k.d. lang / February 27, 2008 / New York (The Allen Room at Lincoln Center)
While countless New Yorkers were at home watching the latest round of fledgelings on "American Idol," veteran Canadian singer-songwriter kd lang treated a rapt Lincoln Center audience to an intimate eWhile countless New Yorkers were at home watching the latest round of fledgelings on "American Idol," veteran Canadian singer-songwriter k.d. lang treated a rapt Lincoln Center audience to an intimate evening of pop, folk, rock and country with her fluent and, at times, astonishing voice, in the spotlight.
To call the show "intimate" actually doesn't do justice to the uniquely up-close-and-personal performance, all of which took place in a small room with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall revealing Central Park and the Manhattan skyline behind the players. After pianist Dustin O'Halloran's 15 minutes of atmospheric, flim-score ready instrumentals (obligatory Warhol quip included), lang entered the darkened room barefoot in a grey tie and dark suit-vest and she and her five-piece combo opened the 90-minute set with "Upstream" from her months-old latest album, "Watershed." By song two, an emotional cover of Neil Young's "Helpless," she was off the stage and singing out among the seated crowd of 463. Listening closely, one could hear her voice unaided by the microphone. A few songs later, an audience member's comment led to an impromptu mass guitar pick giveaway. "It's like giving out candy or communion," she joked.
It's rare to see an artist who seemed to genuinely have fun as much as lang was. Smiling broadly all night, lang's disarming ease on stage -- the bare feet, the occasional little jig -- only once veered a little too far into goofiness as she mimed puffing on a cigar with a wine cork borrowed from a couple down front during the sinuous ballad "Smoke Rings."
During the course of the 18-song, multiple standing-ovation set -- the second of a sold-out three-night stand -- lang and band made their way through recent works ("I Dream of Spring," "Coming Home, rock organ centered "Sunday," all from "Watershed"), as well as the classic songs (the Tex-Mex "Western Stars" from 1988's "Shadowland"; "Wash Me Clean" from 1992's high-charting "Ingenue"). The able backing band, dressed in frock coats and pinstripes, was rounded out by guitarist Grecco Buratto, keyboardist Daniel Clarke, pedal steel guitarist Joshua Grange, drummer Danny Frankel, and bassist Ian Walker (whom lang riffed was only three-years-old when her first album came out).
The obvious choice for the show's apex could easily have been the rocked-up rendition of lang's biggest hit, "Contstant Craving," which the crowd did clearly love. But the hands-down centerpiece was, instead, her spirited, soaring version of Leonard Cohen's much-covered "Hallelujah." With a flushed face and eyes closed, lang wove the interlocking, mesmerizing notes into each other, each building to the song's undeniably spiritual climax.
"American Idol" might be fine for any other random weekday night, but on this otherwise nothing Wednesday, the Canadian with a big voice reminded a small roomful of New Yorkers what a pleasure it can be to hear someone really sing.