Attending a Cyndi Lauper concert is a lot like spending a holiday meal with your kooky Italian aunt from Queens.
There is an eventual goal to the festivities – at the meal, the food; at the concert, the songs. But first, you’re going to hear a lot of talking.
A. Lot. Of. Talking.
Here’s what we learned about Lauper at Wednesday night’s gig at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre: Her mother used to play Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller records around the house (which Lauper said led to her own long-standing love of the blues). As a kid, Lauper got kicked out of convent school and picked up her fashion sense from the nuns. Her “ill-fated careers” included being a DJ and walking horses (“I couldn’t ride them, I could only walk them”).
But amid all of this rambling –- which, actually, was mostly endearing and hugely entertaining – Lauper had a message: “Because you might do something different than someone else doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”
It wasn’t the most eloquently phrased statement, but, like everything Lauper does, it was filled with heart, emotion and compassion.
This current tour, dubbed “From Memphis to Mardi Gras” because of her recent record, “Memphis Blues,” and the inclusion of blues-rock-Zydeco piano maestro Dr. John on the bill, found her ricocheting through a set list of blues standards and her own pop hits, many of them muscular revisions of the glossy radio versions.
After coming on stage about 10 p.m. and starting not with music, but, naturally, a brief chat with the crowd, Lauper and her crackerjack six-piece band plunged into Little Walter’s “Just Your Fool.”
Among Lauper’s players on this tour is veteran harmonica blower Charlie Musselwhite, and his contributions added much depth to her 90-minute set. As proof that this blues record is more than a novelty detour, Lauper, 58, also stacked her stage with several members of the Hi Rhythm Section, the lauded house band on classic records by Al Green and Ann Peebles.
Archie Turner handled keyboards with longtime Lauper collaborator Steve Gaboury, while Hi guys Michael Toles (guitar) and Steve Potts (drums) created a musical synchronicity with another Lauper vet, bassist William Wittman.
While the band provided the steady beat to Lowell Fulson’s “Shattered Dreams” and Robert Johnson’s iconic “Crossroads,” Lauper injected the woozy attitude, belting from her gut like a true blues mama one minute and whispering a chorus another.
For those in the crowd uninterested in Lauper’s blues education, there was plenty of ‘80s familiarity, too.
“She Bop” received a smart reworking into a funky rock song, and Lauper wasn’t shy about engaging in her Michigan J. Frog dance moves or lying upside down, head hanging off the stage, while singing. She also gave “All Through the Night” a country dusting, proving the song’s timeless prettiness and her own vocal prowess.
Longtime fans received a couple of treats – first with the appearance of the vastly underappreciated “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough,” a Top 10 hit in 1985 that nonetheless is frequently forgotten, and, later, an impromptu acapella take on the haunting “Sally’s Pigeons.”
As dynamic as Lauper’s voice is in full wail, it was simply stunning during the hushed “Sally’s,” which, oddly, made a perfect sandwich between the predictably giddy romp through “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (during which Lauper made her third trip into the crowd to sing) and the tender “Time After Time.”
Who can complain about a little chattiness when the payoff is this satisfying?
Earlier in the show, Dr. John and his excellent four-piece outfit rolled through 70 minutes of classics anchored by swinging drums, the good doctor’s expert work on the piano and organ and, what Janelle Monae would call “classy brass” provided by trombonist Sarah Morrow.
At 70, Dr. John isn’t the most fluid dancer – though how great was it to see him up and shuffling during a few songs? – but his playing is as nimble as ever and his voice still steeped in gravel.
Often, as during “Qualified,” his left foot could be seen stomping and sliding under the piano as he sat in his purple suit, fedora and shades. The highlights of his set came with the often lengthy musical interludes – many of which prompted the crowd to clap along, as during Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” and his most well-known song, “Right Place, Wrong Time.”
Watching Dr. John exit the stage, his walking stick festooned with feathers at his side, a subtle hiccup in his gait could be noticed, his body still possessed by the rhythm.
Here’s a link to my interview with Cyndi a couple of weeks ago: http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-music/cyndi-lauper-revels-in-1193621.html
– Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene blog