No one on the corner has swagger like KD
During what can only be described as an indescribable set at the Regina Folk Festival on Saturday night KD Lang encouraged us all to repent. So here it is: I’m sorry I’ve taken you for granted for so long.
Let’s back up. My day was jam-packed with festival goings-on, due in no small part to my inclusion on CJTR’s first-ever live broadcast from the RFF site. The four hour spectacular saw us interviewing a boatload of performers, organizers, volunteers, even festival-goers. We’ll talk more about that later, along with the rest of the night’s main stage performers.
But my goodness, even if KD Lang was the only performer on Saturday I think it would’ve been one of the more memorable nights at the festival. Taking the stage as headliner after an incredible set by Taj Mahal and his backing band, Lang strode purposefully to the front of the stage after her band The Siss Boom Bang fell into position. From the first chord that stage belonged to Lang and only Lang.
I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that she has swagger. Stage presence like this is a rarity. From the outset Lang alternated between stalking, lunging, walking, and dancing over every single available inch of the stage, making constant eye contact with audience members, even stopping at the front of the stage and staring intently at one person for ten seconds at a time. Intensity in 10 cities, Live at Budokan, as Wayne Campbell would say. At times she began gyrating her hips, the visual and her unmistakable voice making a pretty goddamn good argument that KD Lang is the closest thing we’ve got to Elvis Presley right now (in a good way, obviously).
Her band is big and brilliant. Six players flawlessly recreate Lang’s catalogue numbers and tracks from their latest album, Sing It Loud. Lap steel, piano, and fantastic guitar work are all effortlessly performed and the band look good doing it; like Lang, they dress in all black, including matching tailored jackets. Most of the group looks young enough to have missed out on much of Lang’s career but their performances are fantastic, especially the spot-on, perfectly harmonized backing vocals.
But the show is 100% Lang. She is as malleable performer as she is a singer, putting forth an incredible intensity for new track “I Confess” before switching to a coquettish vampiness (including unexpected self-groping at the front of the stage) during a terrific rendition of the vaguely Latin-flavoured “Miss Chatelaine.” She emoted about as much as one can responsibly get away with during her hotly-anticipated cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” long a centerpiece of her own act but given new vitality after her crackerjack performance at last year’s Vancouver Olympics. I’ve long held that Jeff Buckley’s version is the definitive one but I’m having doubts after seeing the power and intensity of Lang’s live arrangement. It was nothing short of astounding, I assure you — it might actually be the best argument I’ve heard yet for the existence of God.
And the surprises kept coming. After Lang exhorted the crowd to repent, she and the band broke into a song that made my face look like this:
Lang and the band played a cover of “Heaven” by the Talking Heads, one of my all-time favourite bands of all time. And it was a great cover. Like all of Lang’s songs her voice makes whatever she plays her own. Her tenor never wavers, carrying even the lengthiest notes at a strong and steady clip. Even when it drops to a whisper it has total command of the audience, even more so than her physicality and performance. She’s the total package as an entertainer.
Leaving nothing to chance, Lang pulled out all the stops for the fevered audience of thousands (including more than a few people who were listening in from outside the fence). She went all the way through two encores, even playing what is arguably her most well-known hit, “Constant Craving.” Needless to say no one left unsatisfied.
RFF artistic director Sandra Butel has said that there are still people who talk about Lang’s 1985 performance at the festival. I have no doubt that’s true, just like I have no doubt that people will be doing the same about this set in the same fashion for decades to come.