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Cher’s new MGM mini-residency lifts heavily from previous tours

Revolving door of costume changes, endless interludes and bad sound mixing mar concert

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Cher concert review, gay news, Washington Blade

Cher’s new ‘Classic Cher’ show at the MGM National Harbor features all the spectacle and camp you’d expect. (Washington Blade photos by Brian Walmer)

A Cher concert is always a fun evening out, but her current engagement “Classic Cher” at the MGM National Harbor, which she teased by saying she planned to make it her “best show ever,” is, sadly, far from it.

In fairness, to call the show “Classic” implies she’s not reinventing the wheel this time, yet there are so many rehashed segments, costumes and set pieces from her last two tours, to call it a new anything is a stretch. The expectation bar is pretty high, too, considering what we’ve seen her do on her 2002-2005 “Farewell Tour” and the 2014 “Dressed to Kill Tour,” both larger-than-life productions that were each high points in her 50-year career.

This time, instead of criss-crossing the states on a lengthy tour, the legendary diva is doing two residency shows — one in Las Vegas at the Park Theater at the Monte Carlo (which opened last month) and in Oxon Hill, Md., at the Theater at MGM National Harbor, where she opened last Friday, March 17. “Classic Cher” is her first time performing concerts in two years. She plays MGM through this weekend then returns in late August (tickets are here).

Cheers erupted as the house lights went down and images of Cher over the years flashed on the video screens leading up to the moment the purple curtains parted and there was the 70-year-old diva perched above the stage in an Egyptian-inspired outfit and huge black afro belting out her 2013 hit “Woman’s World” as she was lowered onto the stage revealing a peek-a-boo number that left little to the imagination.

She strutted among her warrior-clad background dancers while belting out the next song, “Strong Enough,” from her ’98 comeback album “Believe.” So far she was in fine form. Yes, the opening numbers were lifted from her 2014 “Dressed To Kill Tour” but Cher has always been one to stick to a somewhat standard set list over the years and yes, it seemed during the opening number a backing track was used to give her a fuller effect, but her live voice was there albeit a bit faint.

She promised a new opening monologue and we got it — it just made little sense as Cher shared two unrelated stories, one about turning 40, another about her first appearance on David Letterman. Nothing about the show, no welcome, just these random-feeling tales. She ended with, “I’m now 70. Instead of showing my ass, I think I should be in an old folks home.” She joked before leaving the stage, “I just wanna ask you one thing. What’s your granny doing tonight?”

Next up was another “Believe”-era hit, “All or Nothing,” with an India-inspired set completely lifted from her 2002 Farewell Tour. Dancers donned the same outfits as then, the “Gayatri Mantra” interlude chant was used complete with the same giant mechanical elephant and Cher emerging from it in a similar outfit. This time though, the energy wasn’t there and her voice was overpowered by the band during much of it.

As quick as she got the crowd up on their feet, they were back down as a montage of her years with Sonny played on the giant video screen above the stage. She emerged in a colorful hippie-inspired outfit complete with fur vest and long black wig harkening back to her early days as she sang “The Beat Goes On.”

She performed her first solo hit next, the Dylan cover, “All I Really Want To Do,” but seemed like she just wanted to get it over with before doing a virtual duet with Sonny for “I Got You Babe.” Before the duet, she said it took her a while to do this and during her first Farewell Tour she wasn’t ready before joking, “First farewell tour? Who would’ve thought I’d be alive for more farewell tours?” The crowed loved the duet and it turned into a major singalong moment across the room.

Circus barkers and dancers performed an interlude before Cher came out performing her classic hit, “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves” followed by a snippet of “Dark Lady.” As quickly as she had everyone up on their feet, she was gone and dancers filled the gap with a Native American dance as the diva emerged in a complete feather headdress belting out “Half Breed” before disappearing again. By now the proceedings felt choppy and disjointed. The costumes — recycled or not — are great, but why go to the trouble of donning them if you’re just going to zip through a perfunctory, two-minute excerpt of a song?

Last time out, Cher sang “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from her movie “Burlesque” always prefacing it with a disclaimer that it was a tough song to sing and it would be whatever it would be. This time, it’s played on a video. The dancers then perform and Cher emerges as Tess (her character in the movie) and sings the infinitely less satisfying “Welcome to Burlesque.” A handy way, perhaps, to tip her hat to that film in a less vocally taxing way, but it felt unmemorable and the crowd seemed unimpressed.

