On what proved to be a glorious late spring night, proceedings kicked off with singer/songwriter/guitarist Shane Nicholson performing a very enjoyable half hour set. Performing as part of a duo along with violin/mandolin player Luke Moller, Nicholson specialises in what could be best described as a gentle sort of country/bluegrass style of music. Songs such as “Once In A While” and “Jimmy Rogers Was A Vampire” make one think of road trips and driving. The husband of country singer Kasey Chambers, Nicholson was disarmingly charming and candid in his banter with the audience, saying that this was the first time he was away from home, four weeks after the birth of his daughter, Poet. A very enjoyable way to open up the evening and very much in spirit with the main act.
KD Lang and her band, The Siss Boom Bang, took to the stage around eight thirty, just as dusk was setting in. Lang is a performer that totally embraces the stage and truly loves performing as much as creating music. It was wonderful to see her leading a band, and such a fantastic one at that. All of the members of The Siss Boom Bang are highly accomplished musicians in their own right. Tonight, there was a beautiful sense of togetherness and being on the same page as far as the music was concerned. This scribe had one of those wonderful moments of revelation many years ago with discovering KD Lang, where the duet version she did with Roy Orbison of “Crying” was on Rage. You know those moments where you hear an artist for the first time and you are completely blown away to the point where you scream, “Who the hell is this?” This was furthur cemented a few years later by the extraordinary duet she did with Jane Siberry, “Calling All Angels”. Even back then, it was obvious that KD Lang was a truly gifted and unique talent.
Tonight’s setlist featured a strong mix between material from the new Siss Boom Bang album, “Sing It Loud”, older KD Lang material and some well chosen and, in some cases, truly majestic cover versions. KD Lang definitely feels a strong sense of affinity and love for Melbourne, confessing early that she and the band might try too hard tonight because she loves our city and its people so much.
An early highlight was “Sing It Loud”, where the openly gay singer encouraged the audience to let their freak flag fly. This was followed by the self-described ‘religious’ part of the evening. One utterly endearing quality about Lang is her wicked sense of humour; she introduced the song “Heaven” as being originally performed by “that well known country and western band, The Talking Heads.” The band launched into a highly radical, country reworking of the classic Talking Heads track.
Lang is a joy to watch on stage. Alternating between the vibe of an overexcited teenager and truly heartfelt on some of the slower material, she is nothing less than a compelling presence on stage. It’s hard to believe that she turned fifty earlier this month. She moves with the energy and passion of someone half her age. Also, that utterly exquisite and haunting voice has got better with age, as tonight was a great showcase of.
“Heaven” was followed by an absolute high point of the evening, her version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallejuliah.” You could have heard a pin drop such was the power of this version, one that was the equal of Jeff Buckley’s extraordinary take from many years ago. This was definitely shivers down the spine, hairs on the back of the neck standing up material. It also displayed Lang’s utterly stunning range as a vocalist, going from a whisper to a wail in the space of a heartbeat. If one needed any proof of Lang’s power and importance as a singer, the way that she took this song to a truly higher place was all the evidence you would have needed.
Of her own songs, the two singles off the 1992 album Ingenue were crowd favourites; an early wonderful moment was “Miss Chatelaine”, done in a flamenco/Latin style and with Lang showing off her dancing. Another was the classic single “Constant Craving”, leading to many of Lang’s female admirers to rush towards the front of the stage, definitely encouraged by a very cheeky Lang. While tonight did feature songs that could be classed as intense and dark, the overall positive and life affirming vibe was what came through the strongest. The Melbourne connection was strengthened by her impressive version of the Little River Band’s track “Reminiscing”, which she has very much made her own over the years.
Apart from the beautiful use of pedal steel with the band, KD’s country roots were never too far from the surface. This was probably at it’s strongest during the first encore, where the band performed an early track of hers, “Paydirt.” The very fortunate crowd ended up hearing three encores, which featured some fantastic tracks such as the sparse and quite moving “Hungry Bird” and a heartfelt and striking version of Neil Young’s “Helpless.”
It was also wonderful to hear Lang pay tribute to someone who has had a strong influence on her both as a performer and a person, Tony Bennet. That influence was evident tonight in that sense of performance she constantly and beautifully deploys in her stage presence and persona. This was also shown by her great version of Bennett’s “A Kiss To Build A Dream On.”
One got the feeling that, after three encores, KD Lang and the band could have kept playing all night such was her rapport and strong connection to both our city, its people, the music and the audience this evening. This was an excellent evening by a truly gifted and striking artist.