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Cher talks tax evasion, sings ABBA, pretty much rules at the Xcel

All hail Cher.

All hail Cher. Billy Briggs

The highlight of Cher’s sold-out Saturday night show at the Xcel Energy Center came before the show even began.

Decked out in her opening number Roman empress costume, including a towering and ornate headpiece and a shockingly bright orange wig, Cher wandered to the far side of stage right and peeked her head around the curtain to give fans a good-natured and rather sheepish, goofy wave hello, essentially recreating one of the dozens of times the singer has tweeted out the word “Hi” (and nothing more) to her millions of followers.

Most modern pop stars begin their concerts these days stone-faced and stanced up as though on the brink of war, but this throwaway moment demonstrated exactly what’s allowed Cher’s career to endure for nearly 60 years: There’s never been a moment where it has paid for her to take herself too seriously.

On the eve of her 73rd birthday, Cher doubled down on every trait that’s come to define her Cher-ness throughout the decades. Showstopping vocals? Check. Self-deprecating humor? Check. Campy and seemingly endless costume changes? Oh, you better believe that’s a check.

Surrounded by 10 scantily clad dancers dressed as gladiators, Cher kicked the night off with a pair of self-empowerment anthems, 2013’s “Women’s World” and 1998’s “Strong Enough.” She then instructed the audience to take a seat for a section of the show it’s hard to imagine any other diva this side of Dolly Parton being able to pull off: a 15-minute monologue that covered everything from tax evasion, honing her comedy chops at Canadian dinner theaters with Sonny Bono, looking better at 40 than “Nicky Cage” at 21, Jack Nicholson being a sexist pig, and how she milked Dave Letterman out of $28,000 to finally appear on his show only to call him an asshole on air. The rambling stories and barrage of one-liners were the perfect career retrospective for an entertainer who has always leaned hard into her natural charisma and general zaniness. She was sipping Dr Pepper from a massive tumbler the entire time.

The show then globetrotted from Rome to India with another costume change and an appearance from the giant mechanical elephant that has marked the “Gayatri Mantra” and “All or Nothing” pairing Cher has included in her last couple of farewell tours. A heartwarming video montage dedicated to her career and complicated romance with the late Sonny Bono played as the stage was transformed into a take on the couple’s classic variety show set. Following a mod-inspired “The Beat Goes On,” Cher pulled a Natalie Cole and sang “I Got You Babe” as a duet with Bono appearing via video screen, a sweet nostalgia play for a crowd that swung heavily in favor of Boomers.

Cher’s always seemed a bit prouder of her acting than her music (maybe rightfully so), and the middle portion of the show was dedicated to her movie career. A sexy cabaret number from the 2010 flop (and burgeoning cult classic) “Burlesque” segued into the ABBA covers she sang on last year’s chart-topping collection, Dancing Queen, and in her glorified cameo from last summer’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Somewhat surprisingly forgoing the crowd-pleasing “Dancing Queen” itself, Cher and her candy-colored dancers instead performed a trio of “Waterloo,” “SOS,” and her movie character’s solo moment, “Fernando.” Unfortunately, the last number was delivered at the top of a staircase, where set decorations fully blocked the singer from view for most of the arena.

As fun as ABBA hits can be, their inclusion meant Cher had to skip some of her ’70s classics—anyone expecting “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” “Dark Lady,” or “Half Breed” went home a bit disappointed. And great as the sparkly gold ensemble she performed it in was, I also doubt many in attendance would have chosen her Peter Cetera duet “After All” over something like her shimmering disco hit “Take Me Home.”

Also, Cher disappeared too often. Her appeal may be intrinsically linked to over-the-top Bob Mackie costume changes and fully ROYGBIV spectrum of wigs, it’s probably not the best pacing decision to execute full outfit changeovers for just a single song. Still, Cher more than made up for abbreviated stage time with a winning tail section, including her searing take on Marc Cohen’s “Walking in Memphis” (which will always remind me of that classic black-and-white episode of The X-Files in case any of you are looking for something to watch on Hulu later this week).

Even better was her set-closing foray into ’80s hair metal excess, during which the 73-year-old (I say it again because, seriously, it bears repeating) donned the iconic and revealing skintight black bodysuit she wore in the “If I Could Turn Back Time” video. The jaw-dropping reveal of the infamous V-stripped backside brought new meaning to the “What’s your granny doing tonight?” quip Cher made earlier in the evening.

After an amusingly dated dubstep dance break that was stuck in the amber of 2011, Cher emerged one final time to sing her career re-defining classic, “Believe.” It’s a song that has become a fitting emblem for an entertainer who’s had more unlikely career rebounds and second (and third, and fourth, and likely infinite) acts than is probable in an industry as fickle and ageist as show biz.

Cher once hilariously tweeted, “What’s going on with mycareer [sic].” Based on the charm and unbridled talent on display during her umpteenth farewell stop, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.

Click here to see photos of Cher at Xcel

Critical bias: A lifelong Cher admirer seeing her in the flesh for the first time, I can say her magnetism truly cannot be understood in full until she’s right there in front of you. For the record, I consider her “can anyone c me” tweet the single greatest argument that Twitter is actually good and not wholly evil.

The crowd: Well, it was exactly what you’d expect. Dig the amount of people having fun unleashing their inner showgirls despite the looming threat of a thunderstorm on the way out. Sequins, fringe, and feather boas galore.

Random notebook dump: Cher expressed her gratitude for the bottle of champagne gifted to her by the Xcel by saying “Thank you, building.”

Notes on the opener: Dancefloor classics courtesy of funk/disco/R&B/dance/soul legends Nile Rodgers and Chic, including Chic’s own hits (“Le Freak,” “Good Times”) and covers of tracks by other Rodgers-produced artists (“Get Lucky,” “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” “Let’s Dance”). Those greasy basslines and true powerhouse vocals from current Chic member Kimberly Davis easily won the crowd over. Rodgers, perhaps aware of Cher’s long-simmering and playful feud with Madonna, wisely downplayed his contributions to Madge’s Like a Virgin album.

Setlist
Woman’s World
Strong Enough
Gayatri Mantra / All or Nothing
The Beat Goes On
I Got You Babe
Welcome to Burlesque
Waterloo [ABBA cover]
SOS [ABBA cover]
Fernando [ABBA cover]
After All
Walking in Memphis [Marc Cohn cover]
The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss) [Betty Everett cover]
I Found Someone [Michael Bolton cover]
If I Could Turn Back Time
Believe