Next up was yet another video performance/costume change for “Lie To Me,” from her last album “Closer to the Truth.” I would have much rather heard her sing it live and it would have been a nice stylistic break in the show. Instead it melted into a disco-inspired interlude leading up to Cher coming out in a sparkly ensemble performing a brief version of ’79’s “Take Me Home” before running off stage yet again.

A montage of clips from the various films she was in was shown on the screen as well as her Academy Award win, which drew cheers, before Cher entered from stage left singing “After All” in a sheer gold gown with what looked like a halo adorning her long blond tresses. During her Vegas show, she emerges on a boat gliding across the stage, but since the stage is smaller at the MGM, she had to change her entrance.

Another costume change followed with a video of her talking about her love of Elvis before her band played a long intro as she entered from stage right in jeans and a zipped jacket sporting curly blond hair singing “Walking In Memphis,” which had the audience up cheering and singing along. It was a nice surprise considering it wasn’t a big hit when she released it in the mid-‘90s.

Thankfully instead of running off for another change, she followed the Marc Cohn cover with her Betty Everett cover “The Shoop Shoop.” She normally has a lot of fun with this on past tours, but she just seemed disinterested this time and the energy was lacking. Oddly two background singers emerged for this number, to join Cher and her six-piece band. Who knows where they’d been hiding heretofore.

The band got a moment to shine as they played her hit “Bang Bang” before Cher entered center stage singing “I Found Someone” decked out in a sheer black outfit with knee-high boots and leather jacket. The crowd went wild as she moved across the stage belting out the rock classic before launching into her signature hit “If I Could Turn Back Time.” In other tours, there was a big lead up to it and she really got into it, but this time it felt like she just wanted to get through it. Without any goodbyes, she left the stage as the curtains closed.

After a few minutes, they opened up to a rave-style dance routine complete with lasers as a remix of Cher’s biggest hit “Believe” played. Cher started singing “Believe” but didn’t emerge until a bit into it (missed cue maybe?) and when she did, she just seemed like she just wanted the concert to end. The energy that she usually has for it was gone and it felt like just another song to get through. Once she finished, she put the mic down, waved goodbye to each side of the audience and was gone. No goodbyes, no thank yous, done. Cher had left the building.

Since the second leg of the “Dressed to Kill Tour” in 2014 was canceled due to health issues, I was especially eager to see Cher again. No doubt it’s a fun night out for casual fans and the visual spectacle she’s known for is there. But to charge $109-nearly $500 for a show this rehashed and disjointed is a bit much.

The MGM theater is surprisingly small and intimate and it’s fun to see Cher in this setting. But without the taxation of schlepping from city to city over months on end, I’d hoped the legend would be at the top of her game. Yeah, she’s 7o, but it’s not about that — with no audience interaction, shoddy sound mixing and endless interludes, the whole production felt half hearted.

It might be a tough sell since she’s known for the big sets and costumes (she was doing this kind of thing years before Madonna), but a slightly scaled-back show with more slots for actual singing and some second-tier (and fresher) material like “You’d Better Sit Down Kids” or “Living in a House Divided” would have been great. That, for me, would have been “Classic Cher.”

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Music & Concerts

DC Different Drummers Jazz Band to perform ‘Oasis’

Performance by combo ‘2nd Independence’ scheduled

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The DC Different Drummers Jazz Band will perform on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Central Library.

This concert, titled “The Oasis,” will feature the 20-person big band playing jazz pieces in a variety of styles, from swing to bossa nova to jazz fusion and more. There will also be a performance from the improvisational jazz combo, 2nd Independence.

Admission is free and more details are available on the event’s website

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Music & Concerts

D.C.’s live music venues are jumpin’ again

Lizzo, B-52s, and Bob Mould all coming to town this fall

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Lizzo brings her ‘Special Tour’ to D.C. this fall. (Photo by DFree/Bigstock)

As summer comes to a close, many venues across the DMV are gearing up for their fall entertainment rosters. Below is a list of must-see music acts in the upcoming months.

Mary J. Blige brings her “Good Morning Gorgeous” tour to Capital One Arena on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $69.50 at Tickmaster.com.

Pet Shop Boys and New Order bring their “Unity Tour” to Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $29.50-169.50 at Merriweather’s website.

7th Annual Law Rocks Washington DC will be on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 6:30p.m. at 9:30 Club. Law Rocks toured first to D.C. in 2015 and has raised more than $615,000. Eight bands of musically brilliant legal professionals will be rocking out to support local nonprofit organizations. Tickets are available on Law Rocks’s website

Don’t miss out performer Lil Nas X at the Anthem on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m.

