Cher’s been in folks’ faces and ears for about half a century, but she’s talked up her latest road trip as her farewell farewell tour. Near the beginning of her Friday show at the Verizon Center, Cher insisted she means what she’s said: “It’s time.” To stop the groans from the crowd, she winked. But the rest of the evening, even for its many fun and melancholy moments, indicated she should stick to her words.
She had appeared onstage tied to a tall pillar and wearing a headdress designed to look like a pastel peacock for “Woman’s World,” an industrial dance number from “Closer to the Truth,” her first studio album since 2002. Like other offerings from the new record, the production overwhelmed her singing, but from the floor to the rafters, folks were so happy just to share a room with Cher that they practically made the arena bounce to the heavy electronic beat.
There were plenty of nods to the old days. The large video screens above the stage flashed photographs of a younger Cher during vintage hits such as “Bang Bang,” “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” and “Half Breed,” the last rendered while she wore a fake Indian headdress that ain’t as politically correct as it was when that single topped the charts in 1973 (although the singer-actress has always said she has some Cherokee heritage). She put on a red sequined miniskirt and matching go-go boots for a duet with a video of Sonny Bono on “I Got You Babe,” from her days as a TV star with Bono, back when they were positioned as the Lucy and Ricky of the hippie generation. As if anybody needed a reminder, the shots proved just how gorgeous Cher was. Next to her, the photos also revealed, Sonny somehow never looked young.
Being a Cher show, there was outrageousness. She devoted one of the night’s too-many nonmusical interludes to a confession that her onstage drink of choice is Dr Pepper cut with bubbly water — “a white-trash white wine spritzer,” she called it — and railed that the soft drink maker should reward her with an endorsement deal. Even Cher knew she was babbling, so the pointlessness of the monologue became its whole point. “Gaga doesn’t talk like that!” Cher said, taking a poke at a relative newcomer whose show biz career has benefited from borrowing parts of Cher’s act. “I’d rather talk than have some chick vomit on me, okay?”
Cher embraced and courted the gay community decades ago, at a time when other mainstream pop stars wouldn’t, and the Verizon Center crowd was full of grateful holdovers from those days. In turn, her show featured lots of sweaty, barely-clad musclemen, some of whom, at one point, were wrapping their legs around each other’s bulky torsos while swinging above the stage on ropes, a jaw-dropping routine that could be dubbed Cirque du So Gay.
She showed her gutsiness by performing “If I Could Turn Back Time” while wearing a sheer blackblack, cut-to-the-naughty-bits get-up from the 1980s that hard-core fans know as, well, the “‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ outfit.” She skipped across the stage as she did when she first put it on, but the steps were labored. Cher appeared to be physically in pain at a few points in the show, walking as though her joints weren’t up to what she was asking of them.
She worked through most of the discomfort like a pro, but after some strutting, she disappeared backstage while the band was still playing “Believe.” She came back to the crowd’s roars to perform “I Hope You Find It,” a consciously uplifting cover of a Miley Cyrus single, perhaps a sign that she’s turning over the outrageous mantle to that younger pop star, known to purvey Cheresque outrageousness. She sang the tune while being lifted all across the arena inside a pulley-controlled bird’s nest and had a hard time freeing herself from the safety mechanisms as she tried to exit the flying contraption. That made saying goodbye to her fans hard, logistically and emotionally. But notwithstanding those winks from earlier in the evening, this really looked like the end.
McKenna is a freelance writer.