(Toronto, June 17, 2011) The plan was to have dinner and watch the Munk debate, the one with Henry Kissinger et al, debating the rise of China and what that means for the world, because we all are interested in those kinds of things. But then the smart one of the group suggested something a bit more upbeat with a twist of something lesbian: the k.d. lang concert that was happening and that happened to be free. Oh gee: tough choice. Politics or fun? Listening to a debate China’s potential economic world dominance or marvelous music?
I slipped on my big girl panties and made an executive decision.
We’d go see k.d. lang and support Toronto’s Luminato Festival. Some of us would get there early and save spots for the rest of us. By 6 p.m. we were all there, ready to pass two hours before the show started, by talking with the neighbours, taking pictures, running into to old friends from high school and other places, taking off and leaving one of us — me — to hold the fort and our places.
I talked with a few people and managed to be let in to get a good viewing spot, right at the barricade, right behind the super special peeps in the super seats saved for super special people like the sponsors, the music suits, friends, etc.
Standing to the left of us was a lovely older couple from Markham, Ontario. To the left of them, a group of younger lesbians of all stripes. To the right of us was an equally lovely couple from somewhere else in the GTA who generously shared their pizza with strangers. Behind us was some guy who kept bending over and putting his behind in the face of one of us who was sitting down, and when she stood up, he left no room for her: he consumed an enormous amount of physical space even though he was kind of skinny that left no room for others. That led to some words with him and his colleagues and it wasn’t pretty and they weren’t nice, but it all worked out in the end when he right sized his energy and took up the right amount of space which in turn left room for other people.
Slightly to the right and behind us were another lovely couple, women, older than 40 and very happy to be there. I’m just waiting for my girlfriend,” said one a little earlier, when she was alone. “She’s meeting me here after work.” We were surrounded by mostly lovely, lovely people.
There was a gaggle of wannabe groupies to the far right of us, a group of women 35+, all with lesbian haircut #7 whooping it up to each song with such enthusiasm that eventually they all got let in to the special seats section halfway through the show.
The show started on time. Denise Donlon did the introductions, she a cool music reporter formerly of CITY–TV, now with CBC in programming. She did the obligatory talkey stuff then passed the mic to the CEO of Luminato who talked and passed the mic to one of the big sponsors who said all the things that PR people write for them to say. Not too long for a necessary evil, all that stuff. Then on with the show. And the show was wonderful.
The opening act was The Belle Brigade, a band from L.A who’s touring with k.d. lang. In spite of the name, there’s only one woman in the band. Not a bad band: some have said it’s a mix of Everly Brothers and Fleetwood Mac. Maybe. To my ear, the band’s music is a fusion of country, pop, folk, and something more grassroots which is to say that it’s a band with a sound that has something slightly familiar about it and for me the sum of the band is one that’s quirky, fun and if not careful, possibly forgettable.
The band playing with k.d. lang — Siss Boom Bang — came out on stage and got settled with their instruments to scattered cheers. Out came k.d. lang: dapper in a uniform of black pants, white shirt open at the neck, a red satiny scarf tied and a black sort of cowboy shirt or jacket over that. More scattered cheers and the music and singing started.
Is there anything to say about k.d. lang and her singing, her music, her live acts that has not been said? I cannot imagine that every superlative descriptor hasn’t been used in every language at least four times. It has all been said before.
If you’ve seen her in concert you know that there’s not a lot of talking with the audience, a few little quips here and there, punctuated with a few “I LOVE YOU KAYY DEE!” That didn’t happen. Maybe an outdoor, free concert doesn’t attract the yelling lover types.
She sang a mix of songs, bringing the story of each song to life: with Miss Chatelaine she seemed to channel her inner Doris Day reminding us of the uplifting, giddy joy of falling in love. With Hallelujah, the moments, not always good ones, that drive us to our knees. Her musical telling of that story was spellbinding and riveting. We thought we saw tears from the woman who was from Markham.
The band was perfect, tight, in sync, just perfect.Actually, Perfect with a capital P. The arrangement of Constant Craving seemed to me to contain a deep, palpable heartbeat and it was simply breathtaking.
She was alive in each song. It seemed she absorbed each one, the essence, the being and when she sang them to us — offered them to us, the audience — it seemed to me we were offered a gift of an experience of a rare musical alchemy; words and sound and tones and silent space between notes transmuted into emotional resonance; a different universal harmonic.
For all the sound, for all the music, for all the different arrangements that she has for the same old songs, what k.d. lang’s music seems to posses, particularly the ballads, is an increasing and haunting spareness, the aural equivalent to stopping and seeing: stopping and hearing.
When the set was over, it’s not like anyone wanted her to go, so they did two more songs to lots of applause and cheers and whistles and a standing ovation.
And lots of smiles all round as everyone said good night and goodbye and dispersed. The happy energy spread out from the park and out onto King Street and all along the Entertainment District and on the way home we saw all sorts of famous people walking about, because that was just the kind of night it was in the city that is Toronto. We were happy. We got k.d. lang for free.