With clenched-fist salutes and repeated calls for power to the people, the politics of the True Colors tour looked back to the ’60s, although the music, headlined by Cyndi Lauper (who also organized the tour), Erasure and Deborah Harry, was solidly ’80s based.
Hitching the struggles of the civil rights movement to dancefloor hedonism is an intriguing concept that generally proved successful.
Concert was one in which a video urging the aud to send postcards to senators to pass the anti-hate crime Matthew Shepard Act could comfortably abut host Margaret Cho’s cheerfully bawdy comments, Rosie O’Donnell’s strident standup and an early set by the Dresden Dolls in which they turned Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” into brittle camp.
Of the headliners, Harry also moves into brittle camp, but in her case, it’s unintentional. The songs from her new album, “Necessary Evil” (due in August from Eleven Seven Records), draw from the same mix of surf guitar riffs, girl group melodies and exotic rhythms that animated Blondie. With the exception of the pop drive of the track “Two Times Blue,” the fun has been drained out of the songs. Instead of larkish excursions, they sound like work.
She wasn’t helped by her faceless band; they slammed through the material, leaving Harry to her own devices. Never the most comfortable performer, Harry in the past was able to slide by on her mystique, but that’s now hard for the 62-year-old singer to maintain. When Harry danced stiffly around the stage, she came off like someone’s grandmother trying to look hip.
Erasure was much more successful in mixing old and new material, but then, the songs from the band’s new album “Light at the End of the World” (Mute) stick with the formula that turned “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect” into international hits. Andy Bell is still enormously entertaining as he plays a soulful roue over Vince Clark’s synthesized, hedonistic thump.
The biggest surprise of the evening was Lauper. The Queens, N.Y., native has moved beyond the novelty act she looked destined to become by the late ’80s, although she can still play up the bluntly vulnerable outer-borough girl. She took the stage in an obviously fake black wig (which covers her own lilac-dyed crop). She’s mostly jettisoned her Betty Boop croon, and her voice has grown stronger as a result. Lauper now performs with a confidence of a Broadway diva, perhaps as a result of her run last year as Polly Peachum in the revival of Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera.”
Backed by a scruffily powerful band, anchored by the inventive Knox Chandler on guitar, Lauper cannily reworked her hits, turning “She Bop” into a slowed-down, rootsy stomp and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun'” into a celebratory romp. She ends the evening leading the entire production — bands, roadies, friends — in a raucous take on Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me,” which leads into a soberly anthemic “True Colors,” which is now a call for tolerance, an affirmation of being comfortable in your own skin, whatever that skin may be.