Pink-dreadlocked, baby-voiced and New York City to the core, Cyndi Lauper is a tonic in difficult times. During her the UK leg of her current tour, which included a slot on Glastonbury’s acoustic stage (a scheduling prang had her up against Coldplay), her intentions were severalfold: to promote her first country album, Detour, reconnect with Britain (which she didn’t visit on her last tour) and dispense comforting Cyndi-isms.
To the latter effect, Lauper is a raconteur. Growing up in an Italian household in Queens during the 1950s with a brother called Butch and a sister “who was also a little butch” saw to that. And recent events have given her anecdotes more kick than usual. At her Birmingham gig, on the night she turned 63, she noted that she shared her birthday with Jo Cox; tonight, she spends a good deal of time reflecting on the paths people take when they don’t fit in. Lauper was lucky to have started her solo career in the 80s, when audacity and kooky clothes got a pop star a long way – something that was as true for Prince as for Lauper, we’re reminded, when she covers his song When You Were Mine. That was on her 1983 breakthrough album, She’s So Unusual, but here, prefaced by an emotional speech, she repurposes it as a power tribute to “the lights that have gone out in the world this year”.
For herself, endowed with a blistering voice and dress sense that prefigured the poem about wearing purple and a red hat that doesn’t go, Lauper has always been pop’s quirkmeister general. That remains the case, despite having spent the last five years singing country and blues, and writing the Tony-winning score for the Broadway musical Kinky Boots. Detour is a sincere exploration of country music – a genre she cheerfully admits to having known little about – but she can’t resist that extra visual and vocal fillip while paying bracing homage. Lauperising the stolid ballad Misty Blue involves wheeling in a vintage American payphone and singing into the receiver; the ebullient western swing hit I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart finds itself layered with camp as she rides a stick pony around the stage. Tonight’s version of The End of the World is almost better than Skeeter Davis’s original, with Lauper’s bald Queens accent providing a new perspective on a classic example of southern country-pop.
She can and does approach some songs, such as Patsy Cline’s sanctified Walkin’ After Midnight, with absolute fidelity – just her and a microphone here. But where’s the fun in that? Lauper’s recent multigenre diversions bespeak an artist with curiosity and craft to spare, but what makes this show is the quirk factor: She Bop turns southern gothic, complete with pedal steel flourishes, Time After Time is zazzed up by her dulcimer playing and Girls Just Want to Have Fun becomes a duet with the English singer/actor Matt Henry. He gives it his best, but it hardly needs saying that there can only be one winner here.