“I hesitate to tell you my age,” Cher told the nearly sold-out crowd at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center on Tuesday night, but she only hesitated for about two seconds before blurting it out: “Seventy-two!”
Of course, a number that high is a lot easier to own up to when you look half that while wearing, say, an outfit consisting of a red wig, a tiara, platinum boots and strands of glittering costume gems that cover up ... well, not a whole lot, as it turns out. Or an ensemble featuring shoulder-length wavy black hair that spills onto a body suit with a neckline that just keeps plunging.
It’s also easier to own up to when you can still belt out a pop-rock classic like “If I Could Turn Back Time” with as much power and enthusiasm as you could when it first came out 29-1/2 years ago.
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In fact, if Cher really could turn back time, her shows would probably look pretty much like the one we saw here on Tuesday — heavy on costume changes (I lost track after about seven or eight); on archival footage (video collages highlighting a decades-spanning career in both music and film); and on spectacle (shunning generic pyro and confetti for eye-poppingly gaudy sets and costumes, like the ones used to create the “Gladiator”-esque theme for “Woman’s World” and “Strong Enough” and the “Aladdin”-esque motif for “Gayatri Mantra” and “All or Nothing”).
But there are certainly pros and cons to this type of approach.
Plenty of Cher fans love Cher concerts because they want to see a hundred different hairstyles and a hundred different hair colors and a hundred different outfits that accentuate her figure in a hundred different ways. They want a production that looks like it would fit right in at Caesar’s Palace, complete with Cher coming onto the stage riding an animatronic elephant with glowing eyes and tusks.
They want the jolt of nostalgia that comes from seeing her yukking it up with Sonny in clips from their old “Comedy Hour” TV show, and, even more so, the chance to hoot at the screen while she barks out memorable lines from her most iconic films. (Although I’ll bet more than a few fans were stuck on the name of the one that got the biggest cheers Tuesday; for those keeping score at home, “I don’t beg. And do you know why I don’t beg? Because I am a f------ Oscar winner!” is from 2003’s “Stuck On You,” which also starred Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear.)
What’s the downside to all of those costume changes, all those montages during the costume changes, all the beautiful aerial silk and hoop demos, the peppy backup-dancer routines, and the grinding solos by grin-happy lead guitarist Joel Hoekstra? They take time. They’re fun, but they do take time. And in a show that flies by in 93 minutes and spans just 16 songs — six of which are covers, including three by Abba — that doesn’t leave much time for Cher to do Cher.
(By the way, there’s nothing wrong with Cher doing Abba. In fact, “Waterloo” and “SOS” were energetic highlights, and “Fernando” a shimmering showcase for her voice. But in this case, they arguably came at the expense of her own ’70s hits, like “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” “Half-Breed,” and “Dark Lady.” If you’re being honest, Cher fans, which would you have rather heard?)
The other thing worth talking about here is the 15-minute monologue she did early in the show, which ... took 15 minutes.
It could easily be seen as adorable — Cher being Cher, shooting from the hip, tossing aside the filter and spinning a yarn about the joys and pains of the time she turned 40, one that involved her best friend Paulette Howell, late Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell, former flame Robert Camiletti, “The Witches of Eastwick” director George Miller, Jack Nicholson and David Letterman.
Then again, this story could just as easily be seen as bewildering. She lost her place a couple of times. She also muttered a variation of the F-word (to describe Miller, who she says called her “too old” and “not sexy”), dropped two variations of the S-word, called Letterman an ---hole (half-jokingly, twice) and used a word that rhymes with witch in both its singular and plural forms.
The profanity would not otherwise be remarkable for her except that two nights earlier, she profusely apologized on Twitter for cursing during a show at Raleigh’s PNC Arena.
Oh yeah, one other thing about her monologue: It went on for 15 minutes.
In finally starting to wrap it up, Cher said: “So that was then and I was 40, and this is now and I’m not 40 anymore,” with the “I’m not 40 anymore” coming out in a sing-songy voice. The crowd roared, as she looked around quizzically. “I never understood why people clap (for that), except the other night I was laying there and I was thinking, ‘I think maybe they clap because I’m still here.’”
She’s probably right.
Though Cher has joked that the farewell tours will keep coming, she also likes to joke that this is it: “Hello, I’m 500, there aren’t gonna be anymore, OK?,” she said before launching into a perfect duet of “I Got You Babe” (with the late Sonny Bono joining her via a large-screen video monitor) that reduced at least one person near me to tears.
It’s moments like those — the ones that balance humor and heart — when Cher, at 72, still really shines.
So while I would have liked to have seen her on stage a bit more and to have heard her sing a bit more and maybe ramble a bit less, I can assure you: I feel pretty lucky to still be getting the chance to see and hear her at all.
Cher’s set list
1. “Woman’s World”
2. “Strong Enough”
3. “Gayatri Mantra”
4. “All or Nothing”
5. “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny & Cher song)
6. “I Got You Babe” (Sonny & Cher song)
7. “Welcome to Burlesque”
8. “Waterloo” (ABBA cover)
9. “SOS” (ABBA cover)
10. “Fernando” (ABBA cover)
11. “After All”
12. “Walking in Memphis” (Marc Cohn cover)
13. “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)“ (Betty Everett cover)
14. “I Found Someone” (Laura Branigan cover)
15. “If I Could Turn Back Time”
Théoden Janes: 704-358-5897, @theodenjanes