There was a moment, during her interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," when k.d. lang did what so few singers are able to do -- she appeared to become the song itself.
Reaching for the song's highest notes, she so fully inhabited the song's brilliant imagery that the moment was almost uncomfortably intimate. The crowd in UB's Center for the Arts appeared to have had the wind knocked out of it by the intensity of lang's delivery.
Of course, anyone who has experienced a lang concert knows that there will be a few moments like this one. It could come during her take on Roy Orbison's "Crying," a song she omitted from Tuesday's set-list. It might come during one of her own songs. But it always comes, and it feels like a blend of heartbreak and catharsis, every time.
Tuesday's frankly stunning show had many such musical epiphanies tucked into it, but lang was not all intensity and grandiosity. In fact, she seemed to be having a blast, dancing around with tongue firmly in cheek, engaging the crowd in playful banter, generally acting like she was getting away with something and psyched about it.
Part of the reason for this levity must certainly her new band, the Siss Boom Bang, an alt-country-infused five-piece collective that has given its leader a renewed enthusiasm that was palpable throughout the gig. These guys can do anything and do it with grace and subtlety. Lang is lucky to have met them, and she sure seems to know it.
Much of the show was given over to the lang/Siss Boom Bang album "Sing It Loud!," and rightly so. The album has an easy-going vibe that almost belies the virtuosity indulged in by all involved. Opening with the lush, Patsy Cline-meets-Orbison grandeur of "I Confess," lang owned the assembled. Her voice needed no warm-up. She nailed every note with precise pitch and significant emotional investment from the get-go.
The ebullient "Summer Fling" could be a new jazz standard, and it benefited from the contributions of baritone guitarist/pedal steel player/harmony vocalist Joshua Grange, whose playing melded oh-so-perfectly with that of cohort Joe Pisapia. This was particularly the case during the encore performance of "Sugar Rush," which found the two guitarists offering gorgeous twin-guitar harmonies in what was the evening's most raucous "rock" moment.
Before that intense send-off, lang introduced her lilting take on "Heaven" as a song "from that legendary country band, the Talking Heads." This was fun, but when she used this piece as a preface to "Hallelujah," we got the point -- "It's not a cry that you hear at night/It's not somebody who's seen the light/It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah."
Throughout the show, lang and band employed the sterling acoustics of the Center for the Arts' Mainstage Theatre. They could bring things down to a honeyed hush, allowing lang's incredible voice to benefit from the natural ambience of the room itself, and just as easily kick it into high gear to help the singer emphasize the music's many contours. This was simply a masterful presentation of musicianship on all levels.
The crowd brought lang and company back twice following the set-ending "Constant Craving." It might not be hyperbole to suggest that most of them would still be in the Center for the Arts now, if lang had stayed.
> CONCERT REVIEW
k.d. lang and the Siss Boom BangTuesday evening in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, Mainstage Theatre, on the North Campus, Amherst.