Live review: k.d. lang at the Ford Theatre
k.d. lang had a gentle warning for fans as she picked up a banjo at the John Anson Ford Theatre on Tuesday. “You may feel a pulling sensation toward the stage. This is normal,” she said with a smile. “I have made the discovery that the banjo is a bit of a chick magnet.”
More likely, it was something else, as her voice soared and glided above subtle layers of country, jazz and pop on “Sorrow Nevermore,” a song from her new album, “Sing It Loud.” Strumming her banjo, she sang dreamily, “Sorrow say good-bye / Love has turned the tide / And I'm not gonna hide anymore.”
Not every moment has to hurt to be felt. For many of her songs, just being in love is overwhelming enough, along with its accompanying anticipation of heartbreak.
She was joined by the members of Siss Boom Bang, a touring and recording band of her own for the first time in decades, whom she met a year ago at their first recording session together in Nashville. The five musicians were sensitive collaborators, delivering a bit of torch and twang of their own and, like lang, were dressed in luminous white.
The band's effect on her sound was immediate. Her last album, 2008's “Watershed,” was awash in strings, but this time lang has stripped her sound to some organic essentials, allowing her voice to deliver a searing emotional truth even on the quietest songs. No sweetening necessary.
Critics have quibbled with some of her choices over the last decade, but lang remains one of the great voices of her generation, in any genre. And genre has been increasingly hard to pin down for the singer ever since she drifted from her early career as a latter-generation Patsy Cline and into some less defined territories of lounge and pop.
What hasn't changed are her central obsessions of romance and identity. “I can't help but love you ... it's just how I am,” she sang Tuesday on “A Sleep With No Dreaming.” As an openly gay performer, identity has never been incidental to her message. On the new album's title song, she is caring and encouraging. Against the band's subtle accents on banjo and acoustic guitar, she purred the song's closing lyric, “Sing it loud, so you can remember who you are.”
One surprising choice of the night was the airy soft-rock of “Reminiscing,” a big hit for the Little River Band in 1978 (which lang includes as a bonus track on the Australian version of “Sing It Loud”). At the Ford, lang danced across the stage and lifted the tune through shear enthusiasm.
Far more moving were her aching, angelic readings of Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” and Talking Heads' “Heaven.” The encore included her torrid “Sugar Buzz,” a bluesy expression of yearning with a scorching guitar duel between Joe Pisapia and Joshua Grange. The song was proof enough at the Ford that her constant craving goes on and on.
-- Steve Appleford
Photo: k.d. lang. Credit: From Nonesuch Records