August 21, 2010
House Of Blues, Las Vegas, NV
The last time I really thought about Cyndi Lauper, it was 1984 and I was an 11 year old trying to understand the sexual metaphors lacing the ‘She Bop’ video. Being a huge wrestling fan at the time, seeing Captain Lou Albano in the ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ video gave Cyndi a special place in my new wave heart but I never owned a record of hers. My new wave tastes eventually moved in other directions and I lost track of Cyndi Lauper. At the House of Blues in Las Vegas on Saturday night, Cyndi Lauper introduced a new phase of her overlooked career that challenged her core fans but left no doubt of her passion and talent.
For eight straight weeks, Lauper has had the #1 album on the Billboard charts but has flown under the radar. She is not again flying high on the popular music charts like she did in 1984. Her new album Memphis Blues has become a major hit on the Billboard Blues charts and has earned the respect of the blues community many of whom appear on the album, such as B.B. King, Johnny Lang, and Allen Toussaint. Taking the stage in a black slip, torn tights, high heels, and a white snakeskin coat with an eruption of lava red hair atop the ensemble, Lauper looked smashing as she thanked the audience for supporting the album.
Over the next hour, the band played nothing but the blues as Lauper preached its importance in-between songs. Noting that all music, even her new wave pop classics, all trace their existence back to the early blues greats, Lauper appeared determined to convert the audience, most of whom were itching for ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ after the first few songs. Resisting Lauper would be difficult. Her quirky rambles are charming and more importantly, her voice can roar with unexpected power. On the Muddy Waters classic ‘Rollin & Tumblin’, she swaggered back and forth across the stage with the audience breathless in their appreciation. Her backing band of ace blues players, including legend Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, were often times looking at each other with smiles, probably wondering where this feisty New Yorker learned to sing the blues. Simple in structure, blues require an authenticity that often goes forgotten in modern music but Lauper possesses it. There was nothing forced about her performance and her loose, free wheeling take on the revered ‘Crossroads’ showcased a band and singer letting music flow from the heart.
Returning to the stage for an extended encore, Lauper delivered the hit songs that the audience craved. Working within the framework of her blues band, songs like ‘Change of Heart’ and ‘She Bop’ took on more R&B tones, which suited them well. As Lauper pointed out earlier in the night, beneath the synths and drum programming of 1984, her songs were rooted in traditional music styles. That may explain why they have held up better than many of the 80’s new wave classics. The band finished with one more blues tune, a Memphis Slim cover of ‘Mother Earth’ before stepping away as Lauper sent the appreciative audience home with the gentle ‘True Colors’. It was just enough of the popular hits to satisfy her loyal followers and everyone left in awe of Cyndi Lauper, the blues singer.