K.D. Lang revisits Ingenue in stunning Boston performance

Orpheum Theatre, K.D. Lang
The Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA marquee Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Let me say this right out of the gate: K.D. Lang is one of the greatest singers on the planet as far as I’m concerned. I put her vocals right up there with Judy Garland in terms of sheer excellence. Her version of  Cohen’s “Hallelujah” from her 2004 album “Hymns of the 49th Parallel” is the only one I care about.  And her take on “Black Coffee” from 1988’s “Shadowland” and  Cole Porter’s “So in Love” from the 1990 benefit album “Red Hot + Blue” will forever kill me. I love this woman’s voice SO MUCH. Oh and right, then there’s her take on Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Good God in heaven.

I hadn’t seen Lang live in years. Like since the 90s if memory serves. And so I found myself  filled with a sense of longing and joy when I heard she was on the road celebrating the 25th anniversary of her 1992 “Ingenue” album. (the tour started last year for those of you doing math out there.)

Fast forward to last Thursday night in Boston where I sat about 15 rows back in a not sold-out but damn close crowd entirely enraptured with Lang and her STELLAR seven-piece band as they served up all ten tracks of “Ingenue” like a fine wine.

Before I spill my heart out about how much I loved this show, let me quickly say that I LOVE it when artists mark anniversaries of albums by taking them out on the road and playing them in their entirety. I’m looking at you, Brandi Carlile and Shawn Colvin and U2 as a few recent examples.  We live in a shuffle play world but I immensely appreciate hearing an album performed in the order in which it was originally sequenced. And this is especially true with “Ingenue” because this album is like a fantastic voyage of climbing a ladder that leads straight to the core of the human heart beginning with “Save Me” and ending with one of the 90s’ finest musical moments: “Constant Craving.”

After a scintillating opening set from Australian guitar duo the Grigoryan Brothers the house lights dimmed and the stage lights lit up to the sounds of “Save Me” and then Lang’s vocals started and it was downright spiritual because, and I can’t emphasize this enough, SHE SOUNDED AMAZING. I looked at my friend Jen with my jaw dropped and settled in for what proved to be a luxurious and musically spellbinding performance of a divine album which, by the way, Nonesuch Records has released a 25th Anniversary edition of which includes a second disc of “MTV Unplugged Tracks.”

After the first three tracks of “Save Me,” “The Mind of Love” and “Miss Chatelaine” Lang told us they were going to play the rest of the album pretty much without stopping and this proved to be an excellent decision because the album flows so well and banter between songs wasn’t needed.

“Outside Myself” with the lines “I have been in a storm of the sun/Basking, senseless to what I’ve become/A fool to worship just light/When after all it, follows night” is my favorite track on the album and I will forever bow to Lang and Benjamin Mink for writing it.

But for sure the rightful moment when we all lost our minds (in a subdued but none-the-less thrilled manner) was then Lang and company closed out  “Ingenue” with the Grammy-winning tune ““Constant Craving.”  What a way to end an album.

lang two hands up square
K.D. Lang at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre on March 22, 2018. Mediocre but enthusiastic iPhone photo by Aimsel Ponti

When “Ingenue” ended the show was far from over and Lang’s next tune was “Honey and Smoke” from the 2016 album “case/lang/veirs” that she made with Neko Case and Laura Veirs. If you don’t have the album GET IT. Trust me on this.

K.D. Lang
K.D. Lang in Boston. 3.22.18 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Then we heard “I Dream of Spring” from Lang’s 2008 “Watershed” album during which she played an acoustic guitar. The song is slow and moody and like everything else we heard in Boston at this show, it sounded goddamn glorious.

This brings me to what I’m calling the “H3” part of the show. Lang sang three covers all starting with the letter H and all written by her fellow Canadians.

First was Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”, next was Neil Young’s “Helpless” and finally Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which you already know how I feel about.

