McKennitt: A Final Spark

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Canadian siren Loreena McKennitt has built a career introducing audiences to the stories and instruments of faraway times and peoples, but her show at Constitution Hall on Tuesday night could have used a bit more of the here and now.

Although the music was rarely less than sublime, and the auditorium's sound system rendered the lush detail of her exotically equipped nine-piece band in surprisingly crisp fidelity, there was little to distinguish the show's inert first half from a PBS broadcast. By opening with "She Moved Through the Fair," a traditional Irish ballad that McKennitt adapted for her debut album in 1985, she seemed to announce that the show would be a career overview rather than an ad campaign for last year's "An Ancient Muse," McKennitt's first album of new material in nearly a decade. Indeed, the bulk of the first set came from her 1997 "The Book of Secrets," a double-platinum smash in the United States.

Though McKennitt seemed ill at ease addressing the crowd -- her professorial introduction to "Caravanserai" rambled on far longer than the song itself -- she was in fine voice, her crystalline alto filling the room effortlessly. The audience came to life when the band lit into a vigorous take of "The Mummers' Dance," a paean to springtime and rebirth that felt especially apt for a city that has finally emerged from a prolonged winter. Thanks to the fine work of four onstage percussionists, the song's polyrhythms were proof against the crowd's out-of-time clapping.

After a 20-minute intermission, both star and audience seemed looser and freer to enjoy themselves. Hugh Marsh's lithe fiddle-playing gave the instrumental "Santiago" more brio than any performance that had preceded it, and McKennitt's adaptation of Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott," emphasizing her harp and Caroline Lavelle's cello, was a contender, along with the final encore of "Penelope's Song," for the evening's most transcendent performance. Would that the entire night had felt so vital.

-- Chris Klimek

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