This review was corrected on Aug. 8, 2002.
There’s a feast of turning back time in Cher’s memory parade, a 100-minute celebration of her stage life that she’s billing as her farewell tour. Few artists have attempted to be so complete in covering the entirety of their oeuvre, and Cher gets the job done with an excessive amount of well-produced video that chronicles her celebrity and a heavy dose of her rocking years in the ’80s. The costumes, as expected, range from fabulous to odd, and as a bonus, there’s a Cirque du Soleil element in the stage show that’s consistently arresting. Every now and then, she sings.
Making up the show are 14 full-length songs plus a medley of early solo hits (Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do,” “Half-Breed,” “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves”); eight complete costume changes plus another five or six accoutrement adjustments; and three video montages that allow for wardrobe changes for the star and her dancers. It has a cohesiveness that other, younger performers — Madonna included — have struggled to achieve. Much as her set appears designed after a modern Las Vegas Chinese restaurant with soothing burnt-orange light fixtures, its ambiguity allows it to never be out of place as the dancers and aerialists don Chinese, Indian and Wookie-inspired costumes.
A blond Cher arrives in a beaded harem outfit, suspended from the ceiling in a combination balloon basket/chandelier singing U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”; two songs later, she dons a circus ringleader’s red hat and jacket to announce, rather oddly, the “official beginning” of the concert. Perfection, the 56-year-old declares, is the goal of the concert — something she believes the teen stars of today can’t compete with. If Cher delivers perfection, she says, “Well, follow this one, bitches.”
From there she slipped into what this fashion neophyte thought was her best costume — an Indian princess outfit — and entered the stage on a wooden elephant as her dancers suggestively glided to a yoga-class tune that gave way to “All or Nothing.” As she would do throughout the night, she added and subtracted elements of her costumes, sticking with this one through “We All Sleep Alone” and “I Found Someone” before changing into the weirdest get-up of the night, a maroon and black shredded dress and headpiece modeled after a cockatoo for “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).”
On one hand surprisingly, Cher turned to her 1989 album for the bulk of her concert material, doing five songs from “Heart of Stone,” including “If I Could Turn Back Time” in a black, ass-baring outfit similar to the one she wore in the video. Her current release, “Living Proof,” was represented only by its hit single “Song for the Lonely.” Then again, that was Cher’s hard-rock glory, and this band is seemingly designed to rock as hard as possible — to a fault — as the style of guitarist David Barry is permanently locked in late-’80s bombast, his lines screaming nuance-free and clobbering everything in sight.
“Living Proof,” like its predecessor “Believe,” is an electronic dance-floor disc, and relying on material from the two albums — only “Believe” and “Strong Enough” made it into the set — would certainly raise eyebrows about the quantity of prerecorded elements in the show, from the steady house beats to her enhanced vocals. “Believe,” with its emphasis on Cher’s electronically altered voice, came as an encore and it displayed a vocal timbre that had not been heard all night, suggesting what we were hearing in the main set was predominantly coming from her husky pipes. She did falter in places, missing a sustained note or sliding vocally behind her background singers, and in a way it was refreshing: By missing perfection, it gave this slick production a human element.
The videos worked toward a similar goal. Cher is pop music’s only icon who has used the concert stage to accentuate glamour and excess while turning to the bigscreen to demonstrate her ability to play down to earth. Most, Courtney Love being the most obvious example, have run the image game in reverse. A reel of her film roles, with annoying and unnecessary title cards, drove that point home; clips of her performing on her various television shows with the likes of George Burns, David Bowie, Elton John and the Muppets were reminders of her versatility and unbelievable agelessness; clips from talkshows, in which she invariably is defending herself, were a bit too much. The point was already made.
Videotapes, with audio, of Sonny and Cher allowed her to escape performing “Baby Don’t Go,” “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On” while reminding that Cher is one of the rare acts to post albums in the Top 40 in every decade since the 1960s — the Beatles and Chicago being among the handful of others to do so. This was the 28th of 50 shows she has planned for the tour — Cher plays the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Friday night — and as farewells go, a very strong statement.