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Why K.D. Lang can keep performing 'Ingénue' the way she recorded it

Why K.D. Lang can keep performing 'Ingénue' the way she recorded it
K.D. Lang performs Monday night at the Theatre at Ace Hotel. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

K.D. Lang didn't futz with the arrangements on her 1992 album "Ingénue" when she brought it to the Theatre at Ace Hotel as part of a tour launched last year to mark the record's 25th anniversary.

And why on earth would she?

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A canny and sumptuous blend of roots music and pre-rock pop, "Ingénue" sounds as great today as it did upon its release, when the finely turned collection spawned a radio hit in "Constant Craving" and went on to earn Grammy nominations for album, record and song of the year.

But in a market over-saturated with full-album concerts designed merely to satisfy fans' nostalgia, there was another reason Lang could feel creatively secure in sticking to the script for Monday night's show: A quarter-century after "Ingénue" made her a mainstream star, she's still a singular figure — a post-modern torch singer working in the country idiom (or maybe next to it) to reflect her life as an openly gay woman.

Many younger artists, such as Shelby Lynne and Brandi Carlile, have taken inspiration from the veteran from Alberta, Canada, who's now 56. But no one has followed precisely in Lang's footsteps, which insulates her in a way from the need to reimagine familiar material in order to keep it interesting.

You want the aesthetic and emotional experience of "Ingénue"? Even now, you've got only one place to find it.

And what a rich experience it remains.

K.D. Lang recently performed her 1992 album "Ingénue" from beginning to end at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.
K.D. Lang recently performed her 1992 album "Ingénue" from beginning to end at the Theatre at Ace Hotel. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Backed at the Ace by an expert seven-piece band that included her longtime bassist David Piltch (though not Ben Mink, who co-produced "Ingénue"), Lang performed the album's 10 songs in their original order, from the slow-motion shuffle of "Save Me" through the lush "Miss Chatelaine" and on finally to "Constant Craving," which still throbbed with unfulfilled yearning.

"It's a bit of a dark record," Lang said at one point, adding that she'd made it at a "dark time" in which she'd moved to Los Angeles. (That got a big laugh.)

Yet the songs, which she's said describe being in love with someone in another relationship, shimmered with dreamy textures that gave her despair a kind of cinematic grandeur.

And though she joked about her age — "Whole lot of gay seniors here tonight," she said of the crowd — Lang's voice didn't sound roughened in the slightest; her tone in "Wash Me Clean," with its faint echo of bluegrass, was as pristine as it's ever been.

Before a few tunes, Lang offered insight into her writing process, as when she introduced "Season of Hollow Soul" with a memory of coming upon a fallen cedar tree during a walk through Vancouver's verdant Stanley Park.

Later, after the run-through of "Ingénue," she provided more background as she spoke affectionately about being shaped by three fellow Canadian songwriters who, like her, had relocated to California.

That was Lang's preamble to warm renditions of Joni Mitchell's "Help Me," Neil Young's "Helpless" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," each of which had her toying freely with her phrasing in a way she'd resisted earlier.

Yet for a singer as skilled as Lang — and with songs as widely known as those — such tweaks represented easy work.

What was remarkable about Monday's concert was how little Lang's old music required to feel new.

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Twitter: @mikaelwood

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