Saturday, November 30, 2019

Do I Believe?: A Fun Night, Abetted by Chic Dance Grooves, Could've Used More Cher Emotion -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act Chic feat. Nile Rodgers
United Center, Chicago 
November 27, 2019
@@@@ (just for Cher)

I think it's been well-established that there's almost nobody I wouldn't see live in concert, especially given the right confluence of opportunity, location and cost.

Obviously I'll never see everyone or anywhere close to it, but I love the art of live entertainment and--particularly given my unabashed affinity for musical theater--I don't feel much provincialism, peer pressure or concern over possible perceptions.

In other words, if--last year--I saw The Cher Show as part of my Broadway in Chicago subscription series, and enjoyed the music, why wouldn't I want to see the real thing at least once.

Especially, as following Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand--who I likewise saw for the first time just since July--Cher fits into the category of famed female singers with decades of staying power.

For the record, I won't be seeing Celine Dion Monday night at the United Center, and I was pretty much oblivious to Cher playing here in February.

So be it.

In October, when my pal Paolo was visiting his girlfriend in Glasgow, I noticed Cher was performing there and suggested they go. They did, and reported that Cher was fantastic. So given her return to Chicago, I wanted to see her.

Especially with Chic, featuring its original mastermind Nile Rodgers, opening the show.

I had seen Chic in an opening slot for Duran Duran a few years back and pretty much knew what to expect.

With Rodgers and crew--I don't think anyone else in the current incarnation was an original member--replicating Chic disco classics like "Everybody Dance," "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)," "Everybody Dance," "Le Freak" and "Good Times," they quite delectably got the party started.

And with Rodgers not only reminding the crowd that he's a musical genius who co-wrote or produced many gems beyond Chic--Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" and "Upside Down," Sister Sledge's "He's the Greatest Dancer" and "We Are Family," Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and to my goosebumping delight, David Bowie's "Let's Dance" (with drummer Ralph Rolle on lead vocals), were all worked into the nearly hourlong set--he also spoke of overcoming, with a currently clean bill of health, a rather grim cancer diagnosis within the past decade.

So even before Cher took the stage--and she cheekily peeked out from the behind the curtain a few minutes before she did--the "Good Times" were apparent.

I would give Chic @@@@@ for their delectable set, which even saw Rodgers rapping the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" as that early hip-hop classic famously incorporated "Good Times."

Vocalist Kimberly Davis was also demonstrably sensational, as part of the impressively Chic contingent. 

Between sets, an attractive young woman sitting next to me (alongside two friends of hers) engaged me in a conversation that was somewhat fun, but also somewhat odd. Sharing that I didn't drink, smoke or take drugs, I was told that I needed to be more wild and uninhibited.

While I didn't rebuke or blatantly dismiss the psychological assessment of a 24-year-old stranger who spent virtually every moment of the show texting, I suggested that in being a 51-year-old straight man attending a Cher show alone and posting about it on Facebook, I was comfortable enough in my own skin without needing to repeatedly buy two overpriced mixed drinks at a time like she did.

But I digress (and perhaps protesteth too much).

After a video montage showing the woman born Cherilyn Sarkisian throughout her 73 years--she proudly shared her age with the crowd; it felt like something of a theme given my conversation with Aneela (or however she might spell it)--adorned in long blue wig and a bejeweled leotard, Cher began by singing "Woman's World."

"Strong Enough" followed and not only could that aptly describe her voice, Cher clearly looked great for a person of any age.

Still in the blue wig, Cher began addressing the nearly full crowd--though enough tickets had remained unsold that I bought my balcony seat after a price drop just the day before the show--as her cadre of dancers left the stage.

It felt like a nice, non-diva-ish touch, and Cher engagingly told of rebuking both a Hollywood scumbag who demeaned her and, initially, David Letterman.

At the time it was kinda cool that the star seemed unconcerned about how long her stage patter dragged on, but it was proven odder given that Cher barely said another word all night, not even "Thank you" or "Goodnight." (She did say something briefly before "I Got You Babe," though didn't directly mention Sonny Bono.)

I felt the concert, which was fun and well-done but overly slick like a Las Vegas production, would've been better with more personal touches throughout.

Sure, in good part I wanted to see a Cher show because I had seen The Cher Show, and I get that constantly changing into different spectacular Bob Mackie costumes is part of her act.

I liked most of the songs she sang, including a ABBA trio--"Waterloo," "SOS," "Fernando"--given Cher having co-starred in the Mamma Mia sequel, whose subtitle, Here We Go Again, is also the moniker for this tour.

"I Found Someone" and "If I Could Turn Back Time" are decent rock songs, and though still auto-tuned to the point of shrill aggravation, "Believe" was an uplifting belter to end Cher's 90 minutes or so. 

I'm really not sure if the elephant Cher rode at one point was real--supposedly not, from what I've read--but the production values were impressive and @@@@ (out of 5) feels like a fair assessment of the performance.

Yet in respecting that Cher does this same show every night--on this tour from Sept. 2018 through next May--I think it would be better if she would "share" a bit more, not to imply she doesn't give her all, physically.

Besides "I Got You Babe," the most poignant, heartfelt songs heard on the evening--"You Haven't See the Last of Me," "Lie To Me"--are played on tape during costume changes.

Why not sing it live with just a pianist?

Slow things down a bit while ratcheting up the pathos. Maybe even talk a bit more, around some ballads.

Also, while I had no problem with Cher avoiding political banter so as not to irk any portion of her audience--though Streisand didn't care--it's clear in following her on Twitter which way she leans.

So given the social climate over immigrants, minorities, etc., if Cher had opted to sing "Half-Breed," it not only would've allowed for another of her best songs, it could've spoken volumes.

I'm also not sure why, after a video interlude in which she tells of her love for Elvis Presley and the importance he had on her diversified showbiz career, Cher opts to sing Mark Cohn's "Walking in Memphis" rather than an actual tune by the King.

Yes, it's a fine song, referencing Elvis and his hometown, and she handles it nicely, but anything from "Don't Be Cruel" to "Suspicious Minds" would've seemed a lot more fun.

Anyway, I finally decided to see Cher in concert, and I'm honestly glad I did.

She remains an excellent entertainer, and the terrific Chic set added to an enjoyable night well-worth what I paid. 

But I think a little less "show" might have made it even better, to the point of making me want to see her again.

As it stands, I don't really "Believe" I need to.

See the setlist here; though it doesn't indicate the Chicago show, it's what was played, with the proper delineations.

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