If Dougie MacLean was having as bad of a day as he explained he was before he kicked off the first of two sets Tuesday night at the GE Theatre at Proctors, he certainly turned it around during his performance.
The venerable Scottish singer-songwriter wasn’t shy about sharing his travel woes with the enthusiastic audience throughout his first set — including a four-hour airport delay, a botched hotel reservation, destruction of expensive video equipment and his ongoing jet lag.
He also didn’t hold back when it came to the stories behind his songs, from the humorous to the deeply personal and moving, sharing bits from his 40 years as a touring musician and his own family history and relationships.
With shows at The Eighth Step, the word “intimate” gets thrown around quite a bit, but MacLean’s candidness (and his penchant for encouraging every song he sang to turn into a sing-along) took the intimacy in the small GE Theatre to a new level. A long-time veteran of Eighth Step from its coffeehouse days in Albany, MacLean proved more than a fitting choice to close out the folk venue’s 45th season.
MacLean was all grins as he walked to the microphone shortly before 7:30 p.m., despite his tale of travel woes. “Holding Back” immediately set the introspective tone of the evening, with MacLean’s crisp fingerpicking and sturdy vocal delivering on the emotional choruses. The deeply personal “Talking With My Father,” one of the highlights of the first set, continued to showcase MacLean’s contemplative side, even as he cracked the crowd up with stories about his father before playing it.
The rest of the first set struck a less somber tone, beginning with the cheeky “In the Shadow of the Mountain,” which MacLean explained was inspired by a volcano he encountered on tour in Alaska. It was here that MacLean began coaching the audience to sing the choruses, something he continued to do throughout the evening — at times coming across like a slightly frustrated choir teacher. First set closer “Not Lie Down” was stretched out thanks to MacLean’s insistence on repeating and re-repeating the chorus until the audience got it just right (or close enough, anyway) — not that it was a bad thing; the song and performance were among the evening’s best.
There was plenty of audience participation in the second act as well — during “Turning Away,” MacLean enlisted the audience to fill in on percussion, and the resulting stomps shuddered through the bleachers.
MacLean saved his best known material for last, including the world-famous “Caledonia,” of course, but also gems such as the quietly determined “Ready For the Storm” and the meditative love song “She Will Find Me.” A newer song, “Resolution,” the title track of his most recent 2010 album, opened the set a bit inauspiciously but proved to be another highlight.
“Singing Land,” MacLean’s tribute to Australia, provided a fitting climax to the evening. By the end of the song, MacLean stopped playing and singing and let the audience carry the final two choruses a cappella, in one of the evening’s most moving moments.