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Concert Review: When Cher performs, it's total entertainment

Saturday, July 06, 2002

By John Young

"The Cher-ist show on earth," as its star dubbed it, arrived at the Mellon Arena last night. If Cher's Farewell Tour is truly her last, her final Pittsburgh performance featured all her glitzy, kitschy trademarks -- and then some.

"I want to set some kind of standard for Britney and J-Lo," Cher said of the show. "So top this, you ..." and Cher concluded the gauntlet-dropping with one of many expletives she sprinkled throughout her monologues.

The star of the show made a grand entrance, descending to the stage on a chandelier. Dressed in a bejeweled silver robe with white fur trim and a full headdress, Cher quickly stripped down to black, "I Dream of Jeanie"-like balloon pants and top.

The flashy opening incongruously accompanied a version of U2's spiritual, open-hearted "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Not that it mattered.

While the music is part of the fun at a Cher concert, it's not the heart of the matter. The show's the thing, and what a deliciously over-the-top extravaganza it was.

The segues between Cher performances are almost as entertaining as her actual appearances. For this show, her eight dancers incorporated some particularly athletic moves on cloth ropes, performing maneuvers that wouldn't have been out of place at Cirque de Soleil. Video montages included Cher singing with Sonny, Cher TV performances with hip folks like David Bowie and the Jackson family, Cher movie performances and Cher interviews.

When Cher would periodically reappear, it was always in a new outfit. Among her costumes were shimmering Indian robes, a striped body suit with a mohawk-looking, 4-foot-high feather headdress and a red-sequined, V-shaped disco dress with metallic red wig. She even donned a version of the revealing black nylon body stocking she made famous in her video for "If I Could Turn Back Time." Hilariously, an audience drag queen walked dramatically about the Arena floor in a similar get-up before the show.

For those who cared about the songs, Cher crafted a set full of musical highlights from every phase of her career. Her only real musical misstep was a version of "Bang Bang" that sounded like an outtake from Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut." Otherwise, the songs had a Vegas sheen while retaining some of the feel of their original arrangements.

Cher dipped as far back into her catalog as her 1965 take on Dylan's "All I Really Wanna Do." The tune opened a winning medley of story-songs including "Half-Breed," "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" and "Dark Lady." "Take Me Home" came to stand for Cher's forays into '70s disco. "I Found Someone," "After All" and "If I Could Turn Back Time" helped fans relive Cher's hit-making days in the '80s. Cher celebrated her recent commercial rebirth with the hits "Believe," its soundalike "All or Nothing" and the anthem-like "Song For the Lonely."

Cyndi Lauper opened the show. While she had to reach back a bit further to her chart-topping days, Lauper was spirited as ever leading the audience in singalongs of "Money Changes Everything" and "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Lauper even movingly reinvented her ballad "Time After Time," basing a stripped-down arrangement around her deliberate dulcimer strumming. She also courted controversy with the provocative new song "Madonna/Whore," which claimed all women were both.

Cher, however, is completely uncategorizable. Her show re-emphasized her singular power to draw on 35-plus years she has spent captivating and entertaining audiences.


John Young is a free-lance music reviewer.

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