The True Colors Tour for the Human Rights Campaign rolled into Boston with some amazing talent ready to dance the night away in the spirit of equality and community. Those themes embodied much of the political message of the night, and variously, performers weighed in with their own messages of encouragement. Beth Ditto, of the Gossip, told us one song was written in reaction to George W. Bush’s re-election, but the message of the song was “we’re going to fuck who we want to fuck.” Rufus Wainwright let his music do the talking with a stirring rendition of Going to a Town with its overt political message, “I’m going to a place that is already been disgraced, I’m gonna see some folks who have already been let down. I’m so tired of America.”
But the night’s most poignant moments were both from Cyndi Lauper. Before Erasure’s set, she came out to address the audience about supporting The Matthew Shepard Foundation’s “Erase Hate” Project, encouraging us to “not hate the haters.” She found the stairs and without hesitation, marched into the audience and greeted people from the stands, all while never losing her message of equality and community. And when she speaks “community” she means everyone.
The second amazing split second was during the ensemble finale of True Colors, as the song wound down to its finale chords, Cyndi embraced her fellow musicians onstage and there were genuine, unfettered tears in her eyes. The message and the means of expression were that important to her.
Cyndi Lauper is otherworldly. There is no other way to describe her performance. To the opening chords of Hole in My Heart, she stood behind a white ceiling-to-floor curtain, visible only by her silhouette before she came out on stage adorned in a wide umbrella hat decorated in rainbow color stripes and long black wig. She wore an inexplicable outfit that looked like a flak jacket dress with S&M straps that seemed neither functional nor decorative. She tore across the stage through every song, as if trying to reach out to every single person in the audience. She never lacked for energy, never suffered a dull moment even with technical difficulties marring her entire set. During one pause between songs, Cyndi explained that the doctor shut her mother’s legs right as she was cresting, to make her grand entrance into the world, “and I ain’t been the same every since!” she screamed before ripping off her wig to reveal the shock of short, purple hair underneath.
The new material held up equally well as the classic hits. She drastically reworked She Bop into a ballad rocker, something that could have come straight from an Eagles setlist. When You Were Mine was a pulsing rock number, and a duet with Amanda Palmer who knew she was vocally outmatched and did her best to stay out of the way. Girls Just Want to Have Fun closed out the night, and at the end, the performers from earlier came out with enormous rainbow-colored balloons and tossed them into the audience.
Erasure‘s 45 minute set came near the tail end, just as the sun had set. Though the five hour equality lovefest was never dull, the timing of Erasure’s disco-tinged, non-stop rotation of familiar dance hits was a welcome boost of energy.
They stuck to their biggest U.S. hits, folding in three songs off the new album, including the set opening Sunday Girl. Backed by three singers, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke came out on stage in matching vintage Blondie t-shirts with the words “Platinum Blonde” on the front in silver glitter. Vince wore army fatigues over his shirt and a platinum blonde wig. Andy was the most casually dressed he had been in ages. He looked good, just as seriously sexy at 43 years old as he was when he auditioned for Vince Clarke in 1985.
They launched into a string a hits and never dipped into their catalogue past the 80′s except for songs from the new album including I Could Fall in Love with You, the lead single from Light at the End of the World, and Sucker for Love, a disco anthem off the new album.
Andy’s voice was in fine form, and the three background singers, fitted in black wigs, added a great texture to songs like Chains of Love and some gorgeous harmonies on Oh L’Amour. Andy paused before launching into Love to Hate You to show off his glittery pointy toe footwear. Vince strapped on a guitar for rousing singalongs A Little Respect and Sometimes. From the opening synth note to the bows at the end, the crowd was on their feet and stayed there.
I had heard Debbie Harry was deliciously awful, so I was disappointed that from afar, her act sounded pretty good. Up close, however, her act was another story altogether.
Debbie Harry moved like a glacier across the stage, bouncing in place like a bobble head for long periods of time and then drifting to other points on the stage. Her crystalline voice was untarnished by a thirty plus year career and the music overall was enjoyable, but there was something so wooden and awkward about her stage presence, it riveted all your attention. During guitar solos, she moved to the back of the stage to stand placidly in the shadow of the drum set to await her turn. The closest she got to animated was a little Tina Turner kick but mostly, it was like watching the wax figurine of Debbie Harry sing Debbie Harry songs.
