Monday, October 20, 2008

Just Wanting to Have Fun, and other unrealistic intentions.


A friend made me go watch Cyndi Lauper last week.

A likely story, no? It's true. I agreed to accompany him after my navigation of the turmoil that was getting Leonard Cohen tickets earlier this year was unsuccessful. He blames me, and watching Cyndi was punishment, which I thought a little harsh.

Interesting link though: Leonard attracted a greater level of hysteria in Manchester and, I imagine, every town he played than Cyndi, but as unlikely as it may seem, the devotion / fanaticism that went hand in hand with paying upwards of £70 to see him seemed to be very much intact for Cyndi, too. I’d left the exquisitely gift-wrapped present I’d bought her at home (who does that for any performer? Why is anyone doing that? They have a robot come on with a giant arm, carefully disposing of anything that could be a bomb, a vial of poisonous chemicals or like, a severed finger, people), but at least ten people I saw around the auditorium did not.

Descending upon the architecturally magnificent Manchester Bridgewater Hall for the first time (how did that happen, oh ye of three years in Manchester?) briefly had me excited; its domineering angles, sense of formality and prestige, brought to the surface the niggling thought - aside from the obvious assumption that the performance would be naff, possibly embarrassing - that maybe we were in for just a really good show. It's that feeling you get from attending a gig you didn't really want to (reviewing Starsailor for the uni paper produced similar conflicts of pessimism based on back catalogue, and blind, baseless optimism). It's that feeling of going for dinner at the house of an aloof relative, finding you've bought the value can of beans but putting them on toast anyway. It'll be ok. It'll be ok, right?

Half-right. Her support act, a genuinely scary sub-cabaret piece who dismissed a perfectly decent guitarist after one song to spend the rest of her half-hour slot singing to a backing tape. Apparently one of her songs is in a Nivea advert at the moment, and she seemed to be fulfilling some sort of soul-destroying contractual obligation to mention the ad, the song, the product, the company... upwards of every other sentence. You know what it's like: the place was half full by the end of her set, and probably had barely a hundred at the beginning. She was kind of intense, too: shouting at the crowd, all-but instructing us to enjoy ourselves. Pretty scary, really. This combined with sitting second row (my friend is, you know, a really big fan) made it very difficult to head back to the bar as she (badly) aped Natasha Bedingfield, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and various other people enjoyable for being great rather than grating.

"Are you all excited about Cyndi Lauper? You must all be really desperate to see her now, she's fantastic!" she bellowed on more than one occasion, as if she knew and was in on the joke. I'd gone from not total nonchalance about the whole evening to supergay Cyndi Lauper fanboy in about twelve minutes, and if the purpose of a support act is to get the crowd excited about the headliner, then that was some great work right there.

Cyndi herself: less remarkable, if anything. Squeezed into a leather suit, padded out with prehistoric layers of make-up from G.A.Y. nights gone by, struggling on and off the stage to be with "her community" as she referred to the mostly homosexual crowd throughout, being helped on and off seats: I was left with the troubling image of my ailing Nan competing on The Krypton Factor. Can't really blame Cyndi (who looks pretty well) for that though.

Her new, dance-y material went over just as well with the fawning crowd as the older material, and the initial hit of the first four energetic tunes was truly impressive, and looked as well-received from our second row seats as it did right at the back of the circle in the sold out venue. The Hits (the three songs I actually already knew: "Time After Time", "True Colours", her cover of Roy Orbison’s "I Drove All Night" and, inevitably, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun") were all stellar performances, although the latter was dragged out way past the ten minute mark and I just don't believe that there's a girl alive who wants to have that much fun.

Talking point: before "True Colours", Cyndi's signature rainbow song, was given a lengthy introduction about the lyric's inception: she wrote it for an unnamed friend who died of AIDS "when no one knew what AIDS was". Visibly teary-eyed when recalling the death, she then appealed to the straight members of the audience ("if there are any") to accept their children's sexualities, no matter what, and not to disown them if they join the same community she thanked so enthusiastically earlier on.

Maybe this is churlish, but I don’t go to gigs to be lectured to about anything, and I certainly don’t go and see Cyndi Lauper for anything other than – if I may say so myself – almost altruistic levels of being a good friend. Troubled by the idea that “True Colours” is pretty much the best ever pop expression of that exact concept, we left the show one-part sated, one-part relieved to drink in a bar round the corner, sat opposite none other than the same terrifying Nivea ad girl who scared me into not going to the bar a couple of hours before. No shit.

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