k.d. lang performs "Helpless" and "Constant Craving" with case/lang/veirs
The Beacon is a beautiful theater, one of her favorite places to play, k.d. lang said Monday night, her first words to the SRO crowd, three songs deep into her Ingenue Redux U.S. tour stop. Then the laconic icon self-consciously joked how an artist performing an entire album like Ingenue, chronologically and in its entirety, has never been done before.
From there lang drifted off languorously into the remainder of the record, which in 1992 was nominated for six Grammy Awards, winning Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the single “Constant Craving.” Re-released last year in a special 25th anniversary edition, it remains a contemporary pop album landmark, and lang, backed by a superb seven-piece (including bassist David Piltch, who played on the original and has performed with her since the ’80s), made it all seem like yesterday.
Also after the third song (“Miss Chatelaine,” during which she playfully danced a little soft-shoe--or to be precise--no-shoe, since she always performs barefoot), lang announced that she would say no more until completion of Ingenue, so as not to disturb the “hypnotic” nature of the album and it’s trance-like character. And so it was, the rest of the album’s material delivered, in order, with nary a word, but lang’s trademark purity and warmth of voice and phrasing still mesmerizing indeed.
The only question was how she would fill out the concert after finishing the 10-song Ingenue with “Constant Craving,” its final track. “Honey and Smoke,” from the 2016 case/lang/veirs album collaboration between lang, Neko Case and Laura Veirs, was an excellent choice, as was the three-song taste of lang’s Hymns of the 49th Parallel, her 2004 album of songs by her favorite Canadian songwriters, here comprising Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me,” Neil Young’s “Helpless” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Lang prefaced “Help Me,” which wasn’t on the album (two other Mitchell songs were), by noting that Mitchell was a songwriter of such genius that lang was unable to “deconstruct” her songs and make them her own. But she was able to deconstruct and personalize “Helpless.” As for Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” backed only by Piltch and keyboardist Daniel Clarke, it went beyond hypnotic to truly spellbinding.
As for the rest of her band, Rich Hinman stood out every time he sat down at the pedal steel, which he played in a decidedly non-country context. Brazilian guitarist Grecco Burrato was splendid instrumentally, not to mention as a hair model: Introducing the band, lang strolled over to him and proclaimed that his big hair required “no product.”
Drummer Andrew Borger also received lang’s hairstyle accolades, particularly now that it’s grown from the crewcut of the tour’s start to where it’s so like lang’s that she observed a typical “gaggle of gals” greeting her tour bus who actually mistook him for her. Tahirah Memory was lauded as much for her fitness regimen as her backup singing, while sister backup Moorea Masa figured to be 10 months younger than Ingenue, prompting lang to wonder about her conception.
Like lang, all the musicians wore black. Before the encore, she noted what a nice day it had been, this compared to the “Stormy night” before—an understated allusion to Stormy Daniels’ momentous 60 Minutes appearance the night before. And she dedicated the encore “Sing It Loud” titletrack of her 2011 album to the March For Our Lives kids of the day before.
Twenty-six years later, then, k.d. lang not only proved the enduring magnificence of a career album but of its singer-songwriter, arguably the best to ever cover her countryman’s “Hallelujah,” not to mention Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” not to mention also serve as Tony Bennett’s best duet partner (A Wonderful World, 2002). Not arguably, lang herself also endures as one of the great pop vocalists of our time.