Imagine yourself pumped and primed for a rare Cyndi Lauper club concert. It’s her first area appearance in four years. The show is running 45 minutes late, but, hey, that’s rock ‘n’ roll, right? It’s a weekend. And with Lauper, the kitschy queen of mid-’80s smart pop, so long on the sidelines, you find yourself missing her soulful exuberance, her playful feminism, her spunky individuality — to say nothing of the four singles she put into the Top 5 in 1984-’85. All of the late-’80s miscues are forgiven. You want to welcome her back with open arms.
But then the concert unfolds, and it turns out to be, largely, a fun- deficient experience. And this from the girl who once just wanted to have fun. An impossible bad dream?
No, reality at the packed Paradise Friday night, where the diminutive, dyed-blond, pageboy-coiffed singer played the last date of a brief US club tour, undertaken to fan the fires for the June 15 release of her album “Hat Full of Stars.”
Someone else might call what Lauper attempted Friday night bold and confident. I’d call what she did arrogant, and maybe even insulting. Because what she did was play the entirety of her upcoming album — 12 songs, in order — and made that the basis of her show. The only older songs came during encores. I know the “Hat Full of Stars” tunes were played sequentially only because Epic, her label, shipped me an advance CD. But I could tell from observation that her set befuddled many of the crowd.
Lauper started the night oddly by introducing her 12-piece band. Yawn. Why do it before a note is played? She then told the paying customers, “This is my record. Hope you like it.”
There are several problems here, the primary one being that Lauper was congratulating herself for her risk-taking while giving the people none of what they wanted. That’s a dicey proposition for someone on the comeback trail, someone whose peak of popularity was eight years back. And, as most pop fans know, it is very difficult to latch on to a song — its melody, mood or message — in just one hearing, especially in a live setting. Lyrics are unclear; hooks are not yet implanted in the brain.
So, given that: How was the new Cyndi? Trendy. Her pop is informed by hip- hop and New Jack swing; she’s reaching out for the Janet Jackson audience. She’s a little bit funky, a bit more melodious. Lyrically, she’s pretty serious. Not that you’d know this from the concert — lack of vocal clarity and all — but the CD’s lyric sheet makes it clear that Lauper and her co-writers are dealing with a lot of misery and trying to rise above it all. Topics include incest (“Lies”), racial strife (“A Part Hate”) and a back- alley abortion (“Sally’s Pigeons”). There’s a fair degree of romantic struggle.
Friday night, a few songs had their charm — the giddy, Motown-ish “Like I Used To” and the lilting, Celtic-flavored “Feels Like Christmas” among them — but too much of the new stuff came off as tepid. A case of forced joy. I couldn’t disagree when someone yelled, “Play the old stuff, will ya!”
Lauper — who plugged her upcoming movie “Life With Mikey” and meandered when she yakked — ignored that plea. She talked about writing a song that “answered the calling deep inside.” This turned out to be “Hat Full of Stars,” a look-back-with-longing-and-toughness song, a would-be towering ballad. It closed the set and almost replicated the dramatic resonance of her old hit “Time After Time.” But not quite.
Which brings us to the encores. First up, a barely recognizable “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” tarted up in reggae/hip-hop clothes. The implication: This song is too innocent, not close to me anymore. We will deconstruct the melody and not allow you any nostalgic fun. Then, the mawkish tearjerker “True Colors”, best remembered these days as a photo ad jingle, and “Change of Heart”, an agreable grabber that allowed the kept-on-a-leash band to kick it out, hard-rock style, during the coda. They closed with a false flash, a sparkling, climactic geyser to an ill-conceived show.