Cher, Cyndi Lauper
PNC Arena, Raleigh
Wednesday, May 7, 2014

“They just want you to come out in ridiculous outfits and sing and be fabulous!” declared the 67-year-old actor-singer-diva-phenomenon Cher, speaking about her audience circa 2014. And in the course of a Vegas-worthy performance at the PNC Arena for her Dressed to Kill tour Wednesday night, she did just that.

Folks, many of them white-haired, were still making their way to their seats when Cyndi Lauper kicked off the proceedings with “She Bop,” a huge hit from her monster 1983 debut, She’s So Unusual. While an ode to masturbation might seem like a curious way to kick off a family-friendly concert, this was not an evening meant for parsing lyrics. By the time the song reached its dead-stop conclusion, one AARP-eligible concertgoer had already put his iPhone into flashlight mode and was waving it gently overhead.

Best known for a passel of hits from the early- and mid-’80s, Lauper has endured, and so have her clarion pipes. She offsets a cartoonish image with a disarming, down-to-earth essence. Whether recalling the words of her grandmother (“Who are you?”) or playfully dressing down some inattentive fans up front (“I’m sorry, girls, am I interrupting you?”), Lauper gave a master class in the art of stage patter in her distinctive, F-Bomb-prone Betty Boop Brooklynese. It wasn’t all bonbons, though; she related the recent indignity of having her record company, Sony, require her to submit demos to secure their backing of a new record. Her response was to wow them with a cover of “At Last” by Etta James, which proved to be one of the highlights of a show that included sing-alongs, swoon-alongs (“Time After Time”) and even an old song from her Blue Angel band days. There was even one moment where, if you closed your eyes, you could almost believe you were at a real rock show thanks to a rousing version of “Money Changes Everything” by the short-lived Georgia band The Brains.

While her flowing crimson locks were visible from the cheap seats, and she whirled, strutted and capered with pizzazz aplenty, Lauper’s set seemed like 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged next to Cher in all her glory. Making her entrance following a Jumbotron montage of her former selves, she belted out a recent song, the pulsating “Woman’s World,” from atop a pseudo-Ionic column, decked out in a Nefertiti-meets-Frederick’s of Hollywood ensemble topped with a headdress that flared out like an enormous rainbow-hued moustache. A troupe of dancers clad like slaves in a swords-and-sandals epic busted precision moves in support; they would later portray circus people, burlesque performers and, naturally, gypsies, tramps and thieves.

With hit songs spanning nearly a half century, Cher can move from one crowd-pleasing moment to the next. There are chestnuts like “I’ve Got You Babe,” which she sang to a projected image of Sonny Bono. For “Half Breed,” she donned a Native American headdress and little else. (The recent kerfuffle involving the Flaming Lips the daughter of the governor of Oklahoma and a native American headdress was clearly not an issue.) Even the Cher-less moments, necessitated by the almost constant costume changes, were better than they had to be. During a montage of Cher movie moments, a fan could be heard exclaiming appreciatively, “Silkwood—now that’s my shit!”

Cher has already completed one “farewell tour” and has stated that this tour is the real last time around, but last night she did not sound ready to leave show business. Because whatever it is that Cher’s got, and however it is that she got it, she still has it.

“I’ve pissed off half the female singers by saying, ‘Follow this, you bitches,’ she said. “I can still get into my ‘Turn Back Time’ outfit. And I’m almost a hundred.”