In many ways, Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper proved to be well-matched tour mates with a great deal in common during their show on Saturday night at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.
Both of them refused to act their age, for one. Opener Lauper — who turned 65 last month — leapt onto a loudspeaker while rocking out with her excellent 1984 cover of The Brains’ “Money Changes Everything,” then dropped to her knees to belt 1989’s “I Drove All Night”; while the 73-year-old Stewart literally sprinted onto the stage to open his much-longer set with an ’80s hit of his own — “Infatuation” — then later booted about two dozen autographed soccer balls to fans sitting in the far reaches of the lower level. (Note: As you probably know, he played as a kid and remains a huge fan of Celtic Football Club.)
Both of them needed a bit of time to warm into their voices: Stewart’s vocals on “Infatuation” were rickety enough (and so drowned out by the band) that I worried how his night was going to go, but a full hour and a half later, his melodious rasp came through richly and brightly on an acoustic version of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately”; Lauper, meanwhile, sounded uneven at the beginning but splendid by the time she got to monster hits like “Time After Time” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
Let’s see, what else? Well, they both trotted out new songs despite knowing how new songs from artists like Rod Stewart or Cyndi Lauper were likely to be received (best guess: by bathroom breaks) and — surprise! — those new songs were pretty catchy.
Oh, and they also both always have had and probably always will have wild hair.
Yet for all their similarities, they also proved quite different — and it’s not just the stark contrast between their native accents (Stewart’s is of course British, Lauper’s is as Noo Yawk as it gets).
For instance, Stewart’s most visible interaction with young people on Saturday night was a moment (right before launching into an exuberant rendition of his old rock band Faces’ hit “Stay With Me”) when he gently mocked a couple of 10-year-old girls in the front row who he noted “were so bored stiff they’re doing each other’s hair.” A camera then cut to the kids, and they indeed looked bored stiff.
On the other hand, Lauper found a way to celebrate a pair of children: two musically inclined teenaged siblings she discovered on a street corner in Charlotte about 24 hours before the show. The singer brought them out on stage and let one (13-year-old Ronald Worley) play keys while the other (his 14-year-old sister Mya Worley) slowed down the first part of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and turned it into an achingly gorgeous gospel number before giving way to the star.
But Lauper at times seemed frustrated by the crowd’s relative lack of enthusiasm for her hits. Midway through “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” for instance, she waved off the band: “Stop, stop. What? What is that? Come on! The kids are from your town, we’re singing your favorite song. Can’t you breathe? Are you alive? Well, you gotta sing loud enough for them people over in Washington taking away all your civil rights so they can hear you!” It’s possible this was a planned bit, but it didn’t work — fans didn’t seem to get much louder. (More on her politicizing in a minute.)
Stewart, on the other hand, had no problem getting practically the entire arena to sing along, at the top of its lungs, to crowd favorites like “Young Turks,” “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright),” “Forever Young,” and an acoustic version of “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” to name just a few.
Incidentally, after wrapping up the latter track (which my wife and I had listened to on the way to the show and which she remarked afterward sounded even better live), Stewart noted that Cat Stevens and Sheryl Crow both had also recorded that song. Then he joked that “neither version is quite as good as mine.”
That’s a bit of self-absorption that I could laugh at. I found it off-key, though, when Stewart dedicated Scottish-influenced staple “Rhythm of My Heart” “to all the soldiers that have fought for freedom over the years and are still fighting” ... then proceeded to brag that the video that would play behind him during the song (which was mostly archival footage of and headlines about World Wars) would feature “your old pal here getting knighted by Prince William.” It did. I’m not sure why, as that doesn’t make him a soldier.
Lauper had her own awkward moment when she went out into the crowd to sing her new song “Hope.” She was across the arena from my seats, so I couldn’t tell exactly what happened, but multiple fans reported that a fan threw a drink on her while she was singing while moving through the lower level; the person was promptly ejected by security, they said.
When she got back onstage, Lauper spent several seconds wiping off her jacket with a small towel and referenced “some poor (expletive) up there. (Unintelligible) he thought he was Robin Williams (unintelligible). Except Robin was actually funny. Alright, never mind.”
It apparently didn’t shake her up too much, though: She left the stage again a few songs later, to sing 2002’s “Shine” while standing on folding chairs in the floor section.
Stewart, on the other hand — though he’s been known to frequently run out into the crowd during his hugely successful “Rod Stewart: The Hits” residency shows at The Colosseum in Las Vegas — didn’t leave the stage Saturday night unless it was to change costumes.
Speaking of that residency, it definitely seemed as though Stewart has packed this tour with resplendent touches that were inspired by and/or borrowed directly from his Vegas show: four costume changes that featured the headliner in increasingly garish jackets and increasingly tight pants; six male band members in suits plus six showgirls-style female backup singers/dancers/musicians in bright-red lipstick and revealing mini-dresses; and a massive, colorful balloon drop during 1979 hit “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” right near the end of the show.
On the other hand, Lauper stayed in the same black leather pants and the same blazer with the giant eyes stitched onto it throughout her set; employed a female drummer and a female guitarist who looked like rockers and not eye candy; and chose to drop political statements instead of confetti.
It was actually kind of jarring, to have Lauper espousing feminism and trying to lift up women and talking about how she “burned her training bra at the first (women’s rights) demonstration” at one point in the show, then at another, seeing Stewart take a black bra that had been tossed on-stage during “Maggie May” and twirling it around on his finger with a big silly grin on his face. He also joked, awkwardly, that “people often ask me, do you have orgies and things like that” with the “gorgeous ladies in the band?”
But even that wasn’t as uncomfortable as this: Lauper interrupted the final chorus of “True Colors” to raise a fist and say: “To the young people that got mad and decided not to vote. How happy are you now?” I heard a smattering of cheers, but I also heard one audience member shout back, “Very happy!”
Anyway, by this point, you might be confused about whether or not I liked the show, so I’ll say this: They both looked great, sounded great and moved great. They made smart song choices. Their bands were on point.
And for better or worse, as the night wore on, I couldn’t wait to see what might happen next.
Rod Stewart’s setlist
1. “Soul Finger” (The Bar-Kays cover, without Stewart)
3. “Having a Party”
4. “Young Turks”
5. “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)”
6. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (Hambone Willie Newbern cover, with Cyndi Lauper)
7. “Forever Young”
8. “Rhythm of My Heart”
9. “Maggie May”
10. “There’s a Hole in My Heart Where You Used to Be”
11. “Downtown Train”
12. “The First Cut Is the Deepest”
13. “You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)”
15. “Have I Told You Lately”
16. “Nutbush City Limits” (Ike & Tina Turner cover, without Stewart)
17. “Stay With Me”
18. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
Cyndi Lauper’s setlist
1. “I Drove All Night”
2. “She Bop”
3. “All Through the Night”
5. “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough”
6. “Money Changes Everything”
8. “Time After Time”
9. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”
10. “True Colors”