live kd lang Apollo, Manchester

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The Independent Culture
It was, according to kd lang, not so much a concert as a convention. The queue for the ladies, stretching from the foyer halfway into the centre of Manchester, was an early clue. Noddy Holder, there to feel the noise, presumably, was in a tiny minority in the audience; he was male and straight. This was a night for girls, to quote Damon Albarn, who like girls.

How kd loved it, being among her kind of people. From the moment she walked on stage in an unlikely combination of drape coat and blue plimsolls, she was basking in the sexually charged adulation, glowing, wearing a smile the size of Canada. And it is not just her demeanour that has relaxed in the three years since she was last in Britain. Coming out has changed the whole tone of her output. Gone are the subtler allusions of closet- hood; in their place come upfront, forthright enjoyment: her first number was "Sexuality", her second included the lyric "When love surrounds you/ Go out and get some".

Indeed, so changed is she that only two songs from her mega-selling album Ingenue were allowed into the frame, whereas virtually every track from her latest, All You Can Eat, got a run-out. She's louder, too, bolstered by new guitarist John Lowrie, a peroxide Mick Ronson-alike who she had plucked from Ozzy Osbourne's band ("We're kinder here," she explained. "We sew the heads back on the chickens.").

Not that Lowrie was that involved. There is much talking at kd lang concert. She likes a narrative, a lengthy exposition of each song, and the crowd like to yell out their own gloss on her explanations. Thus, introducing "Crying" she was off, deep into luvvy territory. "One of the most rewarding and fulfilling moments of my career," she said, "was..."

"Cindy Crawford," yelled an admirer.

"Yes, yes, you're right, it was," said kd, smirking like the cat who got the cat. "That and meeting Roy Orbison."

In truth, like many in her audience, the concert sagged a bit in the middle, with too much business (her introductions to the band members may have been generous to a fault, but boy, were they lengthy) and not enough crooning. When she stopped yakking and started singing, though, the result was stunning. The battering into submission of the top notes, the power, the length, the control of her sustains (she's got a right pair of lungs on her) - this was a singer on top form. And though her outward style may have changed, her roots were showing, particularly in that check in the larynx, a sort of swallowed yodel, she adopts in the emotional frames.

"I used to be a country singer in a previous life," she confessed. "And those albums are still available." Her performance got better as it progressed. A crisp version of "Miss Chatelaine" involved a conductor's baton, a lot of soap bubbles and kd dancing with arrhythmic abandon. "Have you got BSE?" someone yelled, which was as accurate an analysis as you could come up with for her wobbly steps. kd didn't mind, though; there is nothing forced about her self-deprecation. She just grinned and stomped around with even more gusto.

She finished with a delightful funk version of "Movin' ", her guitarist stripped to the waist at her side, his frail thrashings contrasting nicely with her muscular purpose. She sent us home with a re-tread of Tom Jones's "What's New Pussycat?". Wielding an airship-sized bra flung from the stalls above her head, kd was clearly having the time of her life, drawing every last nuance from the old smoocher's lyrics. That line about "kissing your sweet little pussycat lips" in particular can never have been sung more lasciviously.