Cyndi Lauper, Hunter Valentine House of Blues June 28, 2013
Seeing Cyndi Lauper live in concert on Pride Weekend is like seeing a unicorn in its natural habitat. It's colorful and surreal and makes everyone feel extremely special. Celebrating the 30-year anniversary of her debut album She's So Unusual, Lauper played to a sold-out audience Friday night at House of Blues.
Her magic did not disappoint her fans.
Opening group Hunter Valentine started right on time and were, overall, just okay. The group looked like some badass rock chicks: lead singer Kiyomi McClosky could be a body double for Joan Jett; guitarist Aimee Bessada was flexing some major Patti Smith realness. However, the music wasn't quite as inspired.
The group themselves are all formidable musicians; sadly, most of the songs sounded much the same. One I did like reminded me of Concrete Blonde's "Joey." McClosky has a nice scream on her, though, which livened up the set a bit. The group's sound just needed a bit more diversity.
It's a great sign when the crowd is singing all the music played between bands. To get everyone hyped up for Cyndi, House of Blues played a good mix of '80s and '90s songs, such as Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" and 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up." I've never seen people sing so loudly to pre-show music.
Lauper took the stage at 9:08 p.m., wearing getup that could only make sense on her -- very The Matrix meets Medusa as inspired by Lucille Ball. She walked to the microphone and simply stated, "Well, this is the She's So Unusual tour, so..." and went straight into "Money Changes Everything," the first song off of her now-classic album. The crowd response was awesome: lots of singing, dancing, and energy. Lauper's high notes were rang clear throughout the song -- which, like most of her songs, was chock full of soprano gymnastics.
She continued to play the 1983 album in its exact order, much to her fans' delight. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," a ringer for the album version with just enough of a spin that it still felt new, elicited a predictably huge response.
The thing about Cyndi Lauper is that she really is so unusual, and unlike so many of today's supposed "unusual" people, her oddity is not at all contrived. The way she dances looks exactly the same as it did back when MTV still played videos. Her spastic arm movements and hopping are almost as famous as the songs themselves, and when she moves like this, it's completely organic.
After "Girls" came the Prince-penned "When You Were Mine." Lauper's voice has aged, which was a bit more apparent by this time. However, she's a smart artist and knows how to compensate for this. She adds so much artistry -- trills and fascinating combinations of falsetto and vibrato -- that the weaker spots aren't nearly as noticeable. She also deserves a lot of credit for still attempting to hit each and every one of these high notes, as opposed to other artists of her generation who now abandon them altogether.
"Time After Time," up next, is still one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever written. The concept of someone's darkness and emotional emptiness simply just fading to a dull gray nothing? It resonates. The crowd feels it. This song is a classic.
For the first four songs, Lauper did not address the crowd whatsoever. But after "Time..." she finally started to chat, appropriately about the "monumental" week the nation had just had, between Prop 8, the DOMA, Wendy Davis and Pride. Lauper told her audience that we must be advocates, and once she started talking, man, did she talk. First she talked about how we shouldn't confuse the artist with the person, and told a long story about "We Are the World" and Bob Dylan. It was all over the place, but again, this is who Cyndi Lauper is.
Next she told a long introductory story about "She Bop," a song famous for its, uh, definition. There really was a blue boy magazine, she said.
The audience was riddled with a bizarre case of Attention Deficit Disorder that only presented itself whenever Lauper would speak, going from singing every word and dancing to completely not paying attention. Once "She Bop" played, the dancing once again commenced.
"All Through The Night" sounded good, but the volume was not evenly mixed for Lauper's voice. The lower register was difficult to hear, but her soprano was very loud. However, no one cared. It's a great song, and Lauper's playful flirting with a disco ball during the song was greatly received.
By this point in the show, her voice seemed like it was a bit strained, but damn, that woman can hold an end note like no one's business. The end was so impressive that it redeemed any faults in the rest of the song.
Lauper worked her way through the rest of the album, "Witness," "I'll Kiss You," "He's So Unusual" and "Yeah Yeah." She told story after story in between, such as a great one about opening up for The Kinks; she played a ukulele and got beaned with quarters during the set, she recalled.
When Lauper talked about making She's So Unusual, she said, "When I listen to the album, I can understand why people were confused. We weren't. I thought, why not make an album that makes people HAPPY?"
Clearly she did, because 30 years later, this was a happy, happy crowd.
After running through the album, Lauper and the band left the stage. Of any Houston crowd I've seen, this one actually worked for their encore, and worked hard. Thank you for restoring my faith, Lauperfans.
Lauper and her band returned to lead off the encore with a song from Kinky Boots, the Broadway musical that just won Lauper a Tony for her music and lyrics. I'd wanted to see this show anyway, even before the Tony win, but the song definitely gelled that feeling. "Sex is in the Heel" was funny and clever, and displayed another side of Lauper's talent, followed by a super-energetic extended version of her 1986 hit "Change of Heart" and the moving "Sally's Pigeons."
Finally, there was only one song the audience was yearning to hear, especially on Pride Weekend. Her band exited minus Lauper and her keyboard player, and as the opening bars of "True Colors" were played, cheering, joy and tears all washed over the room. It was sensational. This song may as well be the anthem for Pride, whether for the LGBT community or for anyone anywhere who has felt uncomfortable in his or her own skin or simply "not good enough."
Lauper closing comments were,"There's enough room for all of us," "Diversity makes us strong."
I'm glad that somewhere along the line, someone made room for Cyndi Lauper on the pop landscape. Her music withstands the test of time, as does she. She really just is so unusual, and we wouldn't want it any other way.
Personal Bias: The show was not perfect, but who would want it to be? It was Cyndi Lauper. Perfection is not the goal. Originality and authenticity are. Excellent show.
The Crowd: Just like Lauper herself, beautiful like a rainbow: straights and gays and everything in between; evenly split between races and ages.
Overheard In the Crowd:
Woman A: "I love you. You know you're my sister, right?"
Woman B: "Oh my God, you're MY sister!"
Woman A: "We should smoke some pot!"
Woman B: "We don't have any pot!"
Woman A (non-ironically): "God always finds a way. God will always come through for us."
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Random Notebook Dump: Lauper requested no photography at the show. With the exception of one or two stolen phone shots here and there, her request was honored. It was beyond refreshing to once again witness an audience actually experience the show they were seeing, and to be able to experience it with my own eyes (and not through the back of someone's smartphone).