Dougie MacLean in a soulful moment. Photo by Rob Weir.

The usual standards for reviewing a concert require that one make generous allusions to the set list, sling a few adjectives about musicianship, and interject a snide remark or two about missed opportunity, a technological glitch, or an awkward stage moment.

None of that would be applicable to describe Dougie MacLean’s September 20 show at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts, so let’s get it out of the way quickly—his was a flawless performance that struck all the right literal and metaphorical notes. As a songwriter MacLean stands astride his Scottish peers. Like his lyrics, MacLean’s playing avoids surfaces and dives for deep emotions. His multiple open-tunings create space for him to use his guitar as a magical mood machine—fluid, liquid runs to evoke wild oceans; swooping figures that suggest flight; bass/treble alternations that take us from gloom to hope in a split second….

But cleverness and craft don’t come close to capturing the essence of Sunday night’s show. Both MacLean and the audience were in such a groove that he could have chosen material from the Tibetan Book of the Dead and everyone would have sung along. MacLean commanded the stage like an elf wielding enchantment, as if he knew precisely when to flash a smile, snap off witticisms, or orchestrate the room. To remark that MacLean conducted a musical healing ceremony sounds clich├ęd and odd but, dammit, it’s true. How many performers could get 150 people to sing a line like “You can fall/But you must not lie down” with force and conviction? Moreover, who could convince them to believe it when the lights came up and it was time to go home?

I’ve been listening to MacLean’s music for three decades and he’s never sounded better, connected more deeply, or been more charming. This was not only the best concert of the year—it ranks among the greatest shows I’ve ever attended. Forget the old standards; Dougie MacLean ascended a different plane.


susan Boldman said...

"like an elf wielding enchantment"


Anonymous said...

Is the comment superior to the concert? Discuss......

Phoenix Brown & Lars Vigo said...

Dear Anonymous:

Nope! If anything our humble words fail to do justice to what a wonderful evening MacLean provided. It was MacLean's consumate professionalism that made it a suspend-cynicism night and we were mighty glad we did.--Lars and Phoenix