Lizzo performs her “Special Tour” at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Tickets start at $69.50 at ticketmaster.com.

Panic at the Disco performs its “Viva Las Vengeance” tour at Capital One Arena on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.; tickets at ticketmaster.com.

The legendary B-52s kicked off their farewell tour earlier this summer and it comes to D.C.’s Anthem on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at the Anthem site.

Two Feet: Fall Tour 2022 will be on Monday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at 9:30 Club. Brothel will be the opening act. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased on 9:30 Club’s website.

Santigold will be performing as part of her Holified Tour on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased on the Fillmore’s website.  

Fairfax Symphony and Orchestra will be performing work from German composer Brahms and Sibelius on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at Capital One Hall. Jeremy Denk will be on piano, and Christopher Zimmerman will music direct and conduct. Tickets start at $45 and can be purchased on Capital One Hall’s website

Judah & the Lion will be performing on Thursday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased on the Fillmore’s website

Grammy Award-winning singer Steve Lacy will be performing on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Tickets start at $235 and can be purchased on the Fillmore’s website

The Reston Chorale, Piedmont Symphony Orchestra and PSO Rock Band will perform “Bohemian Rhapsody: The Music Of Queen (And Friends)” on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. at Capital One Hall. The music acts will perform some of Queen’s greatest hits, including “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” “Under Pressure,” and of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased on Ticketmaster

Local gay favorite Bob Mould plays at Wolf Trap on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 8 p.m.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C. will be celebrating the life and legacy of actress Judy Garland with a cabaret titled “Judy” on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 5 p.m. (ASL) and 8 p.m. at Capital One Hall. Fourteen select soloists from the Chorus will share stories as they sing their favorite Judy tunes. Songs include “Over the Rainbow,” “The Trolley Song,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “The Man That Got Away,” and “Happy Days are Here Again.” Tickets cost $45 and can be ppurchased on GMCWDC’s website

Morrissey performs at the Anthem on Monday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m.

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Music & Concerts

New Madonna remix collection solid but not exhaustive

Marred only by a few ’80s omissions, set is blazing history of club music’s evolution

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An all-vinyl edition of Madonna’s new remix collection ‘Finally Enough Love,’ sold out quickly, but the release is still available in several other formats, physical and digital. (Photo courtesy Warner/Rhino)

Madonna, though she has as many hit compilations as one would expect from an artist of her vintage and stature, has always seemed wary of looking back or indulging much degree of nostalgia about her career. 

As polarizing as her later albums sometimes are, one could never accuse her of cashing in, as so many veteran acts do, on tour after tour of the same old set list designed to hit all the obvious musical marks, please the most tepid of fans and make easy millions. But she has almost swung too far the other way. Hits sometimes have felt grudgingly performed at her live shows of the last, oh, 20 years or so, and have, at times, been so radically re-crafted — an approach that can be thrilling when it works, no doubt — the spirit of the original track has been sometimes painfully undercut.

All that to say, it’s fun to see Our Lady of the Remix — for whom in popdom is more deserving of that title? — look back so sumptuously with the Aug. 19 release of “Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones,” (☆☆☆ out of four) a new 50-track remix collection available digitally, in a three-disc CD set and a sold-out six-LP vinyl edition, as well as “Finally Enough Love,” a 16-track version on single CD, double vinyl and digitally. The releases are the first since it was announced last summer that Madonna was returning to her original label, Warner Records, in a new deal that would include a series of deluxe catalogue reissues. It celebrates her record-shattering span of 50 No. 1 hits on the Billboard U.S. Dance Songs Club chart, starting with “Holiday”/“Lucky Star” (only “Holiday” is here, though) in 1983 and culminating with “I Don’t Search I Find” in early 2020 from her 2019 album “Madame X.” The collection’s title is taken from that track. For context, those trailing her record of 50 No. 1 hits on that chart are Rihanna (33), Beyonce (22), Janet (20) and Katy Perry (19); Madonna’s record here is the most number ones by an artist/band on any Billboard chart ever.

It’s also especially nice to see since remixes have been so essential to Madonna’s career. The only time she ever released anything remotely akin to this before was either very early (1987’s “You Can Dance” remix album) or oddly random (the 2003 EP “Remixed & Revisited”). 

