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Lang's flair, vocal skills bring standing ovations

In a job where you make your living with words, it's not often you find yourself at a loss to find them.

But how do you describe a performer with a rock star's onstage flair, an astounding vocal talent and a comedian's gift for the perfect quip at the perfect moment?

Perhaps there's only one word left that will do.

Amazing.

It certainly describes the show singer k.d. lang brought to a devoted, sold-out crowd Thursday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall _ jumping nimbly from funked-up, soul-tinged grooves to gospel, country and even a polka with equal dexterity.

From the moment she took the stage, resplendent in a black pantsuit, red, open-necked shirt and black, shiny sneakers, lang had the crowd of more than 2,100 fans eating from the palm of her hand.

As the show began, a complicated series of drapes fell away to reveal the lanky, tousel-haired singer, shimmying her way through the subtle funk numbers Sex, I Want It All and Get Some.

Backed by a powerhouse eight-piece band, including veterans of gigs with everyone from Janet Jackson to Ozzy Osbourne, lang presented music with emotional depth and instrumental subtlety _ wielding her considerable vocal chops like a surgeon's scalpel on the soaring Roy Orbison ballad Cryin' and the mid-tempo country workout I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.

And as one of the country's most famous openly gay performers, lang presented that rarest of sights _ a lesbian pop star working the same sensual, sexual territory as her hetero counterparts.

It was a distinction that wasn't lost on lang, who tossed knowing asides to her gay fans throughout the night.

"Tonight . . . it's not just about the complete entertainment package," she said. "It's like a convention . . . a type of church meeting if you will. There are those who have been saved, and those yet to be converted."

Linking nearly every song in her near-two-hour set with bite-sized monologues on everything from rumors she's stalking Lisa Marie Presley ("First off, she'd be stalking me," snorted lang) to her first nude scene in a film ("I was totally fine with it . . . until it came out on video"), lang cultivated a fun, freewheeling onstage vibe that contrasted with the well-crafted renditions of her material.

A complex light show, combined with a few crucial costume changes _ sparkly, sequined jacket for the country tunes, cool black suitcoat for the funky stuff _ showed off lang's finely tuned sense of visual presentation.

By the time she donned an electric pink jacket for the sorta-bossa nova groove of Miss Chatelaine _ complete with two bubble machines _ lang had already earned a standing ovation and would get two more before the evening was done.

It was the combination of mind-blowing musicianship and offhand humor that floored the fans _ grateful to know that such a talented performer was smart enough to take her music more seriously than herself.

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