kd lang | Hammersmith Apollo, London

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The Independent Culture

As the audience left tonight, a heckler in a car was shouting about "lesbos" (oh, grow up, sonny), but his dribbly yelling didn't put a damper on things. Something else, just possibly, did that. A surprise, when so many components were in place. First, great venue - airy, good acoustics, big bars outside the auditorium: why don't they bring it out to play more often? Second, the floppy-haired lang, happy and in full throttle. Third, fine backing band. What was the trouble? I'm afraid it could just be the songs.

As the audience left tonight, a heckler in a car was shouting about "lesbos" (oh, grow up, sonny), but his dribbly yelling didn't put a damper on things. Something else, just possibly, did that. A surprise, when so many components were in place. First, great venue - airy, good acoustics, big bars outside the auditorium: why don't they bring it out to play more often? Second, the floppy-haired lang, happy and in full throttle. Third, fine backing band. What was the trouble? I'm afraid it could just be the songs.

Back in 1993, around the time of the infamous Vanity Fair cover (our heroine getting wet-shaved by an orgasmic Cindy Crawford), lang came on like an oversexed Romeo. These days, though she recently snogged Ellen De Generes in public, she generally doesn't have to try so hard. She's undergone a transformation, with a new lover, an LA home and a clean-living lifestyle.

Consuming only organic matter, rising at six, retiring at nine, it's 15 minutes to bedtime when she appears, but you wouldn't know it. She's bouncy and hippie-esque, in a frayed top and white deck pants, relaxed and endeavouring to give us a taste of her West Coast lifestyle with seaside videos and the band togged in surfin' chic.

Thus the scene is set for a more or less entire reproduction of her new album, Invincible Summer. The title's from a Camus quote ("In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer"), and for lang, it's all about quitting embittered cynicism for an innocent love of life. Big mistake, in my opinion. Free of light and shade, Invincible Summer is a one-trick pony, mainly a series of schmaltzy upbeat romances, with a couple of tracks so banal you wonder if they're ironic - a kitsch, retro send-up of Beach Boys meet the Carpenters meet Doris Day.

But it sold in buckets, it has reinvented kd and put her back with the movers and shakers, so we'd better open our ears and try again. "Extraordinary Thing" is galvanising enough, building from a humble keyboard intro to full-out Sixties girl-band chorus; but "Summerfling" is crackpot, a kind of simpleton semi-samba, a jolly tune with no riff that you instantly forget. "The Consequences of Falling" lets the woozy voice do its languid thing against a suggestive video of ripping red silk, and this one gets the audience going. "Come to us, babe!" yells a bystander at its close.

"What did you say?" kd raises an eyebrow. "Countless babes? Ah, people don't come to these gigs to see me: it's just a cruisefest. Well, glad to be of service." Then she tenses, shakes her shoulders and delivers "Crying", Roy Orbison's super-victim torch song, and finally we get lang in her element on a number few can do, the vocal rising to its crescendo so headily, you get giddy from the altitude.

Further numbers from the album pass by until "When We Collide", which here becomes its starry, lush standout. For the encore, lang romps on in panto-dame yellow crinoline with wig and wand, belting out "Miss Chatelaine", before she strips it all off and, neatly deconstructing female silliness and repression, stomps all over it. She ends with "Only Love", which prayerfully declares that "Love is simple"; at which point, hey, even an old Scrooge can't begrudge the woman her happiness.

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