This collection is not, as one might guess, a collection of her all-time greatest remixes or even necessarily the versions of the songs that charted. Gen. Xers who gobbled up her maxi singles all through the ’90s and beyond will find their stash, if retained, are still the only sources (not counting unofficial YouTube postings) for classics such as the “Shep’s ‘Spressin’ Himself Re-remix” of “Express Yourself” from the “Justify My Love” maxi (also home to the deliciously weird “The Beast Within Mix”), the “Waiting” remix (a non-single) from the “Rain” maxi or any of the varied delights (e.g. “Madonna Gets Hardcore”) on the import “Bye Bye Baby” maxi. 

Even if you’re a completist of the highest order — and there certainly are folks like that in the Madonnaverse — your experience won’t be sullied or buoyed much by the mixes included or excluded. 

Tons of other remixes here are just slight variations of mixes we’ve heard before. I haven’t been following these releases like a hawk in recent years, but if you collected these in any capacity over the years, there will likely be a fresh balance of familiar and unfamiliar motifs and passages sprinkled throughout. 

Most of the remixes retain the bulk of the lyrics from the album versions and are tight edits (no 10-minute percussion solos). The earlier cuts on disc one are the least radical, a non-surprise considering remixing trends of the ’80s. And while many of these mixes are heretofore unreleased, they are nearly all vintage or, where tweaked, retain the spirit of their album counterparts. There’s no radical thumpa-thumpa version of “Everybody” or “Material Girl,” for example; disc three, containing the newest material, is by far the most pounding/rave-influenced. 

Standouts for me were the loungy, uptempo-yet-chill vibe of the “Underground Club Mix” of “Erotica” (straight from the vintage “Erotica” maxi), the “PSB Maxi Mix Edit” of “Sorry,” (until now, a promo-only mix), the “Eddie Amador Club 5 Edit” of “Give it 2 Me,” (vintage, but never commercially available until now) and “Avicii’s UMF Mix” of “Girl Gone Wild,” which features a spidery instrumental motif that could almost work as a fugal theme.

As a whole, however, there are a few impediments to the way this all goes down, especially if you listen straight through. A few tracks — e.g. the “Sasha Ultra Violet Mix Edit” of “Ray of Light” with its sputtery beat pattern or the loungy, uber-chill vibe of the “Bob Sinclar Space Funk Edit” of “4 Minutes” (this edit of which was only ever previously released on a 12” vinyl picture disc) — give needed contrast to the mostly unrelenting 4/4 beat patterns. But after a while, especially on discs two and three, it all starts sounding like little more than “Hooked on Madonna,” of the famous “Hooked on Classics” series from the ’80s, which set classical themes to dance beats. Of course, some of that is to be expected given the nature of the release, but as an actual experience, it’s occasionally tedious. 

And while the DJs are all obviously talented and at times quite creative, by the middle of disc two, one starts wondering if a wiz/nerd with access to the stems could have almost come up with something just as good on a Yamaha Clavinova or the like. Almost. 

It also moves a lot faster through her catalogue than you might guess. Since classics like “Papa Don’t Preach” and La Isla Bonita” were not No. 1 dance hits, we get to “Like a Prayer” and “Vogue” barely halfway through disc one. 

When a non-Madonna-penned single pops up — Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (from “Evita”) or Don McLean’s “American Pie” (from “The Next Best Thing”), they jump out as markedly better examples of songcraft than just about anything Madonna ever came up with herself. Going straight from “Pie” to “Music,” one of M’s most lyrically insipid compositions ever to my ear, is especially painful. For sure, there are dozens of pop masterpieces here, but the covers tend to accentuate the froth on cuts like “Turn Up the Radio” or “Jump.” 

On the brighter side, however, the vocals sound stronger and sweeter than I recalled. Yeah, they’re likely auto-tuned and otherwise studio sweetened, but there were several passages — “Nothing Really Matters,” “Keep it Together,” “Deeper and Deeper” — when it’s clear Madonna is a better studio singer than she ever gets credit for.

Booklets, too, are thorough and nicely done with detailed track info and pics of all her single artwork. 

While there are 50 tracks here, the math is a bit fuzzy. “Angel,” which charted jointly with its flip side “Into the Groove,” is absent as is “Causing a Commotion,” which had a vinyl Record Store Day release back in April, though it’s annoying it’s not here. Because “You Can Dance” topped the chart as an entire album and the Britney duet “Me Against the Music” was not from a Madonna project, there’s a little wiggle room numerically in how this set was curated. 

Madonna’s new remix album ‘Finally Enough Love’ collects vintage mixes of her many hits, but often in slightly different versions from what has previously been commercially available. (Photo courtesy Warner/Rhino)
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