Before we embark on this review, I confess: k.d. lang makes me cry. Every time. Her supple, sultry voice carries so much emotion, and when she quietly tears into "Hallelujah," the heavens quiver and shake and the tears start streaming down my face. I don't think I'm the only one. At Sunday night's sold-out show at the Gaillard, I noticed quite a few tears being wiped away as her voice effortlessly soared through Leonard Cohen's gospel-tinged song, which came about a third of the way through the concert and received a standing ovation. From there, she kept us in an emotional state with "Trail of Broken Tears" and "Western Stars," two twangy torch songs that date back to her country days, before letting us shake off the heartbreak with some more rollicking tunes from the Siss Boom Bang (her new band).
Lang is a master showman, going from sexy chanteuse ("Miss Chatelaine") to Elvis impersonator to a banjo-playing chick magnet in a matter of moments. The Siss Boom Bang backed her with great musicianship, playing everything from the organ and piano to steel guitar and stand-up bass. The newer songs — "Sing It Loud," "The Water's Edge," and a cover of the Talking Heads' "Heaven" — have brought lang back to her alt-country roots. After her success in the late '90s with hit songs like "Constant Craving" and "Miss Chatelaine," lang could easily have stayed in that safe adult contemporary space, but thankfully she hasn't. Indeed, she's turned "Constant Craving" into a veritable country tune that was nearly unrecognizable at first.
After opening the show with several new tunes, lang wielded her signature cheeky charm, telling the audience they were obviously a bunch of freaks since they were at a k.d. lang show. "But that's OK, we want you to let your freak flags fly," she encouraged, "because we love you for who you are." Then she launched into "Sing It Loud," a new tune that had a sort of '70s-vibe to it with a vintage mellotron riff. The lyrics also had an affirming free-to-be-you-and-me message: "Sing it loud, sing it, sing it, sing it loud / So everyone knows / Who you are."
Over the course of the 90-minute show, she sang original songs, delved into her own catalog of tunes, and played plenty of covers, including an awesomely countrified version of Little River Band's "Reminiscing."
By the end of the evening, she had the audience lapping it up, even those men she mentioned in the beginning — the guys brought by their wives who were probably feeling a little nervous by the freak show. Lang soothed their fears by promising a "fair and balanced" show. Oh, she's good, very good.
Lang is such an interesting package. She's got a masculine rock-star vibe, yet her voice is so very feminine, and she effectively puts the power of those alluring pipes to good use. When she purrs lyrics like: "I confess I need you badly / hold me in your arms / love me madly / I confess I'll be your daddy / ask for anything / I'll do it gladly" it'd be a hard-hearted soul that didn't want to curl up with her and let her sing you to sleep (or whatever).
The show seemed to end far too quickly, but she came out for two encores, tearing through a raucous "Big-Boned Gal" and ripping up "Pay Dirt," a rollicking country tune from her 1987 album Angel With a Lariat. Her band gathered tight around her with their instruments for an old-timey Roy Orbison vibe.
In the end, it was a varied, exciting show that showed Charleston what this artist has to offer. Hopefully lang will keep her promise and come back to Charleston again very soon.