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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Vocal Wonders Fuse With k.d. lang's Personal Passions

September 26, 1997|RICHARD CROMELIN

K.d. lang executed two gender reversals in her lyrics during her Wiltern Theatre concert on Wednesday. In Steve Miller's "The Joker," she got rid of the cowboy and made it, "Some people call me the space cowgirl." And during her own "Miss Chatelaine," she glanced down at her '50s-style suit and two-tone oxfords and crooned, "I can't explain why I've become Mister Chatelaine."

That got a big laugh from the crowd--an audience that compounds the intensity of diva worshipers with the passion of a community that enshrines lang as a role model of sexual openness. The Canadian singer's coming out a few years ago wasn't the media event that Ellen's was, but it inevitably made her a torchbearer.

What was remarkable about the evening was lang's ability to address the broad human condition in her music while embracing the lesbian experience in her casual, humorous banter with the crowd. Combined with the intimacy of the Wiltern, that made her show much more musically effective and emotionally touching than she was a couple of years ago at the much larger Universal Amphitheatre, where she strained to be a larger-than-life figure.

Backed by a seven-member group that was well-attuned to her subtle dynamics, lang built Wednesday's set on the torch-song moods of her new album, "Drag." Though a catch in her voice popped up periodically to mar the delicacy, there was also a huskiness you don't hear on the record that deepened the exploration of the love-equals-addiction equation.

Finally, the supreme vocal interpreter and the sexual role model did converge, as late in the encore lang offered a powerful version of "The Right to Love," bringing authority and poignancy to the defiant key lyric originally sung by Carmen McRae--"We know that we have earned the precious right to love."

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