Cyndi Lauper Belts The Blues

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In the words of the sensational Cyndi Lauper, “The blues are uplifting because no matter how low you get, you can always pick yourself back up.” The famed new wave singer, who is originally from Brooklyn and Queens, New York, is not one you would peg to come out with a blues album. With her charming Betty Boop-like mannerisms and her New Yorker speaking voice, she tells the audience that she grew up listening to her mother play Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller records, which inspired her to do a blues record. On tour for her Grammy nominated 2010 album, Memphis Blues, Lauper and 2011 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Dr. John, took their “From Memphis To Mardi Gras” tour to the Cobb Energy Centre on Wednesday, October 12.

Dr. John the Night Tripper – the voodoo sorcerer, healer, and stage alter ego of Macolm John “Mac” Rebennack – is a funk and blues legend who is known fondly as the musical embodiment of New Orleans. Opening for Lauper was no small feat for a 70 year old man, but Dr. John was the blues man in blue on Wednesday night. He was stylin’, wearing a royal blue suit with a big white collared shirt and matching white pocket kerchief, large chunky gold necklaces, a black fedora, and sunglasses. Situated between two pianos – his main one being a baby grand and the other was a smaller upright – he tickled their ivory keys and belted out the blues. During a few songs he even had a hand playing each piano. The top of both pianos was adorned with drapery and skulls. His set list included original and cover songs. He covered Duke Ellington’s jazz standard, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” Lyrics to one of the funk inspired jazz songs, “Get on up, get on down,” provided Dr. John a chance to do exactly that. He waited for the dance call, “Somebody scream!” and then got to boogying down on stage. During different parts of his show, he highlighted his musicians, including a lady playing the trumpet. Towards the end of his set, he played the funk ballad, “Right Place, Wrong Time,” which got people up off their seats dancing, swaying, and clapping to the beat.

photos by Tom Dausner

And now the audience was eagerly waiting for Cyndi Lauper with her unusual style, smoky New York Betty Boop voice, and charismatic energy. When she took the stage, she went right in to her set and sang, “Just A Fool,” the first song off of Memphis Blues. She continued on to sing “Shattered Dreams” and “She Bop” before getting candid with the audience, talking about her mother and her introduction to the blues. Having only listened to her on tapes and CDs, this was a real treat to hear her in the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, the venue which hosts the Atlanta Opera performances. The acoustics in this venue are phenomenal for performers such as Lauper who have an amazing vocal range.

If you didn’t know that Lauper was 58 years old, then it would’ve been easy to assume this gorgeous petite platinum blonde was in her twenties or thirties. Wearing black lace pants and a black lace top with only a cute black vest over it, she looked every bit the sexy and unusual songstress that she is known and loved for being. Throughout the entire show, she never stopped moving; you could tell that every inch of her body felt the music in the way she danced and moved on and off stage. (And yes, her dance moves and vocal talents are truly awe-inspiring.) It was also obvious that Lauper truly loves performing and appreciates her fans as she was clapping hands with the front row during songs and came out into the crowd to sing amongst her fans. The people respected her space and ate the enthusiasm right up!

Lauper was also really tight and adored the Memphis-based musicians that composed her band. She took the time to introduce all of them and gave a little back story into their meeting, collaboration, and performance history. At different times she would egg the musicians on to compete in a talent battle and at other times she played the role of the zealous band leader as she directed them with her hands.

Before performing several of the blues songs, she would explain a little bit about why the song was symbolic or meaningful to her and sometimes give a background of the original composer/musician of the song. “Down Don’t Bother Me” was one of those songs. Lauper tied in the original musician, Albert King’s life to the song by saying that he was illiterate, but was a great musician who played guitars flipped over and upside down. After she finished performing this inspiring blues song, she said, “Don’t ever discount anybody because they do something different.”

With the night arriving to a close, her encore performance started with the classic, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” She went on to sing “Sally’s Pigeons” solo acapella and then “Time After Time.” Her final song of the evening was “True Colors.” During the encore, Lauper explained why she founded the True Colors Fund which launched the newly created Give A Damn Campaign in 2010. One of the initiatives closest to her heart is the True Colors Residence, which provides beds and housing to homeless LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth. This concert and Cyndi’s caring plea about helping the LGBT youth, happened on the exact day of the 13th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death (a young man who was beat to death for being gay). She closed the evening by saying, “Don’t hurt the kids just cause they’re different. […] Real change in the world is what we teach our kids.” Her final song “True Colors” she deemed as a song that was “power to the people.”

photos by Tom Dausner

Cyndi Lauper’s Set List for “From Memphis to Mardi Gras” tour on October 12, 2011 in Atlanta:

Just A Fool
Shattered Dreams
She Bop
Crossroads
All Through The Night
Mother Earth
Down Don’t Bother Me
Don’t Cry No More
The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough
Change Of Heart
Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Sally’s Pigeons
Time After Time
True Colors