Toward the end of her first set of songs inside the Uptown Theater on Thursday night, Cyndi Lauper addressed the sold-out crowd of about 1,600 with one of several homilies and stories.
She explained that the song she was about to sing was one she’d recorded decades ago and performed many times since, but one that absorbed extra gravity and meaning this year, a year burdened and darkened by the deaths of so many music heroes.
Before she sang “When You Were Mine,” Lauper recalled the acquaintanceship she had developed with its writer, Prince, a superstar who stepped into the bright limelight concurrently with her more than 30 years ago: in 1984, the year he released “Purple Rain” and the year her album “She’s So Unusual” broke onto the charts.
More than 30 years later, Lauper remains a recording artist who has not only sustained interest and affection among those who started following her during the Reagan era, but, as this crowd proved, also among another generation or two (or three) of music fans: Among the 20- to 60-somethings, there were more than a few children younger than 7 in the place, some of them dressed in Lauper garb.
She is touring on an album of country songs called “Detour,” and she and her six-piece band performed several of its songs. They opened with “Funnel of Love,” a song Wanda Jackson made popular. Before she sang the Harlan Howard nugget “Heartaches by the Number,” Lauper delivered a soliloquy that explained how a New York girl had developed a longtime affection for country music: Country music is the roots of rock ’n’ roll, she said, and her first band was a rockabilly band.
Later, before she sang the Patsy Montana classic “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” Lauper brought out an old-fashioned stick-horse and then recalled watching so many cowboy shows on TV as a girl and admitting her affection for Dale Evans, who always looked so model-perfect in every scene, no matter how many bad-ass hombres were on her tail. Her yodeling during the song was spot-on, despite her Queens accent.
She bravely took on “Walking After Midnight,” a Patsy Cline classic, and “The End of the World,” one of the saddest breakup songs ever, made famous by Skeeter Davis. Lauper’s versions didn’t quite match the originals, but she certainly acquitted herself more than adequately. She’s 63, but her voice hasn’t relinquished much of its agility, power and soul. And she can muster an impressive twang when she needs to.
After “Heartaches,” she showed off her blues chops during a cover of Little Walter’s “Just Your Fool,” accompanied by some blistering blues-harp chops from her opener, Charlie Musselwhite.
The heart of the show, however, was the material everyone came to hear. The first of those was “She Bop,” her testimonial to masturbation and a hit from the “Unusual” album. After that: “Drove All Night,” a late-1980s anthem from her “A Night to Remember” album; then “Money Changes Everything,” performed after she confessed that Prince once advised her to take care of the business end of her career.
The encore changed everything. She opened with a visceral cover of the soul/blues classic “Misty Blue,” another heartache song. She followed that by fusing “Kindred Spirit” into “Time After Time,” playing the harpsichord as she sang. She and her pedal steel player rendered the opening of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” as a slow-burning country-soul song before lighting its fuse and barnstorming it into its best-known version. The sing-along was uproarious.
Playing solo and strumming a stringed instrument in her lap, she closed with another fusion: of “Fearless” into “True Colors.” Lauper has long been a staunch and open advocate of the LBGT community, and she used this opportunity to preach ambiguously but obviously about current events, about what’s “going on these days,” then, within the song, reminding and advising: “Don’t be afraid to let them show.” The crowd’s response was evangelic, earnest and emotional and well-deserved for someone who has earned the decades of love and support she has nurtured.
Funnel of Love; She Bop; Heartaches by the Number; Just Your Fool; I Drove All Night; The End of the World; Walking After Midnight; I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart; You Don’t Know; When You Were Mine; Money Changes Everything. Encore: Misty Blue; Kindred Spirit/Time After Time; Girls Just Want to Have Fun; Fearless/True Colors.