Loreena McKennitt
at Paramount Theater,
Oakland, California
(12 May 2007)

How does one not release a new studio album for almost nine years and still maintain a solid fan base? Loreena McKennitt has done it. Having sold over 13 million CDs in just over two decades, she has managed to acquire quite a following. Unfortunately, this meant that with only 26 North American tour dates to support her 2006 CD An Ancient Muse, many of these fans had to scramble to get tickets. (Fans in Europe only had 21 performances in March and April). With no shows in Texas, this fan had to fly to Oakland, California. (Fortunately, with Mother's Day on the 13th, I had an excuse to kill two birds with one stone and take my mom out for a special weekend -- one that we both enjoyed. Can you guess what the highlight of that weekend was?)

If you have seen the cover of Loreena's recent release, you know that it has a deep, rich blue color. If you have seen the PBS special Loreena McKennitt: Nights from the Alhambra, you have seen the equally entrancing set (minus the palace) from this tour. Add in the occasional transition from the deep, dark blue to blood red or dark forest green (always accented by black) and you get an idea of the look. Loreena is supported by nine musicians, many of whom are solid performers in their own rights. In fact, Loreena joked during the concert at one point that if having one's own website indicates success then these musicians have made it. Jest aside, I seem to recall that Loreena once referred to several of her fellow musicians as "Idling Porsches." Hugh Marsh is one of the best violin/fiddle players I have ever heard. Caroline Lavelle is a master on the cello. Brian Hughes breathes life into various type of guitars. These boys (and Lady Caroline) were certainly not idling this night!

The concert in Oakland was held at the Paramount Theatre. This venue was built in 1930 and holds just over 3,000 people. The viewing is good even in the nosebleed section. The acoustics were equally superb. The dated feel of the theatre actually helped enhance the mood for Loreena's brand of Celtic and world music. When the lights finally went down and the opening notes of "The Mystic's Dream" began, the excitement of the fan(atics) belied the fact that most of us are older and more mature. Loreena's music, however, touches all ages, of course. This was proven when a child (maybe 5 years old) seated just in front and to the right of me would get up and dance almost uncontrollably whenever Hugh let loose on the violin. If Hugh's bow were a wand, Harry Potter could not stand up to his magical prowess!

I remember when I first acquired Loreena's CD, The Visit in 1992, "Bonny Portmore" was my least favorite track. I thought it was a good song, just not up to the standards of what else that CD had to offer. When I had the pleasure of seeing her perform in an 800+ seat theatre in 1994, her rendition of this song was so powerful that I felt as if I was alone with her experiencing my own personal concert. The emotions that hit me were palpable. While the audience didn't disappear this time around, the tears hit again. If there is any song that proves Loreena's live vocals are from an angel or one of the fey, it is this one.

The crowd got extremely excited as the first chords of "The Lady of Shalott" started. This is such a beautiful song. I felt cheated when I realized that we only heard a version that was just over five minutes instead of the album length of 11 minutes. I guess with all the favorites that Loreena wanted to perform, some tracks had to be shortened. On a similar note, I believe the tempo was sped up for "The Highwayman." He was galloping full on tonight. Sad as that may be, perhaps better to hit more songs, however briefly, than to skip tracks all together. In all, including the two encores, Loreena performed maybe 18 to 20 songs, mostly older but some from the new album. If the intermission is taken out, I believe we were graced with just under two hours of heavenly music.

Some artists should never perform outside of a studio. Loreena actually improves (as hard as that may be to believe) in a live setting. Whereas some artists can only expand on a tune by adding a repetitious drum beat, Loreena and her Idling Porsches can take her music and reinvent it, almost creating a new song in the process. The new twists and spins are a welcome delight and give listeners the same thrill as discovering special music for the first time. If you have only heard Loreena from CD, you owe it to yourself to hunt down one of her live performances. Her DVD from the Alhambra concert is currently not available at her website, as it is offered as a gift to PBS supporters. Watching Loreena on screen won't be nearly as good as seeing her in person, but it is the next best thing and surely better than not sharing in the experience at all. Next time Lady McKennitt tours, make it a priority to see her. Life is too short to forgo special moments that enrich your life, such as this.

by Wil Owen
30 June 2007