k.d. lang – Bonus Arena, Hull, UK (13th July 2019)

The first show of kd Lang’s UK 2019 tour was in a venue opened less than a year previously; whereas the tour was, contrastingly, celebrating the “second anniversary of the 25th anniversary” of Ingenue, Lang’s breakthrough 1992 album.

There have been mild comments about sound issues since it opened, the seated tiers have reported crackling and feedback at the start of each show until about ten minutes in. These didn’t affect the support act for the evening, one half of the Australian duo, the Grigoryan Brothers. Leonard Grigoryan appeared by himself playing an instrumental set of Spanish guitar. After the first song he introduced himself before explaining his brother’s absence – currently in charge of a guitar festival in Adelaide. Despite the songs mostly being arranged for two guitars, Leonard appeared at ease with his short set in between chatting to the audience. Closing with the piece “This Time” he added in ‘If you do enjoy it, we have many, many….. Far too many CDs for sale. I’ll come down to the merch stall afterwards and try and sell some. If you want them.’ Clearly a talented guitarist and performer, able to tune the guitar up and down while still keeping the audience entertained, it was only a shame that it wasn’t possible to see both brothers perform.

There was a brief interlude as the equipment from the support was cleared, accompanied by music from classic films – Moon River and Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, anyone? – before the lights fully dropped except a spotlight on the centre of the draped stage. They opened and showed kd Lang in a suit, barefoot, and the full band ready to play. Through the course of the set each musician got chance to play individually as kd stood so that the focus was on them, performing guitar, piano, bass solos. In previous interviews kd has said that they each deserve as much attention as they all work as hard as she does. The band were an all-star cast in themselves – just about each member works in their own solo capacity – the pianist Daniel Clarke has released an EP Diamonds, and Moorea Masa, one of the backing singers, is in her own group named Moorea Masa and The Moods. The gift of each player became more and more apparent throughout the evening until the end of the set when audience members were running from the back to dance and reach out to kd.

Before speaking kd performed the first three tracks from Ingenue. At the third, Miss Chateleine she replaced the microphone in the stand during the bridge and skipped around the stage, twirling her way back to finish the song barely out of breath. Her voice was flawless for the whole set, still clear and strong on the tracks twenty-seven years after their release.

Talking to the audience after Miss Chateleine she talked about how Ingenue could be a contemplative record, “lulling you into a hypnotic state…. We’re going to hypnotise you” and that was the reason they would play it in full “and refrain from banter”. This wasn’t the case though, and while kd did occasionally speak between songs it would be thoughtful and measured. When talking to the band though it was obvious how much they enjoyed each other’s company. At one point she spent almost ten minutes introducing each member and joking around with them. In between each song of the set the lights on the stage would lower so that each member of the band could change instruments. There are two main reasons – having staff walking across the stage would interrupt the “hypnotic state” of the show, and also kd wanders as she sings, and Bonus Arena’s stage is not especially large; keeping as much space clear makes sense.

kd made some surprisingly smartass jokes through the evening, at one point as she was handed a guitar, the audience applauded and straight off the cuff she leant into the microphone and said ‘That’s what a girl likes to hear as she straps it on.’ Talking to the guitarist, Grecco Burratto, she declared ‘I’ve heard, not seen it for myself yet, but as a heavy yoga enthusiast he gets out of the shower every morning and does a two hour handstand.’ After a brief pause she added ‘Yeah. There’s no product in that hair. Man, the casting couch served you well!’

Searching across Facebook and Twitter today it is easy to see that the two most appreciated songs of the set were Constant Craving. This was when people started heading to the stage and people standing, at one point there was no singing from the stage but all from the crowd as kd held out the microphone. Running from side to side of the stage and interacting with her fans, a huge smile appeared on her face and it was easy to see that she doesn’t consider what she does to be work as much as she does a joy.

Constant Craving

The second was Hallelujah, her Leonard Cohen cover made famous by the iconic performance at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. This was the closer of the main set and the most stripped back, with only piano and double bass behind her voice. That was all that was needed – kd made one of the most covered songs in the world look effortless. The final minute of the song was the only minute that the audience was quiet as they listened. It was obvious then that her voice is aging as well as her back catalogue.

A simple ‘Thank you, goodnight’ wasn’t sufficient as a goodbye; the full band came back out and as an encore kd performed Sing It Loud, a track from the 2011 album kd Lang and The Siss Boom Bang. She then firmly closed the evening on Sleeping Alone.

As the owner of such an enormous singing voice her speaking voice is surprisingly quiet. The contradiction between the two is startling, and when she laughs or smiles it is easy to see that she utterly loves her job. The smile was across her face for the whole evening, and by the end of Sleeping Alone, it was on the faces of the band and the audience’s as well.

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