“During this next song, some of the ladies in the audience might feel a pulling sensation toward the stage,” said K.D. Lang during her recent tour stop in Las Vegas. “That’s because this banjo I have right here is a real chick magnet!”
Lang may have been joking, but within minutes, dozens of the coiffed, cardigan-wearing middle-aged women in the audience flocked to the foot of the stage, shrieking and casting off garments at Lang as she paraded across the stage with Elvis-like bravado.
This was no average night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, where Lang played Friday night with her band the Siss Boom Bang in Reynolds Hall.
But then again, Lang is not your average performer. Over the course of her nearly 30-year career, the Grammy-winning country-pop singer has fronted a Patsy Cline cover band and collaborated with the likes of Tony Bennett and Roy Orbison; she’s been dubbed one of the “100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll” and one of the “40 Greatest Women in Country Music”; and she’s a vocal champion of a number of causes, including LGBT rights, animal rights and human rights issues in Tibet.
Friday night, however, she was first and foremost a singer. At 50 years old, Lang looked charming and unassuming onstage, standing barefoot in a black shirt and pants that matched her band, her look accessorized only by a red cravat and a puckish grin.
In contrast to that simplicity was her voice, at times smoky and rich, at others soft and vulnerable, but never wavering in its confidence and the conviction behind every emotion in her songs.
This was most apparent in her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The classic tune has been covered by the likes of John Cale and Jeff Buckley, and its many interpretations have ranged from somber to sensual. Lang’s delivery, however, atop understated instrumentation from the band, was a wrenching, self-immolating proclamation of love. The ballad left the audience, momentarily, in complete silence before they rose for a mid-set standing ovation.
The rest of the set, like Lang’s new album with the Siss Boom Bang, “Sing It Loud,” largely marked a return to her folk-country roots. Warm, layered songs like “I Confess” and a cover of Talking Heads’ “Heaven” confirmed the superior acoustics of Reynolds Hall, though Lang’s voice at times sounded hazy through the speakers closer to the stage.
Nonetheless, Lang’s command of her voice and pitch is unquestionable. What she ultimately proved Friday night, however, is that she’s not only a phenomenal singer, but an entertainer with undeniable stage presence. Whether dancing during a guitar solo, cracking up mid-song or making witty banter with the audience, Lang’s joy was infectious and her charm effusive. Whatever your gender or sexual orientation, it wasn’t difficult to understand what compelled throngs of grown women (and a few men) to flock to the stage in a fit of teenage hysteria.
It may have been goofy, it may have been awkward, but it was a night of quality music free from pretension that I hope to see more of at the Smith Center.