I didn't grow up in a church-going family; in fact, aside from a couple of curiosity-driven trips to Sunday school I didn't set foot in a church until I was deep into my teens. I don't know if that takes the sense of surprise away from concerts in churches (by this point, after numerous years of attending the Guelph Jazz Festival, I've definitely spent more time listening to music in churches than in listening to religious services) but the overblown setting of a particularly spectacular church can still add a dimension to certain musical performances.
Such was the case on Thursday night in Ottawa, when I caught John McLaughlin's electric quartet in a vaulted United church — reminiscent of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral on a smaller scale — and the following evening when I saw Patti Smith in Montreal's magnificent Eglise St-Jean-Baptiste. Both McLaughlin and Smith have woven spirituality into their music throughout their careers, and continue to call on some higher power to guide their art. Not surprisingly, both shows were uplifting: McLaughlin's through his band's soaring themes and lilting melodicism; Smith's through her devotion to wayward souls (quoting Ginsberg, Hendrix and Cobain among others) and her powerful call for audience members to speak out against oppression. Looking up at the opulent, rococo decorations of the cathedral, she said that brotherhood was the best message the Catholic Church had to offer. The two nuns seated in front of us would likely have agreed had they not already bailed (one had been nodding off) during "Smells Like Teen Spirit."