Voice of an angel

Parx welcomed Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan to its Xcite Center

On stage: Three-time Grammy Award-winning artist and Canadian Music Hall of Famer Sarah McLachlan recently performed at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

Picture this — you’re at a concert enjoying the music, the outside world all but forgotten. Suddenly, the girl in front of you thrusts her cell phone to the sky, completely obliterating your view to capture a three-minute long video for her band of Snapchat followers. Annoying, right?

Aside from those rare shows where artists explicitly ban phones from a venue, this has become a cultural norm non-technologically-attached concert-goers are forced to deal with. That is, unless they’re at a Sarah McLachlan performance.

During the Canadian singer-songwriter’s recent show at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center on Monday, July 2, the audience simply sat and took in the experience of McLachlan’s hauntingly beautiful voice. They applauded and politely cheered when a song called for it, and for those fans who did want to capture the moment, their phones were subtly raised for a mere few seconds. It was refreshing.

The three-time Grammy Award-winning artist and Canadian Music Hall of Famer looked right at home behind her sleek, black Yamaha, simply styled in a black lace tank top, jeans and gray, heeled boots. Lending itself perfectly to the intimate venue, her laid back persona allowed the audience to feel as though it was gathered in her living room. The coffee mug she sipped from throughout the evening certainly didn’t hurt the illusion.

While most artists kick a concert off with a powerful anthem to get the crowd off its feet, McLachlan stayed true to what she does best.

“I’m going to start with something unusual,” she told the audience. “A love song.”

“Possession,” track one off her 1994 release Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, showcased McLachlan’s vast vocal range as her notes effortlessly transitioned from deep and mournful to high and angelic. The popular “I Will Remember You” followed, a touching ballad written for the soundtrack of the 1995 comedy The Brothers McMullen starring Edward Burns.

Though McLachlan hasn’t released new, original music since her seventh studio album Shine On in 2014, for which she received a Juno Award for Adult Contemporary Album of the Year, the artist’s catalog appeared to still be fresh. Fans bobbed their heads and softly sang along to both current songs and those dating 25 years.

Before jumping into “In Your Shoes,” McLachlan took a moment to provide the backstory of the inspiration behind the song, something she did for the majority of her setlist. A few years ago, she felt compelled to pen a track about bullying and not backing down. It wasn’t until she learned of Malala Yousafzai, a young girl who was shot by a Taliban gunman for her strong beliefs in women’s rights, that the Shine On song truly took shape.

SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

As for the next song “Adia,” McLachlan admitted she used to be hesitant about divulging the true meaning of the song.

“It doesn’t really paint me in the best light,” she said.

A murmur of “ohhh’s” rippled across the Xcite Center as McLachlan shared how she fell in love with her best friend’s ex. While it was much more than a fling, with the two getting married and having children, McLachlan called her separation from her friend “worse than any breakup.” But like everything in life, things came full circle, with the two friends reconciling after McLachlan’s public divorce in 2008. “Adia” chronicles the painful “in-between stage” before she and her friend patched things up.

At this point in the show, McLachlan ditched the piano for her beloved guitar. Despite an excruciatingly painful ganglion cyst protruding from her arm, she powered through the next chunk of songs, determined to give fans the full McLachlan experience.

During “Building A Mystery,” McLachlan shed light on folks who attempt to hide shortcomings by creating facades, something she has fallen victim to several times. Things took a brighter turn with “Good Enough,” which showcases the beauty of women’s sisterhood, and “Beautiful Girl,” which she dedicated to her two daughters. In a true “mom” moment, McLachlan gushed about her 16- and 11-year-olds. Though she expressed concern over allowing them out into the world, she wants them to learn and grow. And when they do make a mistake, they’ll always have a “soft place to land” back home.

The evening continued with “World On Fire,” during which McLachlan (without getting political) shared her fears of turning on the usually horrific nightly news; “Elsewhere,” a particularly personal track about her tumultuous years of finding herself as a teen; and “Forgiveness.” After the latter, McLachlan joked about how she constantly tries to write about topics other than heartbreak and redemption, but she never manages to stray far.

“You string them all together and it’s quite a theme,” she said of her songs. “The darker and more depressing the song, the more joy I feel.”

Before the crowd could categorize McLachlan as a 50-year-old “emo,” she clarified her statement. Writing about her life’s worst experiences is extremely cathartic, allowing her to share her not-always-glamorous journey with others going through similar rough patches.

But every now and then, a happy song such as “Loving You Is Easy” does emerge from McLachlan’s creative depths… even if the man who inspired the piece wasn’t exactly prince charming.

“What an ahole he turned out to be,” she said with a hint of indignation. “But it’s OK because I got the song.”

The remainder of the concert was a roller coaster of emotion as McLachlan performed “Monsters,” which warns listeners to choose relationships wisely, and “Song For My Father,” a touching tribute to her dad who passed away seven years ago from cancer. No introduction was needed for her final song, the tear-inducing “Angel” that became widely known for its inclusion on ASPCA commercials.

As McLachlan took her final bow, she looked truly thankful and humbled over the audience’s praise. Despite being an internationally successful star, she was genuine and relatable throughout her 90-minute set. She laughed at herself during a “senior moment” of playing the wrong song, and admitted her love of being asleep at a reasonable hour.

“I’m usually in bed by 9 p.m. so I’m a fan of this 7:30 p.m. showtime.” ••

Parx Casino and its Xcite Center are at 2999 Street Road in Bensalem. For information on upcoming shows, visit parxcasino.com/xcitecenter.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com