Needing to catch a bus back home I had to dash after “Hallelujah” but from what I gather, Lang and her band closed out the show with “Sing it Loud,” the title track from the 2011 album “K.D. Lang and the Siss Boom Bang: Sing it Loud” album. It’s a breezy, charming tune and next time I won’t miss it. The last song of the night is one that Lang’s never recorded but has sung a number of times through the years. It’s called “Sleeping Alone” and the song is honey sweet, sexy and a perfect way to say goodnight with. Damn me for not being there for it. Sleep is, after all, over-rated.

So what’s the takeaway from all this? I’ll repeat my opening sentence:

K.D. Lang is one of the greatest singers on the planet as far as I’m concerned.

Ponti out.

Review: Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters brilliant in Boston 2.16.18

Last night I had front row seats to see Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters play a sold-out show at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre. A few weeks ago I was ticketless but planned on hopping on a bus to Boston with the hopes of scoring a last-minute ticket on the street but then a friend swooped in and invited me to join her. It wasn’t quite clear to either of us just how good the seats were until the usher escorted us as far down front as one could ever hope to go.

Robert Plant
Robert Plant at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. 2.16.18
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

In the weeks leading up to this show I listened to the hell out of Plant’s latest album, the tremendous  “Carry Fire,” released last fall and assorted other tracks from the 10 previous albums that he’s released since 1982. Through this process I was able to answer an important question before stepping foot into that theater:

Would I be able to be fully present seeing the 2018 Robert Plant and in a sense, meet him where he was today? Or in my mind would I be the 13-year-old version of myself who stood alone at the end of junior high dances listening to what was always the last song of the night? Of course the song I’m referring to is “Stairway to Heaven.” Would I be able to reconcile in my head that I would be seeing the dude who I still hear ALL THE TIME on two different classic rock stations here in Maine singing songs that still kill me like “All My Love” and “Going to California?”  Could I leave 13-year-old me and the Zeppelin version of Plant back in that happy nostalgic rock vault of my mind and be 100% present in the here and now knowing that I would be seeing someone who I’ve never quite considered to be entirely human but rather  a musical deity?

The answer was a resounding YES.

Robert Plant
Robert Plant in Boston 2.16.18 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

It became clear to me within the first few notes of the show’s opening song  “New World” from “Carry Fire” that this was going to be an entirely brilliant show by Plant and his spectacular band.

Look, I’ll level with you: Having seats that close and having Robert Plant standing about a dozen feet away from me for sure hit me in the proverbial feels. I’m only human and I had several flashes of  “Holy God! That’s Robert Plant!!!” I mean for the love of God, Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands that ever was and not unlike when I saw Roger Waters last fall, I almost had to pinch myself a few times. But not often because most of the time I was too busy rocking out and enjoying the show and the damn near overwhelming artistry of the band. In fact, the Sensational Space Shifters are so good l need to take a moment to tell you who they all are:

Justin Adams on electric and acoustic guitar, oud, and percussion, John Baggott on keyboards, moog, loops and percussion, bassist Billy Fuller, drummer Dave Smith, Liam “Skin” Tyson  on dobro, electric and acoustic guitar, and opening act and newest Space Shifter Seth Lakeman on fiddle.

All told, Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters played 15 songs. Several were from “Carry Fire,” a few from previous albums and I’ll end the suspense now by saying, yep, they did indeed play a handful of Led Zeppelin songs. Different arrangements of course but still with the bones of the original takes.

Vocally, Plant’s voice has evolved.   At 69, he’s still got those legendary pipes, he just uses them differently.  His voice has a texture and depth to it that doesn’t need to howl like he did in the Zeppelin heyday.  His is a voice that carries the songs down a bluesy, rootsy, Americana river. He digs deep when he needs to but doesn’t try to burn houses down with it. It’s another finely-tuned instrument amongst the others in his exceptional band.

