In the Presence of a Troubadour

It’s great to be at a show where everyone is there to see the performer. Such is the case at the Sings Like Hell series, which isn’t as much about a “scene” as it is about music fans coming out to listen to new voices or longtime favorites. So the atmosphere is always electric, because SLH fans go to the beautiful Lobero Theatre to get involved with great music. As it should be.

Scotsman Dougie MacLean (that’s “Doo-gie”), who played Saturday night, comes from a different style and tradition of performer. He sings his mature and lovely songs, and plays his acoustic guitar with gorgeous and lush perfection — but who doesn’t? What sets apart Dougie MacLean from his singer/songwriter peers is that from the moment he shambles on stage in baggy jeans and long hair, he’s got the audience in his palm. He smiles, tells jokes, talks about where he’s from, makes fun of himself, says “wee” a lot, and stops songs to tell more jokes. So we’re all laughing and feeling charmed, and then he sings an achingly beautiful song about the way the wind comes off the Atlantic and slams into the “wee” village in Scotland he calls home, and folks in the audience are probably near to tears; and then the song ends and he tells another joke and folks in the audience are again near to tears only because they’re laughing at the image of tourists that have biked for two days against said wind and have gone only two miles.

Taken individually as a craftsman of intricate, sensitive songs, or only as a storyteller with a Scottish accent, MacLean probably doesn’t stand out. But he does both, quite powerfully, and when the 600 of us in our seats are running this gamut of emotions that he elicits, well, it’s a whole different story. Another fine show in the inimitable Sings Like Hell series.

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