Passionate renditions of two Roy Orbison numbers, the obscure "Till the Heart Caves In" and the 1961 hit "Crying," gave a much-needed boost early on in k.d. lang's somber set that married the concept of prairie companion with the torch song renegade. For 20 minutes she had echoed the dark and smoky mood of her new Warners disc "Drag," an effective collection singular in its timbre and theme, before turning to Orbison and then rolling through her various guises. In lang's hands, Orbison's words are given the utmost respect --- "there's an unspoken responsibility to give it your all," she told the enthusiastic audience --- and she mined each line for its darkest possible connotation. On "Crying," for which she received a well-deserved standing ovation, lang tiptoed through the verses of intimate reflection and slapped the resolution with an operatic downpour of unquestionable magnetism. That potent moment shredded the veneer of her polished set.

And from there the show was a romp — some campy swing, a buoyant take on the contemporary chanteuse, more of the dark, lounge lizard balladry from “Drag” and some big-big-BIG country ditties, the boldness of which contrasted mightily to the romantic mettle of her newer works.

As good as her records are, none can compete with the variety she offers in concert — the newest selections placing an eerie emphasis on addiction and obsession.

Her bandmates, all of whom appear on “Drag” and earlier albums, are aces throughout. Guitarists Greg Leisz and David Pilch meld evocative elements of jazz and country; pianist Teddy Borowiecki is always on target in his accompaniment, especially on “My Old Addiction”; and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. brings out a vast array of textures from his kit. Singer Kysia Bostic is a talent worthy of a front-and-center role.

Dressed in the double-breasted pinstripe suit she appears in on the cover of “Drag,” lang is perfectly attired for evening’s changing moods. She gives numbers just enough theatricality to make each stand on its own, whether it’s the repetition of the “peaches” line in Steve Miller’s “The Joker” or a little limber hoofing on “Smoke Dreams”; filling the air with smoke rings and soap bubbles were effective touches that generated smiles all around.

k.d. lang

Wiltern Theatre; 2,100 seats; $40 top

Production

Presented inhouse.

Crew

Reviewed Sept. 24, 1997.

Cast

Band: Lang, Teddy Borowiecki, Kevin Brett, Abe Laboriel Jr., Greg Leisz, David Pilch, Kysia Bostic, Kenya Hathaway.
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