Music note: True Colors Tour celebrates the gay (19)90s

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I can’t claim that it was a deliberate choice to wear my t-shirt featuring a Power Ranger (on the front) and the words I LOVE THE 90S (on the back) to the True Colors Tour—a rolling revue benefiting the Stonewall Community Foundation—but it was the right choice, and not only because the shirt’s lime-green color jived with the sartorial palate employed by most of my fellow concertgoers at Target Center on Monday night. For better or for worse, headliners Cyndi Lauper and the B-52s have settled comfortably into the sound of pop music circa the early Clinton Administration.

After attending a meeting of the St. Paul writers’ group and scarfing a pizza, I arrived at the arena just as Tegan and Sara were finishing their set—which meant I also missed the performance by the Cliks, though it seems unlikely that their set featured any moments more memorable than the Cliks’ transguy vocalist Lucas Silveira being humped by Lauper when he joined her for a duet on “Money Changes Everything.”

Links for more information: The True Colors Tour; the Stonewall Community Foundation; Cyndi Lauper; the B-52s; Tegan and Sara; the Cliks; upcoming events at Target Center.

After Tegan and Sara waved their goodbyes, host Carson Kressley (of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) dismissed us for an intermission—the occasion for a collective smoke break at which the True Colors audience in front of Target Center (middle-aged men in wigs) and the Dark Lotus audience in front of First Ave (teenage boys in eyeshadow) peered across the street at one another. When we returned to the arena, Kressley introduced Rosie O’Donnell for a well-received standup routine in which she reminisced about both her childhood and her more recent past—including her stint on The View, a chat show that “turned into a women’s prison movie.”

“Are you ready for THE GREATEST PARTY BAND IN THE WORLD?” cried Kressley by way of introducing the B-52s. Indeed we were ready, and duly they appeared, though as I watched the quartet gamely maraca their way through a few hits and a few numbers from their new release Funplex, I wondered whether we might all be better off if they relinquished that designation.

What turned the B-52s from simply a fantastic party band into THE GREATEST PARTY BAND IN THE WORLD was their 1989 album Cosmic Thing, which smoothed and amplified their sand-in-the-Vaseline sound (yelping vocalist Fred Schneider being the sand, sweet harmonizers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson being the Vaseline), transforming it into to stadium pop. Unlike the majority of music critics, I’m a fan of that album—with respect to the virtues of the album’s hit single “Love Shack,” ten million wedding receptions can’t be wrong—but its mammoth success seems to have trapped the band in a glistening cage. Follow-up albums Good Stuff (1992) and, from the sound of what we heard on Monday, 2008’s Funplex have reprised Cosmic Thing’s slick sound—making for music that’s eminently listenable and toe-tappable, but nothing that’s apt to make you sweat. As the B-52’s have become the B-52s™, even the idiosyncratic apostrophe that once lived between the “2” and the “s” in the band’s name has officially been deleted. That said, the band will remain necessary as long as they continue to write songs that give Schneider an excuse to shout—as only he can—the likes of “There’s a g-spot! Pull this car over!”

The set change before Lauper’s performance was long enough that a cue-card-shuffling Kressley was forced into using some of his B punch lines, but all delay was forgiven when Lauper yanked back the curtain to reveal a twenty-foot model of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, which she ascended to sing her opening song “Change of Heart.” Lauper is an enormous talent whose voice remains one of the most powerful and unique among active performers; it was fitting that she later stood arm-in-arm with Tegan and Sara, who have demonstrated the 21st-century relevance of both Lauper’s vocal style (a fluctuation between chirping and belting) and her 1983 hairstyle (a she-mullet).

“Money Changes Everything,” “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” “When You Were Mine,” “Time After Time.” Comprised of those four songs may just be the finest first side of a first album in all of pop music. (Partisans of the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, and the Pretenders are encouraged to make use of the comment field at the bottom of this article.) Releasing a perfect debut album drove Tom Waits to thirty years of grunts and moans, so Lauper deserves credit for keeping her chin up and staying spunky through the subsequent years. She performed all four of the above songs on Monday night—thoughtfully making a point of crediting “one of your own” (Prince) for writing “When You Were Mine”—as well as “She Bop,” from the album’s second side. Given that She’s So Unusual is now a quarter-century old, it’s fortunate that Lauper has Neil Diamond’s gift for performing her classics as though they were released yesterday.

She poured the same energy into the material from her new album Bring Ya to the Brink, which unfortunately needed all the energy she could give it. The sound of the new songs recalled last decade’s pop-techno fad, which might have been an interesting direction for Lauper to go—80s icon traffics in 00s nostalgia for a 90s sound that was in its turn nostalgic for the 80s—but the new songs she performed Monday night were undistinguished. It would be interesting to hear Lauper take another page from Diamond’s book and enlist Rick Rubin to produce her next album, highlighting her expressive voice in the manner of her often-lovely 2005 career recap, The Body Acoustic.

But never mind the nitpicking—as we were reminded when the performers took the stage for a “We Are the World” style performance of the tour’s eponymous anthem, the point of the True Colors Tour is to celebrate the achievements of the GBLT community and to raise money for a good cause. The jubilant audience members, as well as the performers, were certainly feeling the love.

As I waited in line for refreshments during intermission, I felt a tugging at the back of my lime-green t-shirt. “This is cute,” said the man standing behind me.

“Thanks,” I replied.

“I wasn’t talking about the shirt,” he said, raising his eyebrows coyly.

My girlfriend smiled at him. “Just wait,” she said, “until you see the front.”