k.d. Lang | 10.18.2008

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Lang may have a voice to die for, but she’s never stopped having fun with it or with the music.

 

 

Touhill Performing Arts Center, St. Louis

k.d. lang performed to a packed house at the Touhill Performing Arts Center this past Saturday, proving that she’s still got it all: a voice that rivals Patsy Cline and Tony Bennett at their best, a post-ironic mastery of multiple styles, and a charming, self-deprecating stage presence which allows her to shift effortlessly from belting a ballad to flirting with the band (five handsome young men, as she was quick to point out) to chatting about the Rams and the Obama rally. Lang may have a voice to die for, but she’s never stopped having fun with it or with the music.

The concert, impeccably executed right down to the multiple encores, presented material from most of her storied career, which now stretches back almost 30 years (and if that makes you feel old, we can only hope you’ve aged as gracefully, and in as good a humor, as she has). She opened with songs from her more recent albums: the soulful ballad “Upstream” from her 2008 Watershed album and an absolutely heartbreaking performance of Neil Young’s “Helpless,” which appears on her 2004 album Hymns to the 49th Parallel featuring Canadian songwriters.

Lang revisited her country roots with “Western Stars” and “Pay Dirt,” among others, the latter performed around a single omnidirectional condenser mike in old-time radio style. Songs from her Ingenue period drew the biggest crowd response, including “Wash Me Clean,” “Miss Chatelaine” and “Constant Craving”—the latter retains its elemental power despite becoming a fixture in countless elevators, shopping malls, and dentist’s offices. Her collaboration with Tony Bennett (which led to her fourth Grammy, in 2003) was referenced with a piano-bar rendition of “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”

Some of the evening’s most powerful material came from songs included in Hymns to the 49th Parallel, including Jane Siberry’s “The Valley” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” fans of Lang’s earlier work who ceased paying attention after Drag should be inspired to check out her later work.

Lang and her band are on a killer tour: Friday night they played in Chicago, Sunday in St. Paul, and earlier in the year they also appeared in Europe, and Australia and New Zealand. But there was nothing minimal about the show at the Touhill, which included outstanding lighting design and varied arrangements which highlighted the versatility of Lang’s voice and of the band as well.

Dustin O’Halloran, a solo pianist who has written music for several films including Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, opened the concert. He’s a charming young man (imagine what Michael Cera may look and act like a few years from now) who writes music to match: soothing, gentle, and based in a harmonic and melodic system which barely acknowledges that the nineteenth or twentieth centuries even occurred. But he has a nice touch on the piano and the audience enjoyed his music, and having an endorsement from one of the greatest female vocalists of all time certainly can’t hurt his career prospects. | Sarah Boslaugh

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