Also noted in the calendar: Her critics would spend most of their 90 minutes with Cher equally entertained and bored, absorbed by her unrepentantly tacky costumes, not worrying so much about her music, which, be it a gentle hippy sway ("I Got You Babe") or disco lite ("Believe"), can always be found playing in the produce section of Whole Foods. Additionally, as decreed, at the end of 90 minutes Cher would levitate above her believers. And lo, she would visit every corner of the arena, smiling beatifically, dressed in a shawl and head-covering that can only be described as Virgin Mary Bling. Then, having nodded solemnly to all, Cher would ascend into space, never to return (despite having belted out a spirited "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" right before).
I know this because I saw it.
This was, as Cher mentioned often to a nearly sold-out Allstate Arena, a farewell — or rather, as she winked with refreshing old-school show biz self-effacement, the kind you never get from singers a fraction of her age, her farewell right now; her last farewell played the United Center in 2005. And Allstate in 2003.
And yet, beneath the show's artifice and somewhat gleefully upfront (quite post-WWII, Bob Hope-like) cynicism, there was a palpable melancholy: The name of the tour is "Dressed to Kill," but considering how often Cher alluded to her mortality, it should have been called "The Age, Death and Camp Spectacular." For instance, when Cher levitated around the arena (i.e. rode a small platform suspended by thin wires) in that finale, what was running through her head? Cher, an Oscar, Emmy and Grammy winner, played Milwaukee on Friday, and plays Des Moines Monday. Was she wondering what she was doing on the road at 68? What she would do in Iowa? Or if Keith Richards had to think about this stuff? Was she worried about falling from her perch? Or did she look hard into the audience before her, see women her own age and recognize the end?
I don't mean to be morbid, but this was a victory-lap-as-living-memorial — and you can't help but wonder if Cher was happy, sad or resigned. Early on, she even asked the audience: "And what is your grandmother doing tonight?" She referred to the "dirt nap" she would be taking alongside many fans, sooner than later. She brought up her precarious position during that pedestal number and joked: "What is my life compared to your happiness?" She made no effort to dance with the 10 buff young dancers zooming around her in every number, and, with the tone of someone who just doesn't care who she irritates anymore, she made mean-spirited fun of a modest present that executives at Dr Pepper gave her (a gray shoulder-tote cooler).
Then again, she also explained that she thought hard about this tour and realized that she should stop thinking so much now: "They just want you to come out in ridiculous costumes, sing and be fabulous."
I will miss Cher when she's gone because humor and intelligence on an arena stage is rare, but a lack of pretense about what is being achieved (or expected from people spending $200 a ticket) is positively extinct.
And so, after each considerably long pause for a costume change — during these lulls, either the band (professionally generic) would vamp or video montages of Great Moments in Cher History would play — Cher delivered a new set and new theme just knowingly cheesy enough to avoid looking like a "South Park" parody. There was "Apocalypto" Cher with dancers dressed as Aztec warriors for the club hit "Woman's World." There was Electronic Dance Cher in a silver and pink wig, wearing a dress that appeared to be made of pearl strands (over a nude-colored body suit). There was Black Thong Cher, pulling out the barely-there bejeweled one-piece from her battleships-and-sailors music video "If I Could Turn Back Time." And Circus Cher in a peasant dress for "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves," flanked by a bearded woman and trapeze artists.
And how could I forget: Vampire Cher (her dancers were horned; she sang with fangs) and Roman Cher (she emerged from a giant golden Trojan horse and sparked a very Vegas battle between female dance gladiators and loinclothed soldiers). Her voice was strong (but Cyndi Lauper, who opened with an hourlong set, was stronger). And the costumes were bizarre and dazzling (despite coming from British designer Hugh Durrant, not Bob Mackie, who had created all of Cher's costumes since 1972 but sat this one out).
But something seems truly over.
Smartly, perhaps. When Cher got to "I Got You Babe," she sang alongside clips of Sonny Bono singing. It was unapologetically artificial, but if you were seated close, you could see: Whenever her late husband and singing partner appeared, a genuine sweetness and warmth flooded through Cher's face, only to evaporate a second later. Tender and real one moment, showbiz and tired the next. She made no effort to hide anything.
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