It's hard to really define a Cher show in the way one does a traditional pop concert. Sure, there's singing. Spectacle abounds. A great live band is present to bring decades of hits to life. But everything one sees is in tribute to something greater than the sum of these parts: Cher.
Pushing 70, apparently no one has told the perpetually youthful icon what it means to be a senior citizen. More likely, Cher just doesn't care. She's currently on the Dressed to Kill Tour, jokingly described as a "farewell farewell tour." Emerging on-stage to the pulsing EDM of "Woman's World," Cher has an ability to wear up-to-the-minute trappings of contemporary culture with the same ease as every outlandish costume she dons. Not that it's her best choice, but we'll get to that later.
Despite the intense effort that has to go into such involved showmanship, Cher keeps an amusing distance from the whole affair. It's the sort of devil-may-care persona only an entertainment legend can pull off without seeming glib. Immediately following the show's intro, she launched into a full discussion of Dr. Pepper. The concert would simply have to wait to continue until she finished explaining to the audience how her assistant was watering down the carbonated beverage with Perrier.
After the long-winded monologue, we were off into the wild world of Cher. Aerialists soared above the stage with the showmanship of Cirque du Soleil performers while erotic vampire-beings stalked the floor with trademark over-the-top choreography. Then there was Cher, fending off a strapping 20-something while singing the tour's title track. Yes, she could be his grandmother, and he's probably gay. But damn it if Cher didn't infuse the situation with every ounce of sexual tension the number demanded.
I noticed not a ton of people around me were dancing. Thinking there was simply no way a soul was bored, I realized most were fixated on the stage with reverential awe, hanging to Cher's every word and movement. They laughed, clapped and cheered reflexively at the slightest provocation. During the megahits "I Found Someone" and "Heart of Stone," the multi-generational crowd seemed dangerously near spontaneous combustion from joy.
Not to say the show's perfect. Way too much time was spent on costume changes and archival footage. Granted, the woman has built a video archive that probably deserves its own library by now. From TV movies to family pictures to her memorable Oscars speech, it was all here. Perhaps the absolute best use of such archival footage was her duet with Sonny Bono. She explained that after initially rejecting the idea, closing out her final (wink) tour with Sonny was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. In a visual effect that's been alternately described as disturbing and endearing, he stared right at Cher and sang "I Got You Babe." She sang it back with the sincerest expression of the evening.
It was the first point of the evening where Cher the human emerged, a welcome guest given Pat Benatar had been blowing the roof off with husband Neil Giraldo just prior. Why the insanely charismatic and talented duo with a bevy of hits is opening for anyone remains a mystery. Aside from the strength of Benatar's own catalog, the couple had a refreshingly contemporary awareness and youthful energy that found a not-necessarily-rock crowd on their feet, fists in the air. This is a duo that loves music and just wants to share it with the audience, no frills necessary.
All that to say, being genuine is a winning formula. Cher's strongest material was the most personal. The bonkers dance tracks are fun. But watching a talented musical storyteller just emote from a place of sincerity is even more enjoyable. "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" was a stand-out. She jokingly warned the audience the song didn't always turn out so well live. Then she sailed through the toughest parts with power and control. "Just Like Jesse James," despite Cher's animosity toward the track, is a consistently rewarding campfire singalong. And her rendition of "Walking in Memphis" shows a vulnerable, uplifting side of the singer we don't see enough of when producers bury her under studio wizardry. Granted, she obviously thinks the song is about Elvis. But it's Cher, so who's going to say anything? Even Marc Cohn might become convinced he wrote the song as an Elvis tribute after seeing her delivery.
By time the night drew to a close with a cover of Miley Cyrus' "I Hope You Find It," Cher had managed to encapsulate five decades of her dizzyingly successful career as a cross-platform entertainer. It's hard to look at the enduring persona of Cher and not be impressed. Most hit artists that got started well after she did faded long ago.
Like her career, a Cher performance can't exactly be described as even. When vampire lore morphs into the Roman Colosseum making way for a Skrillex-inspired dubstep breakdown in space, one knows not to bother asking questions. But if you're that talented and survive this long, doing whatever tickles your fancy is almost an earned right. Besides, we're talking about Cher.