Photos by Janine Wong (2016).
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of her best-selling album Ingenue, k.d. lang brought her Ingenue Redux tour to Toronto for two nights at the Sony Centre after several weeks moving eastward from Victoria. Her star shone bright in a fitting venue to match her sound, a rambunctious sold-out crowd ready to greet her. But before she could grace the stage, opener Donovan Woods made quick work of warming everyone up. With charming (and hilariously self-deprecating) stage banter, Woods shared tales and sang songs of his long songwriting career and more recent singer-songwriter persona. His brief set ended inviting us to “stick around for the greatest singer in the world.”
Before long, k.d. took the stage (barefoot, as always) with her impressive 7-piece band matching and enhancing the original 1992 album’s jazzy, early-90s pop sound. lang performed Ingenue in its entirety, starting with the sultry “Save Me” and bringing “The Mind of Love” to life. Soon after, one of her biggest hits “Miss Chatelaine” was accompanied by an impromptu exaggerated (and definitely not choreographed) dance from lang herself. With these three tracks I felt like I was listening to her record played loud through the best possible speakers. She then paused before continuing, warning the audience that the rest of the album was about to “lull everyone into a trance, ruminating about love…”
lang’s voice was in excellent condition, hitting lows and highs equally impressively while pulling off dramatic long notes and sultry tones. The audience was rapt – everything sounded excellent and I was equally impressed how spot-on the sound mixing was. lang’s band was full of very talented musicians, and as the show progressed each bandmember had more of an opportunity to let their skill show. By the time “Season of Hollow Soul” came around (my personal favourite k.d. lang track), the album had been played pretty similarly to how it was recorded (not that this was a problem!) – but with this song, lang changed things up with a slow and very jazz-influenced first verse and chorus before building to the more flamboyant sound of the original track.
Despite a lot of delightful banter to come, lang went from song to song with little to say for the duration of the Ingenue set, but by the time she came to “Constant Craving,” the album’s last track and her biggest hit, her knowing smile was shared with the audience’s cheers. lang sounded incredible hitting her notes and there were moments when it was hard to believe everything was recorded more than 25 years ago. Steel guitar, organ, background vocals, double bass were all serving to give the song the respect the Grammy-winning track deserved. At the song’s conclusion, the audience answered in full with powerful standing ovation.
With the album set done, lang turned to her illustrious catalogue of hits, covers and even some lesser-known fare for the remainder of the show. Her personality truly shone in one of the most entertaining band introductions I’ve ever seen, going one-by-one through the lead guitarist (and yoga instructor, we learned), multi-instrumentalist, perfectly complimentary (and hilarious) background singers, drummer (who is apparently a very quiet man), keyboardist and lang’s bassist (for 25 years!) who has played on almost every album including and since Ingenue.
Introductions settled, lang went into “Honey and Smoke,” the first single from her collaboration with Neko Case and Laure Veirs in 2016 case/lang/veirs, followed by “I Dream of Spring,” both songs sounding beautifully re-interpreted for the touring band. These being later songs, lang’s voice was even stronger as she had written them for her modern sound. Next, to finish her main set, lang was preparing the audience for three covers of songs by Canadian songwriters. She waxed romantic about her relationship with Canada (and how her current relationship has repatriated her) but especially about how much she loves Canadians and our values. Not to mention the praises she sang for Joni Mitchell before going into a faithful but stirring rendition of Mitchell’s “Help Me.”
The next two songs, however, filled the Sony Centre with an enraptured silence I hadn’t heard since…well, seeing lang last year during the case/lang/veirs tour. With just piano and bass to get her started, lang began “Helpless,” a Neil Young cover from her hit Hymns of the 49th Parallel record. The simple, pared-down arrangement allowed lang’s voice to remain in focus, with breathtaking, powerful notes reverberating off the theatre’s walls and into the audience’s memories.
But then, lang performed the other well-known cover from Hymns. The same song that stirred renewed interest in lang after her stunning performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics – Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” No review could encapsulate the experience of hearing lang perform “Hallelujah” life. Immediately afterward, as the crowd found themselves on their feet for many minutes in thunderous applause, it occurred to me that this is something you have to experience at least once, if you can. The YouTube videos don’t do it justice, lang’s voice was full of raw emotion and power – I can’t even remember which bandmembers were still on stage, many had left for the pre-encore break before this song. All I can recall is seeing the spotlight on lang, pulling the mic away so her voice wouldn’t destroy the sound system, and feeling her give the audience a big vocal hug.
Honestly, nothing could compare to that moment afterward. lang and her band came out for a 3-song encore, with a lively rendition of “Sing it Loud” followed by “I Confess,” both great encore songs as they are more pop-infused, fun tracks as opposed to vocal powerhouse opportunities for lang. She ended the show on “Sleeping Alone,” which I confess was a bit of a bummer lyric-wise but gave us all a fabulous ending to a great show. If you have a chance to see k.d. lang, I highly recommend it – there’s a lot of great banter that, while worth repeating, aren’t really appropriate for writing down. For that – and the opportunity to hear her “Hallelujah” live – you’ll have one amazing night, just like I did.