IT’S hard not to be a little in awe of k.d. lang.
Awards and accolades aside — the word ‘legend’ seems to precede her name more often than it doesn’t — she’s just an intimidating force to behold.
That massive, effortless voice, that larger-than-life stage presence — you’re always acutely aware this is grande dame k.d.-freakin’-lang, Canadian icon.
Still, Friday night’s intimate show at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre was a wonderful reminder of just how warm, down to earth and personable the Grammy-winning artist is.
Taking the stage just before 9 p.m., lang (dressed in a suit and barefoot, naturally) and her five-piece backing band, The Siss Boom Bang, got things started with the thunderous I Confess, the lead track off their 2011 album Sing It Loud — and the mischievous, Cheshire-cat grin barely ever left her face.
It was an effortless, playful set that drew from all over lang’s estimable catalogue.
The breezy Summerfling, off 2000’s Invincible Summer gave way to the romantic slow-dance that is The Water’s Edge from Sing It Loud. Lang hammed it up during her ironic 1992 hit Miss Chatelaine — "Something happens in my mind during Miss Chatelaine, and I transform into a great Canadian figure skater — probably male," she deadpanned.
That’s the thing about k.d. lang — she’ll make you laugh, but she’ll also make you cry.
Her famous rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, the show’s centrepiece, was as arresting as ever; it doesn’t matter how many times you hear her do it, she still has the power to bring you to tears.
(There was more than one audible sniffle in the audience, and it garnered a standing ovation.) Hallelujah wasn’t the night’s only cover; the band also did its ethereal cover of The Talking Heads’ Heaven, which is featured on Sing It Loud.
The mood lightened again after that, with the lighthearted Reminiscing, the soulful, organ and handclap-laden Sorrow Nevermore and lots of winking stage banter ("the banjo, I’ve learned, is a bit of a chick magnet."). At press time, the band was heading into its main-set closer: a passionate, hardrocking performance of k.d.’s mammoth 1992 mega-hit Constant Craving, which got the second standing O of the night.
That’s the other thing about k.d. lang: she’s nothing if not a crowd pleaser.
Country sweetheart Lindi Ortega set the tone for the night with a rollicking, half-hour minute set chock full of old-school, high lonesome charm.
Clad in a little black dress and her signature little red cowboy boots (she titled her Juno-nominated 2011 breakout album Little Red Boots in their honour), the Toronto-bred, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and her two-piece backing band offered a teasin’, pleasin’ preview of her new record, Cigarettes & Truckstops, out Oct. 2.
Ortega’s drawling, dulcet warble is often a dead-ringer for Dolly’s — especially on the sweet, sad ballads such as Cigarettes & Truckstops and old-school stomp-yer-boots barnstormers such as new single The Day You Die.
Throw in an edgy take on Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang and a slowed-down, show-stopping reinterpretation of Johnny Cash’s classic Ring of Fire and the whole thing felt like a loving tribute to country music’s golden age.
Ortega definitely earned herself a few new fans Friday night; by the end of her second song, the crowd was cheering for her as loud as it did for k.d.
Jen Zoratti is the music editor at Uptown Magazine.