The voice boomed from behind a closed curtain: “Did everyone remember to take their heart medicine? ’Cause I’m on my way out!”
The stage was only partially lighted, but there was no mistaking whose body was attached to the voice. That would be Cher, an icon of American popular music for more than 40 years and, even at age 67, a pop star able to fill an arena the size of First Niagara Center without batting a false eyelash.
In the midst of yet another farewell tour, this one in support of her 26th album, “Closer to the Truth,” Cher arrived as the reigning queen of pop kitsch, a diva with serious credentials, and incredibly, a voice that has weathered the stones of years with as much vitality as the body that houses that voice.
Arriving atop the stage, strapped into an elevated pedestal and wearing what looked like a Cleopatra-era gown with a headdress concocted from plucked peacock feathers, Cher spent the rest of her spectacle of a set proving that, though the flesh may be weak, the heart endures.
The only female artist able to boast of number one hits in five separate decades, Cher sang most of them, though the songs seemed to be secondary to the myriad costume changes and bountiful bits of saucy between-song banter. Was she charming? Yes, abundantly so. Did she look her age? No, not even slightly. Was the whole thing a garish presentation of Vegas-style cheese? Well, yes, of course. Duh.
“Woman’s World,” a bit of electronic dance music peppered with hints of female self-empowerment in the lyric department, arrived like a present-day dance club banger, and rather abruptly rubbed itself up against a paean to ’70s disco in the form of “Strong Enough.”
The crowd – an interesting mix of age groups, unified in what sure appeared to be an all-consuming love for Cher – was on its feet from the get-go, even when the object of mass affection herself high-tailed it for a costume change prior to “Dressed To Kill,” as a troop of dancers pulled off a series of highly impressive Cirque du Soleil-style moves, dressed in a slightly watered-down version of the sort of trendy bondage gear Malcolm McLaren and Vivien Westwood might’ve been peddling from their London shop, circa 1977.
Cher paused for a bit of glib gab with the crowd, but that lack of sincerity didn’t last too long, despite the fact that her banter has not changed much from night to night on this tour, according to the reviews to date. (Yes, I’m suggesting that Cher’s interaction with the audience is scripted.) Is it possible to say the same thing, night after night after night, and still mean it? I believe it is. Cher certainly seemed to enjoy the back and forth with the audience on Wednesday.
Things had gotten a little heavy on the dance-music side of the scale by this point, but Cher wisely pulled it back, bidding us to bask in nostalgia – or fake it, if we were too young to have been there – while she ventured back to her life with Sonny Bono. A “duet” on “I Got You Babe,” with the late Sonny singing to Cher while towering above her on a massive video screen, could’ve been embarrassingly schlocky, but somehow seemed heartfelt. A medley of early, post-Sonny solo hits was marred by ridiculously overblown stage sets, choreographed dancing, and, during “Half Breed,” a Native American-themed introductory bit that stretched the limits of credulity. And yet, hearing Cher sing “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” “Dark Lady” and “Half Breed” offered us a visceral thrill, one that everyone around me appeared to be willing to indulge in.
Opener Cyndi Lauper certainly stole the show, if we were to decide such things based on musical merit alone. Wednesday’s FNC gig was the first on the tour for Lauper, and some technical difficulties pushed back her starting time, and made the whole thing run a bit late. None of this seemed to faze Lauper or her band, who took to the boards like the seasoned professionals they are, and celebrated the 30th anniversary of Lauper’s breakthrough album, “She’s So Unusual,” by playing most of it.
Lauper has lost none of her singing ability – throughout her opening set, she nailed the high notes of ’80s pop classics like “She Bop,” “I’ll Kiss You,” “Time After Time” and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” with what sounded like effortless mastery. With only a bit of reverb on her voice – no auto-tune or backing tracks– Lauper presented a master course in soulful pop singing. An encore of “True Colors” with Lauper on dulcimer provided the musical high of the evening.