So let’s get down the nuts and bolts of this show. All told Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters played 15 songs including “New World,” “The May Queen” and “Carry Fire” from the new record.  The rest of the set was a melange of tracks from “Lullaby And…The Ceaseless Roar,” “Mighty ReArranger,” “Raising Sand” (the album he made with Alison Krauss,) “Dreamland” and “The Principle of Moments.”  I’ll tell you about the Zeppelin tunes in a minute because these aforementioned songs need some serious accolades dropped on them.

2005’s “The Mighty Rearranger” is home to one of my absolute favorite Plant songs. “All The King’s Horses” is a a delicately gorgeous song.  Hearing it live was profound.

“Swift and true straight to my heart,
Love has come calling and I’m back here again
I pour myself a brand new start
Glad to be falling for the beauty within”

In 2002, Plant released the “Dreamland” album with a cover of a Bukka White song called “Fixin’ to Die.” This was a song played in Boston with its teeth bared.

“In the Mood” from 1983’s “The Principle of Moments” was the show’s first encore and Plant exuberantly exclaimed “I’m in the mood, Boston!” during it. And so were we.

“Rainbow” from 2014’s “Lullaby And…The Ceaseless Roar” was another standout Boston moment.

“I’m reachin’ for the stars
In the sky above
Oh, I will bring their beauty home
The colors of my love
And I will be a rainbow
Now your storm is gone”

Sheer perfection.

As for the Led Zeppelin songs. I was hoping that Plant and his band would play at least one but I never expected to hear an astounding five.

The first one was “That’s the Way” from Led Zeppelin III, released in 1970.  It’s one of the most stirring and lovely songs I’ve ever heard. Sitting here writing this review a little over 12 hours after the show ended I frankly can’t believe I heard him sing it live. With acoustic guitar, standup bass and some kind of tiny mandolin, the song was transcendent.

From that same album comes the traditional tune “Gallows Pole.”  The Boston performance of it turned into an all-out hootenanny with foot-stomping and hand clapping.

On Zeppelin’s 1969 debut album they covered a tune penned by Anne Bredon in the 50s and recorded by Joan Baez on her 1962 live album.  When Plant and company launched into “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” the crowd went crazy and that certainly includes me. There was a massive acoustic guitar interlude in the middle of it that was jaw-dropping from Liam Tyson and it just about had me on the floor. The entire song clocked in somewhere in the neighborhood of ten minutes and every second was spellbinding. Plant’s vocals were on fire, the band was on fire and the entire room was on fire.

It took a few moments for it to sink in, because it was different from the 1971 original, that “Misty Mountain Hop” was happening. But once Plant sang the lines “Walkin’ in the park just the other day, baby/ What do you what do you think I saw?,” I really don’t know how it could have gotten any better. Mad props to Lakeman’s soaring fiddle on this one.

The evening ended on, upon reflection, the best possible way it could have ended. After a trippy, psychedelic intro far removed from the 1969 original, Liam Tyson played one of the most significant guitar riffs a music fan could ever hope to hear.

I thought I was gonna have a heart attack when his guitar screamed out with “Whole Lotta Love,” soon joined with Plant singing “You need cooling/Baby I’m not fooling.”

I caught myself a few times during it hearing the original version in my head but set those thoughts aside to fully absorb this 2018 interpretation which was interspersed with parts of the traditional sea shanty “Santy Anno.”

This was the moment where two worlds collided; mini-me growing up hearing Led Zeppelin songs on the radio and coming from my brother’s stereo and present day music lover me who walked out of this show with a profound appreciation of present day Robert Plant and his out of this world band.

Robert Plant
Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters at The Orpheum Theatre in Boston. 2.16.18
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters tour continues and if you have a way of catching one of the shows by all means DO SO. Even if I had absolutely no idea who Plant was and hadn’t known a single song I would have loved this show immensely. True musicianship across a wide range of material led by guy who is indeed mostly human but will always be something of that fabled deity who has meant so much to so many for so long.

Here’s a few glimpses of what I saw last night. Video editing props as always to Shamus Alley.

Ponti out.