k.d. lang Returns to Northeast Ohio
March 18th, 2018
Canadian chanteuse k.d. lang returned to Northeast Ohio Saturday night after an extended absence. Her return to Akron's Goodyear Theater was met by an almost-sold out house, impacted, most likely, from the St. Paddy's day festivities that encapsulated most of the 216 and a large part of Akron. It's a shame that green beer and the ensuing rivers of green puke overshadowed lang's return; she's one of a handful of entertainers that defy both genre and classification. Ostensibly a crooner, she has the uncanny knack of taking her mezzo-soprano from a Western Swing riff right into a bossa-nova beat and then loop it straight back into a twangy country tune. I'd peg her as a bit of Roy Orbison cum Hank Williams, one part Peggy Lee and a dash of Joni Mitchell thrown in for good measure, all rolled up into a little Canadian fireball.
Starting as a country singer in her native Canada, lang hit it big in the late 1980s when Roy Orbison chose her to duet with him on his classic tune "Crying." Winning a Grammy for "Best Country Duet" in 1989, lang was an instant sensation. Her biggest hit, 1992's "Constant Craving" took her up the pop charts. Settling into mainstream success didn't seem difficult, then she announced to the world that she was gay. Bravely, and perhaps unintentionally, taking up the mantle for LGBT rights almost thirty years ago, she became a pioneer for gay rights and a role model for others to announce themselves to the world. Thankfully, what was once a mountain is now a veritable molehill; celebs coming out to the world is no longer a career-ending proposition nor a big deal. For the most part, they all have lang to thank for that.
Her career didn't suffer from her announcement all those years ago; Saturday's crowd was a testament to that.
Touring in celebration of her 1992 release Ingenue, lang and her seven-member backup band put on one hell of a show. Taking the stage in a tailored suit and a lack of footwear, the barefoot crooner was greeted by a series of hoots, catcalls and copious amounts of clapping. Playing for a hundred minutes, the seventeen-song set included Ingenue in its entirety, played in the order in which the songs appeared on the album. A three-song set then gave us three of her favorite songwriters--all Canadian, mind you--in the form of "Help Me" by Joni Mitchell, "Helpless" by Neil Young, and a haunting rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
She then came back out for an encore with "Sing It Loud" and "Sleeping Alone." While politics played a very small part in the evening's processional, she did give a shout out to Parkland High School shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez and coaxed "all the kids to keep marching."
While many of her contemporaries have hit those post-middle aged vocal maladies, lang's voice is as strong now as it was when she recorded with Orbison thirty years ago. Her pitch is damned-near perfect on every note and she displays impeccable tone. Ms. lang's ability to find her way around a tune was evident on her superb renditions of "Wash Me Clean" and "So It Shall Be." Perhaps moreso than the other songs she offered last night, these two really displayed her vocal abilities.
Playing a seminal record in its entirety has become the fashionable thing of late, giving an artist a good reason to tour to celebrate a milestone from their past. Hearing lang and company play the twenty-seven year old record live gave me goosebumps. It's one thing to roll out a seventy-something former-shell-of-an-artist to embarrassingly mumble through some old hits, but it's an entirely different experience to hear a chanteuse still at the top of her game belting out tunes that are, perhaps, more relevant today then when she wrote them.
Photos and Review by Brian M. Lumley