The old school L.A. punk scene and the contemporary wave of LGBTQ es may not seem like they’d have a huge amount of crossover in a Venn diagram. But Cyndi Lauper did honor to both Tuesday night at her annual Home for the Holidays benefit, which usually takes place in New York but found a new home at the Novo in downtown L.A. this year.
Host Carson Kressley joked after an early appearance by Marilyn Manson that this was not the night of carols he expected. Manson sang “The Beautiful People” as a duet with Lauper, who was down to thrash with the metallic oldie just as much as she was to kick out the punk-rock jams with the Offspring’s Dexter Holland on a cover of the Vandals’ holiday classic, “Oi to the World.”
The most surprising duet of the night, though, had Lauper joining Henry Rollins for his former band Black Flag’s signature song, “Rise Above,” which he hasn’t been known to sing since the Rollins Band hung it up 17 years ago as he transitioned to a spoken-word artist.
There was one more time to the original L.A. punk scene — an appearance by Belinda Carlisle, whose punky late ’70s past was a little difficult to recall as she glamorously revived her post-Go-Go’s solo hit “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and then closed the three-hour-plus show with a duet of “True Colors” as Lauper accompanied both of them on dulcimer.
There were plenty of nods to younger artists as well — such as Kesha, Justin Tranter, King Princess, K.Flay and Greyson Chance — as well as one even older than an OG L.A. punk, blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite.
Home for the Holidays is a long-running event, now in its ninth year, aimed at combatting homelessness among LGBTQ teens. Lauper said that while 7% of youth identify as LGBTQ, they account for 40% of the adolescent homeless population.
Rollins, in an impassioned speech before his unexpected Black Flag revivalism, said that it’s “problem one that there’s any homeless youth in this country at all. And then when you find out that almost one in four LGBT kids hit the street because they were rejected by their families, that’s appalling.”
As for pulling the song his fans would love to hear out of mothballs, Rollins said, “Many, many years ago, when Reagan was president and my hair was dark, I was in a band, and that band had a song that talked about never relenting, that talked about going into insurmountable odds without fear, knowing that you’re gonna win because you’re right. And I figure that’s the perfect soundtrack, albeit short, for tonight. But I would not dare to stand on this stage and sing it alone when I have the option to sing it with my very talented friend, Cyndi Lauper.” Motioning toward the audience, he asked, “Are those seatbelts on those things? Band!”
The crowd was receptive to these edgier rock moments, even though it was made up less of Masque alumni than a combination of LGBTQ patrons who laughed knowingly at Kressley’s and Margaret Cho’s jokes about certain dating apps and groups of executives representing the many corporate sponsors who signed on for the event.
Although the punkier moments stood as easy highlights, another clear and rousing standout was a cover of a rock ‘n’ roll song by a not-so-rocky artist: Billy Porter, resplendent in a silver toga-like sheath, knocked an expected version of the Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” out of the park, an “oldie but goodie choice that’s relevant today” that he said had been suggested by his manager.
Porter preceded that with “Love Yourself,” which he announced had been No. 1 on the dance charts this year. “That’s a f—ing accomplishment for Grandpa, who just turned 50!” he said. “They like to put us out to pasture, but f— that! I’m still here.” Asking for a glass of water, Porter admitted that he’d “been drinking tonight, which I don’t usually do because I come from the theater. We don’t drink backstage at the theater. Unless you’re Elaine Stritch.” This didn’t get quite the vocal reaction he expected. “Wrong audience? I don’t know; sometimes the audiences mix. But I did have some cocktails tonight because this is a rock ‘n’ roll show!”
Justin Tranter was at least as effusive, singing a medley of smashes he’s been responsible for behind the scenes in recent years, including Selena Gomez’s hot-off-the-presses “Needed to Lose You to Love Me” as well as not-entirely-oldies like DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Imagine Dragons’ “Believer.”
“I’m gonna do a big medley of songs that I cowote,” Tranter announced. “I’m saying that for two reasons. One, I don’t want you to think that I’m just up here singing karaoke… Two, I’m going to do a bunch of my f—ing hits because we need to let queer people know that our stories and our ideas are just as mainstream as all these straight motherf—ahs. So I’m about to sing you a bunch of hits co-written by a very, very queer, feminine person, which is me. … If I f— it up,” he reminded the crowd, “I just write these, I don’t sing them.”
Other musical numbers included Emily Estefan’s opening “Girl Power” medley of feminist anthems; Perry Farrell and his wife Etty doing an original song, “Let’s All Pray for the World,” followed by his duet with Lauper on “Money Changes Everything”; vivid performances by K.Flay of “Blood in the Cut” and by King Princess of “Prophet” (Tranter and King Princess also hooked up for Lauper’s “Time After Time”); Kesha and Lauper combining forces on “Girls just Wanna Have Fun”; Musselwhite blowing it out on “Goodight Blues Tonight” without Lauper and “Down Don’t Bother Me” with her; and Chance also doing one of his own (“Overload”) and one with the presiding star (“Home for the Holidays,” one of just two seasonal selections).
Brandi Carlile, who’d been anticipated as a possible dream duet partner with Lauper, had to cancel her appearance at the benefit, as she has with all her early and mid-December concerts, as she recovers from a bruised vocal cord after a bout with laryngitis.
On the non-musical side, Lily Tomlin introduced the show, and besides Kressley’s interim improv duties, Carol Leifer did a stand-up set about having come out after 40 as “a late-breaking lez,” and “Bob Hearts Abishola” executive producer Gina Yashere had her own routine, riffing on everything from the lack of pervasive awareness for her first-season CBS sitcom to her ungratifying attempts at straight hooking up.
The collision of worlds at the benefit made for some amusing asides from host Kressley, who quipped that “I’m getting a tattoo just from seeing that” and, referencing Lauper’s and Manson’s boot action, said, “I was worried about their ankles because I’m at that stage where just one stomp and the ankle goes pop.”