k.d. lang is a stylistic chameleon whose career has veered from Patsy Cline-style honky-tonk to Cali-pop to smooth jazz takes on the Great American Songbook. The only consistent thing about the quirky Canadian is that uncanny, majestic voice that lets her do any ol' thing she wants to do vocally.
Thankfully, lang is not one to simply let her voice deliver the only fireworks during her shows. She's a true star on stage, dancing around barefoot, teasing the crowd and striking all manner of Elvis-ish poses with her guitar or, as happened at her packed Red Butte Garden show Tuesday, even a banjo.
If you're one of the people who hasn't seen lang live, or dismiss her simply as another earnest pop performer playing only for her fellow lesbians, you've completely missed out on one of the great pop vocalists of our time. Sound like hyperbole? That just means you haven't seen her.
At Tuesday's show, lang's incredible vocal instrument was in full effect, showing no signs of age—and as lang noted, she's been in the music biz for 28 years now—nor effects from the altitude. Joined by her band of Nashville aces the Siss Boom Bang, whom she met last year and worked with on her new album, Sing It Loud, lang delivered 17 songs over the course of about 90 minutes, including two encores that actually felt earned, not predetermined.
The set included plenty of the new material, and her five-man band—all decked out in white pants and shirts—gave the old songs new kick, as well. lang started the show with the new album's opener, "I Confess," and went straight into her breezy hit "Summer Fling," a slice of The Mamas and The Papas-inspired ear candy.
After the new "The Water's Edge" and "Miss Chatelaine," lang asked how many people were in the audience, before announcing, "I have a feeling all the freaks in Salt Lake City are here tonight. If you're at a k.d. lang show, you're automatically a freak. And we love freaks!"
After encouraging the parents in the crowd to raise kids who are proud to let their freak flags fly, lang delivered the beautiful title track from Sing It Loud before doing a couple of covers. lang's version of the Talking Heads' "Heaven" was a dramatic re-imagining of the New Wave hit. And her take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is simply the best way you can ever hear that song, save perhaps for Jeff Buckley's version.
From there, lang alternated between old and new; among the highlights of the show's second half were the pedal-steel beauty "Western Stars," a straightforward take on the '70s cheese-nugget "Reminiscing" by Little River Band, a noisy rock version of her biggest hit, "Constant Craving," and the almost-prog rock of the new "Sugar Buzz" during the first encore.
At show's end, lang offered to come back any time Salt Lake City wanted. I think we should take her up on that.
(photo from k.d. lang's Website)