting on trying to do the right thing with our loved ones, hoping it’s the right thing, and “playing the long game.” We also heard “Adia,” the 2003 cut “Answer” from Afterglow, and the set closed with another of McLachlan’s most recognizable songs – “Angel.”

Sarah McLachlan | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

You might know it from that series of ASPCA commercials, or the sketch comedy bits poking fun of it being in ASPCA commercials. Similarly, you might have recognized “I Will Remember You” as the cliche soundtrack to awards show “in memorium” reels. Much of the way McLachlan has been discussed in the 21st century is framed around one of these two things, or simply framed around her penchant for unapologetically earnest, tender songcraft.

But hearing “Angel” in this presentation — McClellan, Jones, Workman, Starr, and Doucet coming downstage with her, singing bright vocal harmonies into a single mic while she played at piano, channeling the gospel-folk adjacency of the song’s inspirations — affirms that, pop-cultural baggage aside, this is simply a beautiful piece of music: one that tugs the heartstrings of the masses in any number of ways, one that took on a life of its own upon arrival, but one that in its purest sense still has the power to move just about anyone.

Check out photos from the concert below. The Fumbling anniversary tour continues June 29th in Nashville at the Ascend Amphitheater, with shows in Atlanta and more in the coming week. Full dates here.

Sarah McLachlan
The Mann Center
  • Sweet Surrender
  • Building A Mystery
  • I Will Remember You
  • Possession
  • Wait
  • Plenty
  • Good Enough
  • Mary
  • Elsewhere
  • Circle
  • Ice
  • Hold On
  • Ice Cream
  • Fear
  • Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
  • Gravity
  • Adia
  • Answer
  • Angel