kd lang, Hammersmith Apollo, London

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The Independent Culture

At the zenith of kd lang's fame, hordes of female admirers were prone to fling their knickers at this "big-boned gal from South Alberta".

At the zenith of kd lang's fame, hordes of female admirers were prone to fling their knickers at this "big-boned gal from South Alberta". Armed with her high cheekbones, lang's androgynous good looks were ubiquitous in the early Nineties. In 1993, she posed for the cover of Vanity Fair, sitting in a barber's chair wearing a pinstriped suit and a faceful of shaving lather, as Cindy Crawford prepared to shave her.

Those heady days are gone, but nonetheless a barrage of applause and wolf-whistles greeted a barefoot lang, who was accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. There was a lot of love in the room. And all this despite a dearth of original material or, indeed, commercial success. In fact, nothing she's produced has matched the monumental success of the 1992 Grammy-winning, platinum album Ingénue, featuring her biggest hit, "Constant Craving". Partly because she has opted for an eccentric vocal path, pitching her style between three poles of yearning - torch (jazz/blues on her ode to smoking, Drag), twang (retro country on Shadowland) and unadulterated pop ( Ingénue). Her latest venture, Hymns of the 49th Parallel, is a cover-version homage to her songwriting Canadian compatriots, including Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Jane Siberry and Joni Mitchell.

After a few gentle exchanges with the audience, lang began in Nina Simone mode with the luscious "Don't Smoke in Bed". It immediately became clear what all the fuss is about. lang's exquisite soprano voice, a wonderfully measured instrument, soars effortlessly and its range appears infinite. After a couple of easy-going, jazz-tinged pop numbers, "Simple" and "Still Thrives This Love", lang launched into Roy Orbison's "Crying". Her rendition was faultless, but its impact was somewhat diminished by her frivolous antics on her next song, the breezy "Miss Chatelaine", from Ingénue. Switching to an Edith Piaf guise, lang balanced the crooning with some kooky leaping and skipping. Clearly she doesn't take herself too seriously, but are great singers, divas even, suppose to flounce about like this? Most vitally, a distinctive lack of bite, a real sense of urgency seemed to be lacking from lang's music.

After an average interpretation of Neil Young's "Helpless" (a song far too often covered), things got back on track with an achingly plaintive cover of Jane Siberry's "The Valley" and a sublime rendition of Cohen's "Hallelujah", which, while not quite reaching the staggering torment of Jeff Buckley's version, was an elevating experience.

However, after a lengthy presentation of her band, lang tacitly admitted to the audience that she was a one-trick pony: "There comes a time in every girl's career when it all boils down to a medley... a medley of my hit." Amusing but unnecessary, and "Constant Craving" was a low point of the concert: the orchestra gave the song a Saturday-night television "entertainment" feel.

The two encores were more satisfying - Siberry's gorgeous lament "Love is Everything" and a pinpoint impersonation of Patsy Cline on "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray". At the finale, lang even received a present from the crowd. A furry animal; a beaver, to be precise. Not quite underwear-flinging, but lang, clearly, has still got it.

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