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It Isn't So Unusual: Lauper's Not the 'Girl' She Used to Be

November 12, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — Brooklyn-born pop diva Cyndi Lauper reached the pop pinnacle in 1984. She became a darling of MTV thanks to the spirited anthem "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Her debut album ("She's So Unusual") generated four Top Five singles and went on to sell nearly 5 million copies, and she won a Grammy for best new artist.

But since that time, Lauper hasn't come close to that kind of excitement and acclaim. In fact, she has virtually disappeared from the pop landscape. The kind of hyperactive, colorful persona she once championed has given way to a breed of more substantial, brash newcomers, including Alanis Morissette, PJ Harvey, Ani Difranco and Me'Shell Ndegeocello.

Where does that leave Lauper? That question remains unanswered after her disappointing concert Sunday night before an adoring, overflow crowd at the Galaxy Concert Theatre.

In a long, ragged performance, Lauper and her six-piece band scored some points for emphasizing new material and rearranging much of the old. Unfortunately, the new songs--drawn from her upcoming "Sisters of Avalon" album, due in February on Epic--simply don't measure up.

*

The 10 or so selections offered Sunday were so stylistically scattered that they turned the show into a disjointed mess, with Lauper bouncing indiscriminately between R&B ("Dear John"), Cajun ("Cleo," "Mother"), pop balladry ("Searching" and "Fearless"), gospel ("Say a Prayer") and souped-up punk-rockers ("Love to Hate," "Hot Gets a Little Cold"). The music incorporated everything from the standard drums, bass and guitar to violin, mandolin, piano, accordion, synthesizers and other assorted stringed instruments.

Adding to the show's troubles were technical glitches, including an overmixed bottom end and muddled vocals, which caused Lauper and her band to abruptly stop in the middle of several songs. Lauper frequently motioned to her sound crew to adjust the mix and volume.

Billed by Lauper's publicist as "only a warmup show" for her forthcoming tour of Japan, this program surely needs some retooling and fine-tuning. (Near the end of her 2 1/4-hour set, Lauper told the audience: "I really believe in these new songs, and you're the first to hear them all.")

Working out the technical mishaps should be no problem, and replacing some of the subpar new material with some solid hits ("She Bop," "Sally's Pigeons," "Girls Just Want to Have Fun") would no doubt please her faithful fans.

Despite the flaws, there were glimpses of the talent that made Lauper such a hot commodity in the first place.

The new and nasty "Love to Hate" and the old Brains' tune "Money Changes Everything" came off as impressive, explosively played rockers. Singing this pair with a vengeance, Lauper showed she still has that aggressive bite, albeit sparingly used these days.

*

Lauper--46, married since 1991 and sporting short, blond hair--has mellowed and matured, and that desire to slow down a bit was effective during an extended, violin-driven version of "Time After Time." In place of the overproduced studio cut, this live offering let the acoustic guitar and violin add a dash of subtle, rootsy flavoring.

Also noteworthy was a fine, stripped-down version of the hit song "True Colors," which has recently gained more exposure as part of a commercial for Kodak film. The unintended irony here was Lauper singing the key verse: "Don't be afraid to let them show / Your true colors."

Indeed. We're still waiting to see hers.

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