Cyndi Lauper @ Symphony Hall Birmingham, 26th June 2011

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Rainy Boy Sleep from Northern Ireland opens tonight’s proceedings to a more than half empty Symphony Hall, as the majority of the crowd prefer the piped music in the bar to the raw, soul-baring angst of the support act. However, despite the lack of numbers in the theatre, Stevie Martin (the boy behind the name) manages to captivate and recruit a whole new band of followers… and judging by the scrum for his handmade CD’s in the foyer afterwards, may follow in the successful footsteps of one of Cyndi Lauper’s previous support acts, Jessie J.

As for me, I think musically Rainy Boy Sleep is particularly gifted, however, lyrically less so: the sooner he stops singing about school detention and unrequited love the better. Also the next time I see a solo acoustic act base their set around the use of a Boss Loop Station I will scream. It has been so overused in recent years there is no longer any surprise watching the first moments of every song being the building up of backing loops and layers. I actually prefer the more simple arrangements when it is just Stevie’s voice and guitar, although vocally his use of the ‘Brian Molko whine’ does begin to grate after a while.

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After a prolonged interval, Cyndi’s band of seasoned professional bluesman walk on stage, followed by Ms Lauper who sports a rather fetching red Sideshow Bob haircut. With an absolute assured confidence she speaks to the crowd with that glorious New York accent and introduces each of the band members before playing a note, she then asks the usher whether the crowd can stand up and dance: the audience are practically drooling in anticipation and it is fascinating to see an artist so comfortable and in command, without the need for fireworks and volume to capture attention (are you listening Beyonce at Middle Classtonbury?).

Cyndi then begins the set with material from her Memphis Blues album and part of me is concerned that this will be a Dylan-esque performance and we will not be treated to any of her more well-known songs. However, my fears are quickly allayed and there is a good mixture of blues and hits. She even responds to requests from the audience with an impromptu version of ‘Shine’, with just bass and piano (as the rest of the band have not rehearsed or played it before) and climbs off the stage into the aisles to sing with the adoring crowd.

It is not often you see a performer work so hard to ignite their audience. Some pop stars are arrogant enough to believe all they have to do is be there. Cyndi gets involved, she bounds from one end of the stage to the other, she gets into the crowd and stands on the seating, she runs to the back of the stalls, she shakes hands, she encourages everyone to sing, stand and dance; she is like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character: a positive blur. And she is utterly captivating, completely charming and seems to have endless reserves of energy.

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Vocally, Cyndi surpasses all my expectations and she finds the perfect line between doing just enough in the blues numbers and scaling the frequency heights in her own. Her voice is always beautifully pure and bursting with soul and emotion. When she slows things down at the end of the set for “Time after Time” and “True Colours” it is breathtaking, and with the audience providing backing vocals you really feel part of a special moment between artist and fan.

I have to say that before tonight’s gig I had only expected to see just a professional polished performance, but Cyndi gives so much more than this. Seeing her live is feeling part of her music; she allows a very personal connection with an audience and this is perfectly captured during “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, when she teaches the two part backing vocals to the crowd and starts again with the “Hey Now” version. All the while she is giving advice on how to project your voice and how to click into the syncopated rhythms.

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A master-class from one of pop’s most intriguing female artists, who makes up in integrity what she may have lacked in record sales. It is true that that other female sensation of the 80’s went on to conquer the world with her clever marketing, however, it is plain now that the more successful of the two won by being superficial, whereas Ms Lauper is always distinctly honest and direct. This fact is still blatantly clear for all to see and I know whose music still gets played in my house: the truly original, ever generous, consistently interesting Ms Cyndi Lauper… make sure you get your tickets early the next time she is in town.

Review – Al Neilson
Photos – John Mason

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