ROCK / A constant craving: Giles Smith reviews kd lang, teasing, languorous, spot-on, at the Royal Albert Hall

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The Independent Culture
AFTER kd lang's show at the Hammersmith Odeon six months ago, many people left wondering whether they would see anyone turn in quite such an accurate and stirring singing performance anywhere else this year. And so far, no one has - except kd lang on Tuesday night at the Albert Hall.

Those who were there in April will have felt immediately at home, the show taking place on the same stage-set - an arrangement of white boards resembling the deck of a Caribbean pleasure-cruiser, complete with some sort of illuminated porthole device set into the drum-riser. And as before, when the curtains drew away, the band were already in place, easing their way in to the slow pulse of 'Save Me', borne on a curling wave of pedal steel guitar, lang leaning into the microphone with her eyes closed and slowly stretching her arms back.

And parts of her between-song patter had a familiar ring, too. Once again (when the lights had brightened and she'd taken the microphone off its stand so she could start doing those cool strolls she goes in for along the lip of the stage), she promised us a 'proverbial smorgasbord of musical styles to titillate the musical pallette'. Once again she did the monologue about the dream in which she encounters George Jones and Tammy Wynette in the middle of a lovers' tiff in an Indian restaurant in Nashville. (It sounded, if possible, even less likely the second time around.)

What was altogether new, though, was the elasticity lang brought to her style, the result, presumably, of exercising the show in other places in the meantime. She came at melodies from different angles and occasionally allowed her words to drag against the rhythm, as if they were too weighty for it - a neat trick for bringing home songs about yearning. Meanwhile her band (organised by her writing partner and producer, Ben Mink) has become still more fluid too, opening up small holes in the rhythm which the songs then teeter on the edge of.

The larger part of the set was reserved for numbers from this year's superb Ingenue album, the record on which lang pushed the country and western influences away to the sides in favour of a rich and languorous pop music. By contrast with this material, the country songs ('Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes', 'Riding the Rails' and 'Pulling Back the Reins' among others) now sound like bits of fun - exhilarating enough, but her heart would appear to be set elsewhere.

This could be because the new songs afford her a more absorbing dramatic scope. Few pop singers can plot the impact of a song as thoroughly as lang. On 'Wash Me Clean', the first time she hits the high note in the chorus, she handles it carefully with a breathy falsetto. But when she comes back to it the second time, she plays with your expectations, hits it with her full voice, and pins you to your seat.

Away from the music, certain rumours continue to circulate regarding lang's sexual preferences. In fact, despite no confirmatory statement from the artist herself, a large portion of the audience at the Albert Hall seemed somehow to have made their minds up fairly firmly on this matter. (This was one of those rare occasions when the person in the stalls screaming 'Get yer kit off' was a woman.) lang continues to say nothing concrete, largely, you suspect, because it would spoil the fun she has teasing her audiences that she is about to bless them with a declaration. She spent some minutes working herself into an appropriately nerved confessional mode before finally coming out and declaring herself 'a Liberace fan'. At which point, shards of light shot into the auditorium, on came the bubble machine, and lang sang 'Miss Chatelaine' in a manner which suggested, quite brazenly, a singer in her prime.

(Photograph omitted)