As I’ve mentioned in some of my other reviews, music remains my greatest passion within the field of entertainment. Obviously I love movies or I wouldn’t be here, but they’ll always take a back seat to music.
Because of this, I dearly wish that I could claim that I “discovered” all my favorite acts before they hit the big time. Sure, that attitude can become snobbish, but it must be terrific to find somebody new and watch them rise to the top. I have to say “must be” since I’ve never done it; all of my faces were famous by the time I jumped on the bandwagon.
Granted, my age made it impossible for this to occur differently in regard to many of my preferences. I began to take a true interest in music around my eighth birthday in 1975, though I don’t think my passion really took hold until I embraced the Beatles in 1979. Even if we use 1975 as the benchmark, however, a slew of my faves were already well known by that period, so there’s no way I could “discover” them. The Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, the Who, Bowie, Springsteen; the early train had already rolled on all of these.
Even those acts that emerged later remained moderately off-limits for true discovery. That experience requires a level of sophistication beyond most kids, so it was a few years until I’d get into acts like Elvis Costello, Prince, the Police and others.
Probably the acts that hit it big in the early to mid Eighties offered my first shot at “discovery”. After all, some of my friends hooked onto REM well before they made the big time, so I had an equal shot at such events. Still, it didn’t happen. By the time I’d latched onto U2, Madonna, and other acts of the era, they already were famous.
It didn’t get better from there. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails… pretty much everybody I’ve come to like over the last decade already knew the big time when I found them. My sole hope for the future? Latin singer Thalia. Though popular in that world, she’s made no dent on English-speaking society, but I’ve been a big fan since 1993. Now married to music mogul Tommy Mottola, she may launch a Ricky Martin-esque assault on us gringos at some point, and if it works, I can finally claim to have known her when!
Anyway, add k.d. lang to my list of “hopping on the bandwagon” faves. I genuinely hate to acknowledge that I came aboard due to her 1992 big hit “Constant Craving”, but it’s the truth. I normally don’t go for her sort of laid-back sound, but “Craving” struck a chord and I became interested. Ingénue, the album from which it came, wasn’t as good as the single, but I began to cultivate an interest in her music nonetheless.
I preferred lang’s 1995 follow-up, the provocatively titled All You Can Eat. I think it fared less well due to its more dance-based sound; Ingénue branched out gently from k.d.’s earlier country-oriented music, but Eat was more soulful and rhythmic. Actually, one minor record appeared between the two: 1993’s soundtrack to Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. That one featured a few k.d. tracks, all of which presaged the shift she’d take on Eat. The latter worked better as it presented a sort of concept album that evoked the patterns of relationships. It was a warm and passionate piece that I still think is her best.
After that, k.d. went down another road for 1997’s Drag. Yes, it’s another title pun related to her sexual orientation, but it worked on another level; the album consisted totally of cover versions of songs related to smoking. This meant a mix of styles that made the record less coherent than Eat, but it still seemed to be fairly satisfying nonetheless.
k.d.’s most recent release again invoked the modest rhythmic pleasures of Eat. 2000’s Invincible Summer doesn’t replicate the earlier album, but it does remind me a great deal of it. Overall, it felt a little like an amalgam of her prior records, but that shouldn’t be regarded as a criticism; it remained a strong piece that showcased k.d.’s talents well.
One totally consistent factor of my experiences with lang’s work relates to her concerts. I saw her live for the first time on Labor Day in 1996. I expected a reserved, static performance in which k.d. stood stock-still and sang her songs, but that wasn’t what I got. Instead, she proved to be a witty and lively performer who spiced up the action with a variety of different elements. I’ve seen her an additional three times since 1996, and while the later shows didn’t have the same impact - they couldn’t, since the first came as such a surprise - I’ve still really enjoyed them, and I find her to be a fine performer.
To date, only one “complete” concert of k.d.’s has been available on home video. 1998’s Live In Sydney followed the Eat tour but it didn’t provide a very satisfying presentation of the show. The performance was mixed with shots from backstage and other “slice of life” bits. That would be acceptable except they intruded on the songs themselves; many tunes were interrupted in various ways. This made the video frustrating and disappointing. (By the way, I could swear that the show came out on DVD, but I’ve never found further evidence of this, so perhaps it must be chalked up to my faulty memory.)
Though it emerged from a contrived situation, k.d. lang Live By Request offers a much stronger representation of lang’s live shows. Recorded as part of the A&E network’s Live By Request series, the concert was shot specifically for that purpose in December 2000. However, the series rarely intrudes on the proceedings. We occasionally see host Mark McEwen as he chats with k.d., and she also takes a phone call from Tony Bennett, the man who apparently started the series.
For the most part, however, the focus is on music, and Request proceeds along the lines of one of her 2000 shows. k.d. includes a mix of material from various stages of her career. Somewhat surprisingly, only three of the 16 tunes come from Invincible Summer: show-opening “Summerfling”, “The Consequences of Falling”, and closer “Simple”. Drag provides one track, “Don’t Sleep In Bed”, while we find absolutely nothing from Eat or Cowgirls, something that disappoints me; however, perhaps k.d. thought Sydney offered enough of that material and wanted to concentrate on different numbers for this release.
That prospect seems less likely when we examine some of the remaining songs, though. Ingénue - her biggest hit - offers three tracks: “Craving”, “Miss Chatelaine”, and “Wash Me Clean”, two of which appeared on Sydney; “Clean” failed to make its cut. From there, we move back to 1989's Absolute Torch and Twang, which provides a surprising three tunes as well: “Big Boned Gal”, “Trail of Broken Hearts”, and “Pullin’ Back the Reins”. Only one of those - “Reins” - appeared on Sydney.
