K.D. Lang – Symphony hall, Birmingham – 2nd December 2004

Supported by Duel.

Duel are two cherubic young violinists, Greg Scott and Craig Owen, who have hit the classical charts at number one with their debut album. They do have a very sweet tone as they play along to backing tracks of popular classics such as Manuel’s Music of the mountains, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Danse Macabre and others. A diversion for a string break, then some tea dance music and a jig which were pleasant enough and I do not doubt that they are talented, but this appears to be only a step away from the busking they used to do as students. Sometimes it was hard to tell where the backing stopped and they started and hence the feeling of authenticity was somewhat lacking. But I’m sure their cd is very nice.
K.D. Lang.

Post gig, it is interesting to lurk behind other punters and hear what their comments are; and I quote: “I realised she’d be good, but I didn’t think she’d be that good.” After ten years or so I had the opportunity to see this incredible vocalist once more, I had become unimpressed and not bothered in the intervening years – and there had also been a lull in ms. Lang’s output. lang has been performing in front of audiences for a great many years and, apart from some shaky starts, appeared as relaxed, confident and in good humour as though she had never left. Performing in bare feet (apparently it helps singing by keeping you grounded so a companion told me) she started off with a jazz-tinged “Don’t smoke in bed” and continued through a range of hits and favourites that demonstrated her incredible voice. The set was not long and there were pauses for chats and banter with the audience all the way through, as that amount of power simply cannot be sustainable; I have never heard notes held for so long at such strength, unwavering and true, particularly in the slow “Still thrives this love”. It was awesome. That is not to say that this was volume and power unrelenting, I am convinced that K.D. Lang can do anything with her voice, from a whisper to a scream as Costello might say and this also came across through the songs.

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This tour is to promote the latest album, “Hymns of the 49th parallel”, an album of songs by Canadian artists such as Neil Young, Jane Siberry and Leonard Cohen and it struck me how much the songs she chose from here gave another dimension to the concert. It was nice to hear her do something different, a bit more pacey and with different phrasing musically and lyrically than we have come to expect. However, there were concert standards here too; Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, “Miss Chatelaine”, “Three cigarettes in an ashtray” and “Constant craving” which she self-deprecatingly introduced as “a medley of my hit”.

Backing was provided by a string quartet (that included the boys from Duel), lovely piano, double bass, guitars, and drums. The low key backing was very low key and if there were any criticism it would have to be that the lacklustre drums could have been used to much greater effect. The laid back feel that is verged upon in her recent recordings threatens that she is often a whisker away from being an easy-listening, lounge singer, albeit with a good voice. Thankfully, live, and with some new material, it is evident that she has much more to offer.


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