CYNDI LAUPER, EDDIE MONEY. The WNEW-FM Christmas Concert, Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Deck the halls with paper dresses, orange hair and Queens charisma.
CYNDI LAUPER, TO ME, is at least one version of the feminine (and feminist) ideal: self-possessed and self-confident, girlish and womanly, funny, smart, vulnerable and supremely independent.
And that’s all before she sings. I’m never quite sure what to make of Lauper’s voice – I wouldn’t try to describe it – but sometimes it makes me anxious and sometimes it makes me shiver. Sometimes, when she sings on the radio, I turn up the volume, and sometimes I turn it down.
No prima donna she, Lauper is rock’s equivalent of the German sports sedan: glossy, streamlined, loaded with torque and horsepower. She moved like a human Mixmaster Friday night on stage at Madison Square Garden, filling up a 90-minute set with material from her two very flavorful albums, “She’s So Unusual” and “True Colors.”
Lauper emerged like a Barbie doll, gussied up in a black cape, sky-high heels and a strawberry-red dress shaped like a tire tube. Whirling like a demonic ballerina in the pink spotlight, Lauper gave the stage the aura of a dainty music box, an aura quickly shattered as she hiccuped her way through the highs of “Change of Heart.” While some of her vocal habits are annoying, her stamina is startling. She had so much spirit and volume, that even the percussion section and Rick Derringer’s guitar weren’t much competition.
Lauper’s vacuous act – and it is an act – is in sharp contrast to the intelligence of her music, but it’s a laugh. Referring to the dawning of the age of Aquarius, Lauper explained in Queens-ese that, “Y’know, tonight Jupiter does align with Mars. They’re celebrating in the borealis, and I thought I’d tell ya, cause I hate to be left out of parties.”
Her lengthy hiatus between records and hits makes all the more obvious the strengths of Lauper’s earlier material. A big chunk of “True Colors” was threaded through the evening, including the idiosyncratic “Iko Iko” and the slightly surreal sounds of “The Faraway Nearby.” Lauper poured as much passion as she could into Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” but, in performance as on record, it’s not a song that fits her well.
“True Colors” the single, is a marked departure from the Lauper-esque histrionics of much of her music, and she sang it beautifully and with feeling, both during the set and as an a cappella closer to the evening.
Yet it was the less ambitious rhythms and swells of “Time After Time” and “Money Changes Everything” that ignited the crowd. On “She Bop” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” with Lauper acting out each lyric, stomping on each syllable, she’s charted some ambitious territory. Even the rainbow spectrum of “True Colors” seems to pale by comparison.
As is expected at these United Cerebral Palsy affairs, some time was taken up by introducing the folks who work at WNEW-FM, which has sponsored the benefits for 14 years. Radio personality Dave Herman dispensed the customary platitudes and Yoko Ono and son Sean showed up to wish the crowd a happy Christmas. They seem to show up every year, too.
Eddie Money, in rough voice, sang a few of his hits loudly and left the stage after about 30 minutes.