Who could have predicted that Cyndi Lauper would prove to be a first-rate blues and R&B singer?
When she burst upon the scene in the '80s, Lauper was offering a giddy blend of new wave and pop that was weird and wonderful, but not too strange to completely dominate the mainstream for several years. A straight line from "She Bop" to "Crossroads" certainly didn't suggest itself at the time.
And yet, before a mostly full house in Kleinhans Music Hall Tuesday evening, Lauper made it clear that she ain't simply messin' with the blues. In fact, throughout a set that found her interpreting some of the most daunting blues standards extant, Lauper sang her butt off. And she seemed to have soul to spare.
Opening with an uptempo take on Little Walter's "Just Your Fool," Lauper led her band with a seriously physical presence that matched the sheer power of voice. Before the end of the opening number, the singer had left the stage to mingle with the audience, standing on seats, and urging a more visceral response to her band's performance. It worked. And whenever the energy flagged throughout the evening, Lauper would engage the audience in just such a fashion. It was impossible to ignore her and simply slump back in your seat.
Of course, Lauper indulged her longtime fans with trips down memory lane to the supposedly glorious '80s. (Does anyone who lived through them really recall them as glorious? Just askin'.) "She Bop" showed up third, but it had been turned into a swing-blues -- taken to Memphis, as it were. "All Through the Night" was delivered in an Etta James-like fashion. (Fitting, since Lauper tackled James' "Down So Low" later in the show.) "Down Don't Bother Me" would've made Albert King himself smile.
Throughout, Lauper's voice, and the ebullient, incredibly charming personality which houses that voice, were stunning. In terms of intonation, phrasing, conviction and delivery, Lauper proved herself to be the genuine article.
She'd warmed up a bit beforehand, joining opener Dr. John and his ferociously funky band for set-ending takes on "Makin' Whoopee" and "Lay My Burden Down," to put feathers in the cap of an extraordinary set from the New Orleans "Night Tripper."
"Right Place, Wrong Time" was duly delivered, with Dr. John manning both piano and Hammond organ; "Life" was a gorgeous jazz-blues, its chord changes ably embraced by the soloists, including trombone player Sarah Morrow, who earned enthusiastic response from the crowd at several points during the doctor's set.
A soulful, sultry and decidedly funky evening, then. It was nice to see Kleinhans full and rocking on a Tuesday night, too. Bonus!
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Cyndi Lauper and Dr. John
Tuesday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall.