Cher’s Endless, Fabulous Farewell

By David Watts Barton, The Sacramento Bee, December 10, 2002

When Cher says goodbye, she doesn’t get all weepy and sentimental; she wants you to see what you’ll be missing when she’s gone.

Thus, it was with bravado and swagger that Cher brought her Living Proof Farewell Tour to Arco Arena on Sunday night. It was a show that explicitly aimed for Fabulous, and pulled it off in style.

“Ladies and gentlemen … and flamboyant gentlemen,” she wryly said after her second song. “Welcome to the Cher-est show on Earth.”

And so it was – a career-capping, over-the-top, 75-minute extravaganza that aimed to give the sold-out crowd of 14,000 one last shot of Cher, one that would last those present a lifetime.

This was no time for stage-sincere expressions of love for her audience. Cher’s aim was to knock the crowd’s socks off with sheer visual firepower – and enough yards of exotic fabric to clothe a fabulous small town.

“It’s all or nothing,” she sang in the third song. And that was a promise she kept as she and her dancers filled the stage with movement and color, the dancers turning into acrobats who spun in the air as Cher commanded center stage.

Cher, 56, looking 20 years younger as she paraded the stage, sang in her distinctive, throaty style and carried off each costume – even the thong-plus she wore for “If I Could Turn Back Time” – with grace and ease. Few people look this good heading into retirement.

And she knows it. With characteristic sass, she explicitly threw down the gauntlet to younger singer-actresses Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears, who would seem to be aiming for a versatile entertainment career like hers:

“I just have one thing to say … follow this, you bitches.”

Giving the crowd a sly look, she added, “I say that with humility and love.”

And, one might add, irony. After all, humility and love are not Cher’s style, and her show was a layer cake of rapid-fire video, spectacular lighting, a seven-piece band and eight dancer-acrobats. And Cher was the elegant figurine topping the cake.

Changing her costume every other number, Cher offered a 14-song set that was about six songs shy of the set she’s played on earlier versions of the tour, but it nevertheless satisfied the crowd’s need to hear everything, from early Sonny and Cher hits such as “Bang Bang” and “I Got You Babe” (the latter on video) to her more-recent dance hits “Take Me Home,” “Strong Enough” and, of course, the worldwide megahit “Believe.”

Those songs are catchy but generally not much more than competent pop craft. But the songs are not the point. Style, not substance, is Cher’s stock in trade when it comes to music.

Despite the need for elaborate costume changes, the show, which was part dance concert, part Cirque du Soleil knockoff, kept the pace up as the dancers and videos filled in the gaps when Cher was being poured into yet another skintight, skin-revealing outfit, usually topped with fistfuls of feathers or fur.

Each of the between-song breaks explored another aspect of Cher’s career, from a video montage of moments with her ex-husband and partner, the late Sonny Bono, to a montage of clips featuring her in interviews with everyone from Barbara Walters to Mike Douglas.

Through it all, Cher never got mawkish or sappy. An occasion such as a retirement tour easily could have become an excuse for all manner of maudlin confessions and dull reminiscences.

To her credit, Cher would have none of it. In fact, spending nearly as much time with her dressers as she did with the audience, she didn’t say much to the crowd beyond her introductory remarks, and when someone shouted dismay about her impending departure from the concert scene, she shot back, “I’ve been an evil frickin’ diva for 40 frickin’ years, so give me a frickin’ break!”

And so the crowd did, sitting politely and watching the show, though there were pockets of crazed dancing scattered throughout the arena, as the audience celebrated Cher’s concert career drawing to a close with the climactic “If I Could Turn Back Time” and a quick encore of “Believe.”

Cyndi Lauper opened the show with a set that, at least in terms of music and connection with the audience, equaled, if not surpassed, the headliner. Lacking the props and costumes at Cher’s command, Lauper had to reach out to the audience. She did so from the first number, walking up into the seats, shaking hands and talking to the audience with wit and appealing directness between songs.

She also has a repertoire that, while not as lengthy or hit-laden as Cher’s, has some much-superior songs, especially “True Colors,” which she dedicated to her gay sister and to “all those who are disenfranchised,” as well as “All Through the Night,” a slower, jazzier version of “She-Bop,” and the rollicking closers “Money Changes Everything” and “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”