If your last memory of Cyndi Lauper was back when she had crazy hair, wore mis-matched outfits and cavorted with professional wrestlers, she's changed since then. A little, anyway. Now 60, she still has an eclectic sense of style — on this night she sported a bright pink jacket, half-glittered pants and combat boots — but there were no wrestlers on stage when she dropped into Ruth Eckerd Hall on Friday as part of her "She's So Unusual" 30th Anniversary tour. [Text by Michael, photos by Tracy.]
The wrestlers were there in spirit at least, as part of stories and anecdotes that made up a large part of Lauper's 110-minute performance. But the main focus of the show was her 1983 smash She's So Unusual, which put her on the pop music map and made her an early staple of MTV with a string of hits and imaginative videos at a time when the network actually played them. And she delivered the songs in the order they appeared on the album, much to the delight of a middle-aged crowd that had the theater approaching capacity.
While celebrating an album's anniversary by performing it live is nothing new, Lauper faced a few challenges when it came to She's So Unusual. First, the album is light: At less than 39 minutes, there isn't enough material for even half a show. Second, the track sequence is pretty much the opposite of most concert setlists. The hits are at the beginning, with more obscure cuts coming in towards the end. But she overcame both with her unique flair, giving the show more of an "evening with Cyndi" atmosphere rather than a straightforward musical performance.
After kicking off with album opener "Money Changes Everything," Lauper went right into the anthem "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," the sort of track that would typically be saved for the end of the show, if it was in a different format. But the popular song got the crowd to its feet, providing a blast of energy and a sing-along opportunity just minutes into the concert. The singer took full advantage, stretching the song out with some spirited callbacks and even stopping the music at one point to coach the audience through an extended chorus. But soon enough, it came time for the first of many prolonged musical breaks, which found Lauper discussing everything from the origin of lyrics, to 1980s bands and wrestlers she encountered on her way to stardom, to some less-than-glamorous road gigs. She regaled the crowd with an anecdote about getting booed in front of 10,000 Kinks fans, making her reality show Cyndi Lauper: Still So Unusual, and earning a "G.E.T." (Grammy, Emmy and Tony). For fans who love Cyndi Lauper the person, it was a rare chance to experience her more personal side and hear a few stories, jokes and — at one point — a capable Yoko Ono impression. For those fans who were only there for the music, it was probably a bit of overkill. Still, it helped fill the set, and more than doubled the time allotted to performing the 30-year-old record.
But the people who just wanted to hear her sing probably weren't disappointed, either, because Lauper had no trouble delivering the vocals just as they sounded on the album. She was already 30 when She's So Unusual was released, so she doesn't have to try and mimic a teenager's voice today. From the melodic hiccups in "She Bop" to the somber tones on "Time After Time," nobody had to use their imagination to reconcile nostalgia with reality. Lauper sang them the way fans wanted to hear them, even flexing her vocal cords at some points as if to show she wasn't straining to hit the notes after all these years.
After the obligatory exit following the album's completion, Lauper and her band returned for an encore than spanned more than a half-hour and touched on hits like "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough" from The Goonies soundtrack and show closer "True Colors" off the album of the same name. There was also an Etta James cover ("At Last"), a track from her work on the Broadway musical Kinky Boots ("Sex Is In The Heel") and some more chatting. But the fans got a complete show — a front-to-back reading of her first solo album, some material beyond that, and an earful of Cyndi's stories — and even if it wasn't what some of them expected, no one seemed disappointed at the end.
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