When Cyndi Lauper last headlined in Atlanta , it was to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her 1983 landmark debut, “She’s So Unusual.”
For her return to Atlanta Symphony Hall Sunday night, Lauper still hauled out half of the songs from that brilliant album. But the purpose of this tour, which wraps its first leg later this week before heading overseas, is to celebrate some of the songs from her ambitious new country album, “Detour.”
Backed by a five-piece band and a simple set that featured a small staircase and a video screen that showed black and white Westerns and footage of her in the studio, Lauper spread her four-octave voice over the sassy swing of Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love” and her own hiccupping “She Bop” with verve and ease.
She turns 63 later this month, but you would guess she stopped aging at 40 given the preserved potency of her voice and her continued ability to pull off an entire thrift store rack of clothes in one outfit – ripped black jeans, black work boots and fringed vest beneath a crown of cotton candy-colored hair – and look fabulous.
Her famous personality – you can take the girl outta Queens, but you’ll never take Queens outta the girl – glowed throughout her 90-minute set.
She told a story about watching Saturday morning cartoons and running around the house with stick ponies; she brought one onstage as a prop during “I Wanna Be a Cowboy Sweetheart” and joked, “I was gonna sell them, but I thought people might think there was something wrong with me.”
Before performing “When You Were Mine,” the Prince composition she covered on “She’s So Unusual,” Lauper noted that she’s been singing the song in her set for years, but “It’s taken on a different meaning now…Prince was always so gracious and kind to me and the True Colors Fund. And he was funny, too – quirky as heck!”
Her rich, synth-heavy take on the song was vibrant and emotional and full of Lauper’s vocal acrobatics in all of the right places.
Lauper’s intention as a songwriter has always been to preach a message of compassion and equality in her lyrics , and it’s a message she lives, too.
During the underappreciated 1997 gem “You Don’t Know,” she spun on a small, black platform on one side of the stage as her guitarist, Alex Nolan, unleashed a solo under the spotlight and background vocalist Elaine Caswell engaged in her own freewheeling moves on the other side – a perfect visual of unfettered joy.
After exhausting the nearly sold-out crowd with an electrifying rendition of “Money Changes Everything,” Lauper returned for the first of three (quick) encores with Eddy Arnold’s tear-in-your-beer ballad “Misty Blue” and a guitar-centric romp – with notable openers The Peach Kings joining her – through the enduring “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
Following the blueprint of past tours, Lauper closed her show seated alone onstage with her dulcimer for “True Colors.” Empathy and passion trickled out with every note and she elicited whoops from the diverse crowd when she raised her fist and shouted the “Don’t be afraid” lyric as a command rather than a suggestion.
Lauper’s musical deviation from pop to country is indisputably authentic and her voice is beyond capable of the music’s nuances.
But no matter which hat she wears, Lauper’s fans will always flock to the woman who says as a parting sentiment, “Take care of each other in this world. We’re all we’ve got to save it – ya know?”