As we continue back through lang’s career, the next stop is 1988’s Shadowland, which gives us “Black Coffee”, another number that didn’t show up on Sydney. The last vestige of her studio albums comes with Angel With a Lariat’s “Three Cigarettes In an Ashtray” from 1987, another song that popped up on Sydney.
The remaining four numbers didn’t appear on any studio albums, but some have come through other means. Her cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” came from the video compilation Harvest of Seven Years (Cropped and Chronicled), as did “Barefoot”. Both also showed up on Sydney. Finally, I found no evidence of her “MacArthur Park” or “Fever” covers anywhere prior to this.
So that’s six of the 16 tunes that also arrived on Sydney. It’s not a terrible percentage, but it does seem a little high. Granted, those six include some of her true staples. She’s not likely to drop “Craving” any time soon - it remains her only real hit - and “Cigarettes” and “Chatelaine” offer modest performance pieces crowds seem to enjoy. “Crying” always functions as a showstopper, so I don’t expect it to depart either. Still, it would have been nice to see a little more variety to the concert; too much of it consisted of material she’s performed for years.
Despite that modest redundancy, Request shows lang in good form. She lacks the glib looseness of the Eat tour, but she remains witty and charismatic, and she certainly sounds good. lang’s voice has always been an impressive instrument, and you’ll find few flaws during this show; she provides her usual excellent vocals that serve the songs well without excessive showiness.
Her backing band are quite competent. I hate to continually evoke the Eat tour, but that show stood out because the performers were so diverse. For God’s sake, she had John Lowery - a serious head-banger who’s played with Marilyn Manson since 1998 - as her lead guitarist! This crew seems less exciting, but they are musically proficient and they handle the material well.
In regard to musical highlights, I must admit that the show lacks any real highlights. That said, it fails to offer any problems as well. As I noted, I’m tired of the performance of “Cigarettes”, but it doesn’t really bother me. I also would clearly have altered the set list, but the versions of the tunes all seem solid.
Note that a companion CD of Request was released simultaneously with the video. Track listings are identical except the video includes two additional songs: “Fever” and “MacArthur Park”. Don’t expect much from either, as both offer nothing more than minor snippets of these songs. “Park” is a cute piece in which lang tries to look spontaneous; she isn’t, for she did the same routine at her other 2000 shows, but the crowd likes it anyway. “Fever” is a little more substantial as she croons to the sole accompaniment of her bass player, but it’s still just a short verse and little else. I don’t mind their inclusion, but I didn’t feel like I’d miss much without them.
k.d. lang Live By Request isn’t a stellar live production, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The singer doesn’t fall on my list of absolute favorites, but she provides solid music and good performances, and I genuinely enjoy her work even though I don’t usually tend toward this kind of softer material. Request rewards long-time fans with some strong renditions of her music and also provides a suitable introduction for those new to k.d.’s music.
k.d. lang Live By Request appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though it mildly displayed its videotaped roots, as a whole I thought this was a terrific visual presentation.
Sharpness consistently looked crisp and detailed. A few wide shots betrayed minor softness, but these were rare and not a real concern. Overall the picture appeared well defined and distinct. It showed none of the usual jagged edges and moiré I associate with videotape, and I also saw no problems related to edge enhancement. As for source flaws, I witnessed none; the material came across as clean and fresh.
Request used a subdued palette that fit the show. Basic black was the order of the day for clothes, though k.d. donned a garish yellow dress for “Miss Chatelaine”. Otherwise, lighting provided the only semi-bright hues, and even those remained mild. Overall, the disc replicated colors with fine accuracy and clarity, and they always looked real and natural.
Blacks also appeared to be deep and rich. As noted, k.d. and the others generally wore dark outfits, and these looked nicely dark and solid. Shadow detail seemed to be concise and appropriately opaque without any form of excessive thickness. Ultimately, I found Request to provide a very strong picture.
As good - if not better - was the audio of Live By Request. The DVD provides both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks, and although both were terrific, I preferred the latter. Essentially it offered all of the positives of the Dolby mix, but it seemed to integrate elements a little more cleanly, and it featured modestly tighter and deeper bass response. The differences weren’t extreme, but they were significant enough for me to give the DTS version an “A” while the DD one settled for an “A-“.
In both cases, the soundfield neatly presented the live concert. The audio remained oriented toward the front channels, which made sense for this kind of show. Instrumentation appeared distinctly placed and accurately located, as all of the pieces showed up in the right spots. These elements blended together well and created a clean and immersive presentation. As for the rears, they offered some occasional unique instrumentation, but mainly they stayed with general reinforcement of the music as well as crowd noise. Overall the mix presented an engulfing and rich soundfield.
As for the quality of the sound, it seemed to be excellent. I thought the vocals were mixed too high and they appeared to be too prominent, but the tonality remained natural and warm. Voices sounded clear and lush, and they helped contribute to the realistic atmosphere. All of the various instruments also added strong and powerful support. Guitars and keyboards were crisp and precise, while drums and bass seemed rich and detailed. Bass response seemed uniformly excellent, as the low-end appeared to be concise and tight. In the end, I found Request to present terrific sound.
The only area in which this DVD falters relates to its supplements. There aren’t any. Actually, DVD-ROM users can access a “weblink”, but I refuse to consider that to be an actual extra. If the DVD-ROM area included some notes or videos, that’d be one thing, but a weblink? No way!
Despite the lack of supplements, k.d. lang Live By Request provides a solid package. While the program doesn’t encompass a full-length k.d. concert, it offers most of one, and it seems fairly representative of one of her shows. The DVD features top-notch picture and sound though it doesn’t include anything extra. Nonetheless, k.d. lang Live By Request is a keeper; the high quality DVD combined with a good performance make it a winner.