Concert Review published City Monthly Jan 2004

Cyndi Lauper Live at the Roxy "At Last"

Just got home from seeing Cyndi Lauper perform her new album live at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles.

There was a guy beside me in line who was saying that his 10 year old niece didn't know who Cyndi Lauper is. He said, you know who Madonna is, right. And she said, 'yeah, she's the old lady in the Gap ads'. (oh dear! - ed.) He said, right, well, she started out at the same time as Madonna, and was just as popular in the beginning, but Madonna kept on being famous, and Cyndi Lauper didn't. His niece said, 'oh so she's old then too'.

All righty then.

I must admit I was not overly excited about the show, but the Roxy is a small club on the Sunset Strip and how often do you get to see someone like that in a small club. Her new album comes out soon which is all covers of mostly 50's and 60's hits. When I said that to someone the other day, he said, "she has such a high squeaky voice, what is she going to cover - Betty Boop songs?" He obviously hasn't heard her version of "I'm Gonna Be Strong" (originally a hit for Gene Pitney I believe, and first recorded by Cyndi for her band Blue Angel in 1980) or maybe has forgotten about her powerhouse version of "I Drove All Night" (which, I'm sorry but blows Celine Dion's tired version out of the water.)

I went down to the club for the afternoon sound check, hoping to get an autograph. I have met Cyndi a couple times before, so wasn't -really- excited but I do really like her. Or at least I used to. She was somewhat of an inspiration to me, with her attitude in the early 80's.

At about 5:30 her car pulled up and there she was, looking -very- haggard, no makeup and obviously just in direct from the airport, as all her bags had LAX tags. There were three or four of us who wanted autographs and she looked at us and said, "Can I get you later guys, I'm late for rehearsal with the horn section." So we gushed at her for a few moments while she passed us and into the club. Soon we could hear her rehearsing with the (very loud) band.

What seemed like several hours later they let us in and several more hours later the lights went down and the show began. As I had suspected, given the circumstances/set up, she performed her new album in its entirety (almost) and none of her own hits.

But the show was just awesome. She looked great (which is amazing, given how tired she must have been), with long very blonde shaggy hair and a black velvet suit with a too-big white shirt underneath, and sounded just spectacular. I have a newfound true appreciation of her talent as a vocalist. She introduced each song with an entertaining and often lengthy story about her childhood, what it meant to her and why it was on the album. First she launched into the Etta James classic "At Last" and man, her pipes blew the roof off. Even though she was nursing a cold and was coughing between songs, her throat just opened up and this power train tore through the club. The hair stood up on the back of my neck more than once.

She followed that with a powerful version of Dionne Warwick's "Walk on By" which was introduced with a very touching story about a friend of hers who as a teenager became pregnant and shunned by the neighborhood. It certainly gave a new slant to the Burt Bacharach chestnut. I must have heard that song a thousand times but never before has it given me a lump in my throat.

Then a quiet and intense version, alone with the piano and violin, of the Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody", and mentioned Bobby Hatfield's passing a few days ago. I don't believe there was a dry eye in the house. If there was, a stunning and unique version of Jacque Brel's "If you Go Away" took care of that, ending with her kneeling in tears on the stage.

She picked things up with the aforementioned brass section, which brought the number of musicians on the stage to eleven (!!?). She related as a child visiting her aunt's who would play Frankie Valli 45's and hits like "Stay" which I know as a Jackson Browne song from the mid 70's but actually is a Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs single from the early 60's. Earth Wind and Fire had better watch their back, that's all I'm saying, as Cyndi danced across the tables throughout the club and had fans whipped into a sensation. She later brought the band back for a house rocking version of Stevie Wonder's (or Aretha Franklin's) (or Basia's) "Until You Come Back to Me" which had the whole club smiling and waving and grooving.

She also did a completely spectacular arrangement of "Don’t Let me Be Misunderstood" which I know from Santa Esmeralda's late 70's disco version (which is excellent) but was actually a hit by the Animals in the late 60's. Her arrangement reminded me of Nirvana, how it's quiet and then roars and goes back to quiet in an instant. It was spellbinding.

When I read the track listing I thought, why these tired old hits, some of which have been covered literally hundreds of times. But never before by Cyndi Lauper, who has breathed new life into her career.

I'm stunned.

- Rod Reynolds Los Angeles November 2003 ©2003 The Art Dept LA

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