No Blondie songs in the setlist, and a few debuts from her upcoming album including Necessary Evil and Whiteout. The best of the night was the new single Two Times Blue which closed out her set. Afterwards, they rushed her body back to the cryogenic freeze to be thawed out when the tour hits Columbia, MD.
Rufus Wainwright walked out on stage backed by an entourage, and launched into a rousing version of the song Release the Stars from the album of the same name. He was wearing a red, white, and blue striped shirt, and his band looked like the sixties had puked all over them. There was a saxophone, guitar, bass, piano, French horn, drums, and a trumpet and each of the players sang harmonies. It made for melodious and heavenly renditions during the set including the new single Going to a Town and Gay Messiah, from the album Want Two.
The Dresden Dolls are the kind of band that cannot be described by mere words, but I’ll try anyway. One half Amanda Palmer and one half Brian Viglione, they are self-described as a punk cabaret. It’s a fitting, however limited, description. They came on stage calmly. Amanda was outfitted in fishnet stockings and a corset and Brian in a white nightgown, with his face painted mime white, pajama-bottoms with his underwear on the outside.
This was a hits show of sorts. They knew that the audience would be largely unfamiliar and pulled out some of their best known songs including Shores of California and Coin-Operated Boy. Amanda does the singing, pounding on her keyboards while Brian accompanies on drums, and once, guitar. He’s silent, but makes theatrical facial expressions throughout. This might not sound like a recipe for a concert, but trust me, they were both equally arresting on stage. At one point, with a beer in her hand, Amanda sings with the gusto of a drinking song (it was a drinking song) as the beer boils and bubbles over the lip of the bottle, sending foam and beer spraying the stage and running down her hand. Brian, who stripped off the nightgown after the first song and played shirtless through the end of the set, was never boring to watch. He effortlessly managed to play, act and command his share of the attention.
They closed the set with an audience vote between War Pigs (yes, that War Pigs) and Girl Anachronism from their self-titled album. To our credit, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the Dolls’ own song.
The Gossip had the unenviable task of opening for the True Colors Tour in Boston, MA promptly at 6pm. They got a rousing introduction by host Margaret Cho, who effusively praised lead singer Beth Ditto. Of the crowd, half of whom hadn’t arrived yet, most weren’t at their seats when The Gossip launched into their first song.
Not knowing what to expect, I was mostly taken back at first by how close we were to the speakers. I think I would have enjoyed their set much more if we had been further away (the only other time I have ever said that was during The Dead 60′s and then I wanted to be so far away, I was in another building) but as a band and as a human being, The Gossip and Beth Ditto were entrancing.
There’s no other way to describe her performance. Beth is overweight and outspoken. She painted on her dressed, which showed every nook and cranny of her body and she wasn’t afraid to move it and twist and contort with the music. You could not take your eyes off of her. She also spent a few moments between songs addressing the audience. She admonished us for not cheering when she talked about the other bands playing tonight, “When someone says the name of a band, you usually clap.” Later, she also let us know, it’s okay to dance if we want to. She also told us that the band was 2/3 gay and 1/3 GBA “Gay By Association.”
The Gossip, it turns out, has been around the entire decade, producing three albums and there were a handful of people in the crowd that new every song. I wasn’t one of them. But after the initial shock of seeing Beth Ditto’s pantyline etched into her dress like a concrete handprint on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and getting a straight shot view down guitarist Brace Paine’s butt crack, it turned out they were an amazing band.
Margaret Cho started her night as hostess of the True Colors Tour subdued by saying frankly, “We’re all happy Jerry Falwell is dead.” Yes, that was subdued. Cho was happily inserted between each band while the crew changed sets behind her with marvelous efficiency, giving us small chunks of her stand-up routine that got dirtier as the night went on.
If you have never seen Margaret Cho live, she is one of the rare comedians who is not only not afraid to talk about anything, but she’s seriously raunchy and so unbelievably funny. Without missing a beat on topics including the Pope (she called him a queen), gay cruises “Being gay is not a choice, it’s a lot of fun,” George W. Bush, and of course, Paris Hilton, using her “I’m a prisoner” to great effect more than once during the night.
It’s rare that a festival show completely lives up to its billing from start to finish but the True Colors Tour did without a doubt. The message of equality was so fully integrated into the night, but it was never intrusive or out of place. The music was simply awesome. Even the breaks between acts was short, the set changes efficient, punctuated by the hysterical Margaret Cho so that time passed like it was nothing. At the end of the night, I was almost dizzy from the overwhelming feeling of euphoria. And damn if I didn’t want to do it all over again.