Wednesday 17th July, 2019
A Colston Hall presents show, part of River Town, part of k.d’s 25th+ Ingenue anniversary tour, at the beautiful Forum in Bath, it is fair to say this gig was covering a lot of bases at once. It was an expensive one, even the cheapest seats towards the back of the balcony were almost £30, but k.d is a rare talent and one that tours the UK infrequently so I decided it would be worth it.
I was 15 when Ingenue was released. At that time, living in a rural village in the days of 3 TV channels and before the invention of the internet, I wouldn’t have even known what a lesbian was, let alone have been able to name any! Representation matters. Things have improved somewhat in the intervening 27 years, but we still have a long way to go to reach full equality. Although I could name you a dozen famous lesbians now, few to none of them would be black or disabled – the intersections of prejudice still oppress. I would have written this without reference to k.d’s sexuality, but that would be to deny an enormous part of who k.d Lang is as an artist and it would also deny what her music has meant to so many. The audience was filled with women. Filled with gay women. Proudly there in couples, with wives, girlfriends and friends. The warmth and affection that k.d is held in evident in the deafening applause and laughter. Talking about the age of the album, k.d “you know what that means? We are gay elders. Do we have any in the house tonight?” met with applause, hoots and cries of yes.
Reflecting now, there are facets to Ingenue that bypassed me completely at the time, but that add layers and depth to the music for me now. That is where and how these whole album shows can be so good. They provide a way to relive music we loved in the past, hear it again anew perhaps, but they also serve purpose for those too young to have heard it live at the time. They can be a nostalgia trip and a money making scheme for the artists, but they can also provide opportunity to revive songs they have cherished too.
Ingenue is a much more varied album than I remember, and k.d a whole lot more than she is given credit for. It is a gentle, introspective and at times sad album about love and repression. There are country tinges, sure, but there are also bosa nova beats and lots of other layers. I’ve listened to it, in full, twice over today and I think I’ll be replaying it a whole lot more in the coming weeks.
The lighting and set design were superb, changing for every song. The backdrop, all swirling curtaining, spiralling like thick paint on a Van Gogh canvas, with circular lights that were the night sky, then sunflowers, then glowing suns. The rich colour palette and tones were also reminiscent of Van Gogh, rich, deep emerald green, vivid blues and yellows, strong reds. They added hugely to the show and the interpretations of every song.
k.d’s voice. Well. She has a beautiful voice. A soulful voice. An understated voice. A treacly smooth voice that drips warmth like honey. A voice that never falters and sails the musical ship with a steady hand. Part chanteuse, part crooner, partly from another time, yet timeless and modern too. Jazz, country, soul all rolled into one peerless package. The yearning and pain so cleanly felt and expressed. Every song sounded amazing, exquisitely delivered by a woman who knows her instrument and uses it so wisely to convey and share buried emotions. I was expecting Constant Craving to be the highlight, it is the best known and closes the album, but Outside Myself moved me a great deal more. Perhaps I could find parallels between k.d’s attempts at understanding and connecting herself to my own life. Whichever song you picked as a favourite, they all melted time. This was one of those gigs were I felt no time at all had passed, that we had simply drifted away on the pillowy cloud that is k.d Lang’s voice.
Now that the album was done, k.d allowed herself to open up and chat – she had refrained from interrupting the flow before. What a wonderfully funny, warm human she is! I could have happily listened to her tell stories for hours. The band were given full, loving, introductions, with bon mots and hugs. They were all excellent, providing the perfect backdrop to hang k.d’s voice from.
We were treated to a trio of covers, and when you can do Joni Mitchell and Neil Young justice, you know you can arrange and sing. Then. Then k.d performed Hallelujah. Stripped right back to a piano, a tiny portion of double bass and k.d’s incredible voice, it reclaimed the song from the X Factor and Shrek hell it has been languishing in and showcased what a songwriter Cohen was and what an amazing interpreter of song k.d is. Gentle, understated, plaintive and slowed down it knocked the breath right out of me. By the end you felt k.d was singing out her very soul. For me. For you. For us all. She ended with a plea for love, for kindness, dedicating it to Greta Thunberg and the young women of Florida taking on the NRA. I am not entirely sure how I didn’t cry.
I almost didn’t want there to be an encore, I didn’t feel you could find anything more fitting and perfect to end on than she had closed the set with. Yet, although different, she did, finding another tool in the armoury and concluding with another couple of wonderful songs that left us with hope in our hearts and a warm glow.
I had taken a bet that k.d Lang live would be worth it, and the gamble paid off. I would love to see her again. The love, warmth and humanity in her songs and voice are a much-needed tonic and balm for these troubled times.