Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cyndi Lauper concert review: Los Angeles

photo by Kelly Swift
My review originally appeared in the OC Register. 

Sometimes having the gift of gab can get you into a little trouble.

That was definitely the case Thursday night when Cyndi Lauper performed at the Greek Theatre. 

Initially scheduled to perform a two-hour show, it ended up being about a half-hour less than that after the veteran pop/rock singer took the stage late and storytelling got the best of her, leading to a couple songs getting dropped from her set list.

The hour-long wait between warm-up act Hunter Valentine and Lauper's arrival seemed like an eternity. A long introduction by actress Fran Drescher, of The Nanny and Happily Divorced, urging text donations for her own cancer nonprofit organization, sure didn't help matters.

The past few years have been among the more high-profile and successful ones in recent memory for Lauper. Since 2010 she has put out an album, Memphis Blues, that reached No. 1 on Billboard's blues chart and snagged a Grammy nomination; appeared on NBC reality series Celebrity Apprentice and developed her own show, Still So Unusual, for the WE network; released a New York Times best-selling autobiography, A Memoir; and played a prestigious White House gig alongside Al Green, Mavis Staples and more.

Most accomplished of all, her musical sensation Kinky Boots, a collaboration with actor Harvey Fierstein, garnered six Tony Awards last Sunday out of 13 nominations, marking the first time a solo female has won for best score.

Seeking to give fans "that '80s experience," Lauper just launched a new tour to commemorate the 30th anniversary of her multiplatinum, Grammy-winning debut She's So Unusual, performing it front to back.

In Los Angeles, her five-piece band – including bassist and backing vocalist William Wittman, an associate producer, engineer and guitarist on the original album – sounded just fine on the New Wave material. So did Lauper, despite being sick.

The flame-haired spitfire took the stage wearing a blue leopard-print outfit with black leather vest and fringe. Right off, she gave a spirited delivery amid the swirling synth strains of "Money Changes Everything" and made the first of several forays into the audience to sing atop the seats (without a security minder – gutsy move). Lauper, who turns 60 next Saturday, still has no problem nailing that sustained 10-second wail at the end of the piece.
Another big single, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," lived up to its name in an extended version that had people dancing and singing along loudly. The disc's third track, a cover of Prince's "When You Were Mine," was preceded by the evening's first lengthy background tale.

Using a pillar to lean on, Lauper sang it with a quivering timbre and come-hither quality, not to mention yelps. It was an early standout.

Those who, like this writer, enjoyed reading A Memoir were probably just as fascinated by more of her tidbits about making the album. But it quickly tried the patience of casual followers; I heard a few rude "shut up and sing" shouts from them. Since the tour was only two dates in, even the musicians didn't seem to know what was coming. At one point Lauper turned around and asked: "Are you all right? Want a coffee?"

Bathed in shadowy light, "She Bop" had a sinister vibe and found Lauper playing the recorder solo. "All Through the Night," during which she held a light stick for illumination and twirled around holding a mini disco ball high, was gorgeous. Same held true for the minimal instrumentation on "Time After Time." Joking about the low-tech effects, she said, "You got to keep imaginative. It's not like (Lady) Gaga here."

Later, she praised Gaga's adventurous streak and willingness to be true to herself, which strongly resonated with the large gay and lesbian contingent at the Greek. (Lauper is a tireless advocate for LGBT issues and started the nonprofit True Colors Fund for teens and young adults kicked out of their homes.)

Noticing the venue's curfew was fast approaching, she really got down to business on the remaining songs. Once the Unusual material concluded, the band returned for an encore of 2002 single "Shine" (I would've inserted another hit here), then left the singer alone for a truncated, a cappella version of "True Colors."

Toronto punk/pop group Hunter Valentine, a female quartet whose members were seen last year on Showtime's lesbian-centered reality series The Real L Word, opened with a moderately engaging half-hour set of cuts primarily from their album Collide and Conquer

Lead singer/guitarist Kiyomi McCloskey's husky tone and image evoked Joan Jett at times, with shouting à la Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They fared best on the quick, catchy “Gates of Hell,” the mid-tempo rocker “Nowhere to Run” and keyboard-heavy “Crying.”

Catch Cyndi Lauper again June 21 at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, $45-$65.

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