Ladies and gentlemen, Ms k.d. lang

September 2012, Centre in the Square, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

I had all good intentions of getting a list a few tracks from k.d. lang’s new album, Sing It Loud, before seeing her in concert last Wednesday. But with the renovations going on, that just didn’t happen. So it occurred to me that I didn’t really know that many k.d. lang songs. I have the Ingenue album, and Hymns of the 49th Parallel, a few more versions of her singing “Hallelujah”, and her duet of “Crying” with Roy Orbison. That’s it.

Turns out my three companions to the concert were pretty much in the same boat. We were joking how we’d all just be sitting there, waiting for “Hallelujah”. But that voice, right? It should be great on any tune, whether we knew the song or not.

When you listen to k.d.’s beautiful voice on record, singing what may be sad or serious songs, you can forget just how eccentric and funny she actually is in person. Not so live. In fact, that was apparent even before she took the stage. During intermission we were puzzled how Centre in the Square’s usual soundtrack of mellow classic rock had been replaced by marching band music.

The colorful (blonde wig) announcer explained that the tuba-infused music was k.d.’s choice. Then the woman herself came on and started with some off-kilter country dancing. And now I remembered that first Juno award, in the wedding dress.

The first recognizable song she performed was “Miss Chatelaine”, and it was a hilarious take, with her flouncing around the stage, striking mock Playboy poses. Her banter with the crowd was also fun, as when she introduced her cover of The Talking Head’s “Heaven”: “Time to repent with a song by one of the all-time great country bands”. And that song also proved to be the segue into “Hallelujah”. Which was gorgeous, and amazing, and not quite like any of three versions I already have. (Made me wish I recorded this one.) Literal goosebumps.

And thus, her first standing ovation, mid-set.

But there was plenty more fun and awe to be had, include “Constant Craving” re-imagined as a rock tune, a version of “Helpless” with audience singalong, her description of the banjo as “real chick magnet”, and a saucy take on “Coffee and Cream” in which she made herself laugh. The very enthusiastic audience (more female than male, but not dramatically so; skewing middle aged) lapped it up.

The voice really is spectacular, and she has such control over it, and Centre is the Square is one of the best places in the country to listen to great voices. (And our sound stage-level centre seats apparently one of the very best spots in it for that.)

Should also mention the opening act, Lindi Ortega, who none of us thought we knew. So I was a little surprised to realize that I recognized her second song, “Little Lie” (which she wrote), well enough that I could have sung along. Apparently it was a free song from either iTunes or Starbucks, which I had acquired and had played often enough to recognize. (Not always the case with those free tunes.) It’s good!

In fact, her whole set was good, featuring a couple Johnny Cash tunes along with her own. She has a kind of funky country sound and look, and comes across rather charming in her stage banter. Nice vocal chops as well.

Heaven + Hallelujah from an earlier stop on her tour