Accompanied by a phalanx of golden shield-carrying gladiators, The Goddess of Pop strode onstage last night in a massive afro and shimmering turquoise and silver ensemble that exposed one singular, very buff, perfectly rounded butt cheek. Seventy is the new twenty, if it’s Cher we’re talking about. Glamorous, fit and fierce, she seized the night with style and purpose, opening to deafening cheers with, “This Is a Woman’s World”.
A two-tiered Moroccan palace with central dome served as backdrop for a myriad of cultural themes as Cher took her fans through an intimate tour of her life before during and after the Sonny Bono years in her latest show, CLASSIC CHER. Projected above the stage were vintage videos of her childhood interspersed with film clips from her movies and bits from her three CBS variety shows – TheSonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Cher and the short-lived The Sonny & Cher Show. For fans of the raven-haired beauty this was solid gold. (Sony’s Get.TV runs the shows on Monday nights)
Just as riveting were snapshots of the clothes she wore – the bejeweled Bob Mackie gowns, the Op Art Mary Quant miniskirts and white go-go boots of the mid-60’s, the tie-dyed shirts and bell-bottoms of the psychedelic era – that brought back memories of Cher’s major influence on the pop fashion scene. There was no mistaking that this show was as much about her spectacular wardrobe as her Grammy-winning pop songs, as she took us through the history of the music, costumes and wigs from the mid 1960’s and throughout the history of her meteoric career.
As the pop diva regaled fans with personal stories about her life and times both on stage and off, she sang duets with Sonny on video of some of their most fondly remembered songs – “The Beat Goes On”, the 1965 hit “All I Really Want to Do” and “I Got You Babe”, the closing number in the pair’s first show and a song she’s been reluctant to sing in the past, fearful she’d break down in tears.
Surrounded by nine dancers, some doubling as acrobats perched high above the stage, Cher made as many as ten costume changes to dovetail with her greatest hits. There were grass-skirted African dancers, a burlesque scene from a Berlin cabaret, Cher in hot pink veils a la Scheherazade, a life-size faux elephant that emerged for the circus-themed “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”, and of course, the full-feathered Indian headdress that she wore for the 1973 song, “Half-Breed” which was only her second US solo number.
Between snippets of songs, laser lights, Pop Art graphics and video footage, the Oscar-winning actress told of her musical influences – Tito Puente, Hank Williams and ultimately Elvis who above all inspired her to take risks. And isn’t that what this show is all about. Cher, backed by five musicians, proving that the beat does indeed still go on.
Last night all twelve members of the tribute group for The Band gave a master class in blues, rockabilly, New Orleans jazz, country, honky-tonk and American roots music. The elite touring group celebrated The Band’s historic last concert which had been held in San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in 1976. The Theater at MGM National Harbor was the last stop on the 11-city tour.
The Band. Photo courtesy of MGM Grand National Harbor.
Kicking off the set with the lighthearted drinking anthem, “Cripple Creek,” replete with the requisite yodeling and funky wah-wah twangs, fans got ready to get loose, get fired up and sing along. A mostly older crowd was to be expected – what wasn’t expected were the 30-somethings that also knew the words, and were just as amped.
The original group consisted of four Canadians and one American musician who came up in the late 50’s under different incarnations and continued on until 1977, re-forming in 1983 and lasting through 1999. It consisted of legendary musicians Rick Danko (now deceased), Garth Hudson (a recent Rock and Rock Hall of Fame inductee), Richard Manuel (now deceased), Levon Helm, and Robbie Robertson, who hooked up with Bob Dylan in 1965.
That’s the history for those who may have pulled a Rip Van Winkle on the rock scene, but this was another chance to make history with musicians who had already made their bones in the industry.
Jamey Johnson, singer/guitarist and songwriter for the likes of Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, George Strait, Merle Haggard, and others, kicked off the first number. He was accompanied by Michael McDonald, vocalist, and keyboardist for Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, Van Halen, Aretha Franklin, and Patti LaBelle; Musical Director and bassist Don Was, who counts 25 years under his belt producing the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, and Hootie and the Blowfish; tour director and vocalist, Warren Haynes, formerly of the Allman Brothers and master of the slide guitar; John Medeski jazz/funk keyboardist; New Orleans drummer Terence Higgins, member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; “Steady Rollin’ ” Bob Margolin, vocalist and funky blues rock guitarist for the late Muddy Waters; the singing Neville Brothers, Ivan on keyboards and Cyril on conga drums; and trombonist Mark Mullins of Bonerama using the original horn arrangements of the late, great Allen Toussaint.
The Band. Photo courtesy of MGM Grand National Harbor.
Joining the group on this final stop was 79-year old original band member Garth Hudson who brought his legendary mad skills to the keyboard. A master of the Lowery organ and eight other instruments, Hudson, who appeared with flowing white beard and locks covered by a large black felt hat, walked gingerly to the piano and showed he’s still got the stuff. Amazingly he riffed and switched from classical music to funk to blues on “The Weight” and “I Shall Be Released,” divining from the music gods a five-minute, free-form, solo lead-in to “Genetic Method.”
A four-man horn section traded off instruments to include sax, clarinet, with a solo turn on McDonald’s “Stage Fright” and “Ophelia”; French horn on a somewhat tamer version of “Wheels on Fire”; tuba, especially effective on “Mystery Train” and Johnson’s low and slow version of “Georgia on My Mind”; and trumpet on “Such a Night”, a song that wasn’t in their original set list. McDonald pulled out his banjo for “Rag, Mama, Rag” and Margolin, who played with Muddy Waters at the Woodstock festival, ripped up the stage on slide guitar in “Mannish Boy.” Cyril Nevill sang on “Who Do You Love” – a number reminiscent of Dr. John and the Night Tripper and the gris-gris sound that came up from the swamps of New Orleans.
A massive backup horn sound was felt throughout, reminiscent of the early days of Joe Cocker and later in 70’s Rolling Stones when saxophonist Bobby Keys came on board. And though this was billed as a tribute concert celebrating the past glories of an iconic band, it was not stuck in the past and offered up free flowing jams, and a fresh interpretation of The Band’s original hits.
Running Time: Three hours and 30 minutes,with one 20-minute intermission.
The Band performed for one-night-only on February 4, 2017, at The Theater at The MGM National Harbor – 101 MGM National Avenue, in Oxon Hill, MD. For tickets to call the box office at (800) 745-3000, or purchase them online.