kd lang review – hypnotic revival of an LGBT classic

‘Are there any gay people in the audience?” asks kd lang, to whoops of affirmation, especially from women. “Yes, there probably are a few lesbians,” chuckles the singer, to more whooping. Times have changed. In 1992, when out women in pop were virtually unheard of, the Canadian singer’s landmark album Ingénue subverted traditionally conservative country music – initially to bad reviews. When she came out during the album’s promotional campaign, some radio stations stopped playing her music and she faced a picket line at the Grammys (she has since shrugged this off, saying she’d already faced worse when she made an anti-meat-eating advert for Peta). By then, though, Constant Craving was a global hit and Ingénue was on its way to shipping multi-platinum, turning lang into an icon.

The strange thing about her performing the album again now – on the Ingénue Redux tour – is that for all the progressions of same-sex marriage, oppressive attitudes are rising once again. Recent homophobic attacks and last week’s startling news that intolerance of gay sex is on the rise for the first time since the 1980s Aids crisis have certainly sharpened the songs’ relevance. When lang sings about being unable to discuss her feelings so she ends up talking to herself, “causing great concern for my health”, in The Mind of Love, she could have written the words yesterday.

With her black suit and boyish quiff, the 57-year-old retains the androgynous style that once led Madonna to exclaim, “Elvis lives, and she’s beautiful” and paved the way for, say, the gender-fluid Héloïse Letissier, AKA Chris. lang’s voice remains as pure as the proverbial driven snow and yet, serious song content aside, she’s a hoot. She asks the audience “How the Hull are you?”, illustrates the accordion-powered Miss Chatelaine with a comical Morecambe & Wise-type jig and makes rude jokes about “strapping on” her acoustic guitar. Suddenly, though, she announces an end to the “bantz” because it will ruin Ingénue’s “hypnotic effect” and she’s right.

‘An ecstatic cry for freedom’ ... kd lang in Hull.

‘An ecstatic cry for freedom’ … kd lang in Hull. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

These are songs of desire, denial, repression and devotion. Wash Me Clean finds her reaching deep into her well of emotions for the line: “My desire carries no shame.” Her excellent band, featuring Ingénue bassist David Piltch, deliver the album’s mix of roots and lush pop almost entirely as it was, although there’s a new monologue about a cypress tree. A jazzy Season of Hollow Soul erupts into its soaring Abba-style chorus; Outside Myself remains an ecstatic cry for freedom.

lang’s concerns are always widening. She talks about the “insanities” in the US and dedicates songs to environmentalist Greta Thunberg and gun control campaigner Emma González. When she urges everyone to turn the world’s rising hatred into love, it’s more heartfelt plea than cheesy patter. The encores include a beautiful reworking of Neil Young’s Helpless and a version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah wherein lang holds every note like a prayer.

Constant Craving closes the Ingénue section, as on the album. lang delivers it perfectly before handing the microphone to the audience for them to sing, slightly off-key but joyously and arm in arm. The evergreen chorus of “Constant craving has always been” sounds like an uplifting celebration of hard-won freedoms and a defiant manifesto for battles that are still ahead.

At Brighton Dome, Tuesday 16 July. Then touring. Details


Leave a Reply