The eternally wry k.d. lang wasted little time dispensing with the allure of nostalgia Sunday night.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are here celebrating the 25th anniversary of Ingenue, which means two things,” the Canadian singer-songwriter informed those gathered inside Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium. “First of all, we’re a bunch of gay seniors. I’m OK with that.”
The appreciative roar of laughter the wisecrack elicited helped ease lang into talking more earnestly about her Grammy-winning sophomore album, which served to catapult lang, making her first solo Dallas appearance in nearly seven years, to the forefront of the pop landscape in the early 1990s.
“Ingenue is a very insular record,” she continued. “It’s kind of a meditation on romance, so you may want to sink back into your chair, as there’s a chance you’ll be lulled into hypnosis. I’m going to refrain from needless banter until the end of the record. … Catch you on the other side.”
With that, lang and her seven-piece band – multi-instrumentalist Rich Hinman, guitarist Grecco Burrato, drummer Andrew Borger, bassist David Piltch, pianist Daniel Clarke and backing vocalists Tahirah Memory and Moorea Masa – eased into the aching lament “Wash Me Clean.”
Hearing Ingenue anew, a quarter century after its initial release, is to marvel at how far ahead of the curve lang and her collaborator Ben Mink were, anticipating, in particular, the 21st century’s idiosyncratic strains of Americana and country.
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The eclectic array of styles – Latin, jazz, cabaret blues, soul, pop and folk sensibilities filtered through the 105-minute set Sunday – which was so striking in 1992, now feels utterly modern, as everyone’s listening habits have evolved to wander freely across genre boundaries.
Barefoot, as always, and clad in a dark suit, lang likewise moved with ease across the McFarlin stage, the room’s grand architecture an ideal fit for the sophisticated songs on display.
The band displayed a remarkable fluidity, giving Ingenue a vibrancy that earned the players a vociferous standing ovation upon completing the record’s 10 tracks.
Of course, none of Ingenue, or the seven other, non-album cuts offered to the near-capacity room Sunday (including gorgeous readings of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” and Neil Young’s “Helpless”) would have staying power were it not for lang’s extraordinary voice.
Her mezzo-soprano is a wondrously bewitching, paradoxical instrument of delicacy and brawn, capable of holding notes aloft like glass sculptures to admire, or infusing a well-worn cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with enough heft to pin you to your seat.
It would have been far too easy Sunday night to simply coast upon everyone’s halcyon remembrances of Ingenue and make the evening a pleasant trip down memory lane.
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Instead, lang and her bandmates made the vintage material vibrate with a sensual urgency, as lyrics like “Still somehow thrives this love / Which I am worthy of” revealed fresh depths, considered in light of all the LGBTQ advances (and setbacks) that have transpired since the album’s early ‘90s release.
Indeed, mindful of the realities awaiting everyone beyond the auditorium doors, lang took time as the encore began to explicitly remind those gathered of time’s long arc, ending with a sentiment as true in 1992 as it is in 2018.
“We all encounter negativity in the world,” lang said. “As you’re out there living your life, take that negativity and pull it into your very core, and transform that pollution and send it right back out there as clear, beautiful love.
“I believe love will win.”