Review: Cher turns back time at Little Caesars Arena

The 72-year-old living legend took a tour through her greatest moments during her latest farewell concert Tuesday night

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Cher performs at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit  on Feb. 12, 2019.

Cher was two songs into her set at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday when she started talking about the time she owed the government $278,000 in back taxes. 

"It's a fabulous story," she said, and she went on to rattle off a 15-minute monologue that touched on playing dinner theaters at a casino in Windsor, stories of working with Dave Letterman, Jack Nicholson and "Nicky" Cage ("I was 40 and he was 21, and honestly I looked better than he did," she said), her days at Studio 54, birthday cakes and the "two nights" she turned 40. All, seemingly, off the top of her head.  

The larger theme of the story, and the night overall, was the passing of time, a common theme in Cher's work. That the 72-year-old has managed to survive a six-decade showbiz career and still look fabulous is a testament to her incredible staying power and her living-legend status. And if she's a little loopy, too, well that comes with the territory. 

"This is me, you came to see me," she said midway through her tale. "This is what you get." 

What fans got Tuesday was a 16-song, 95-minute celebration of Cher's career, heavy on outfit swaps, wig changes and nostalgia.

There was a short set of ABBA tunes (but no "Dancing Queen." What gives?), a nod to last year's set of ABBA covers and her appearance in the "Mamma Mia" sequel; a gladiator-themed intro set to "Woman's World"; a duet from beyond with Sonny Bono ("I Got You Babe"); a random cover of Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis," which followed a story about Elvis; a throwback to "The Beat Goes On," her 1966 single that some of the younger audience members may have recognized from its cover by Britney Spears (which itself just turned 20); and even a nod to her 2010 movie "Burlesque."

The big guns came out, literally, during "If I Could Turn Back Time," when cannons from the battleship from the music video were displayed on the two-tiered stage's video screens. Cher, already eight outfits deep into the night, strutted onto stage in a black wig, black leather jacket and a sheer, form-fitting catsuit reminiscent of the one she wore in the song's music video. And yes, she rocked it, giving off a defiant attitude that belied her years.

The singer was backed by a team of dancers who shouldered most of the evening's choreography; Cher's moves were limited to light steps, hip shakes and shoulder shimmies. Her vocals were undeniably live, as evidenced by her flub on "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)," in which she cracked up on the microphone after missing a line. (She quickly recovered, and it was a charming human moment.)  

The outfit changes led to a lot of downtime in the show, spaces that were filled with video interludes, dance breaks and guitar solos that would be better served in a theater setting rather than an arena. But the big moments delivered, and the closing performance of "Believe," complete with red wig and slinky outfit, was a worthy closer.  

Yes, her current outing is billed a farewell tour, but those have come and gone before. Was Tuesday night the last time she'll perform in Detroit? It's possible, but don't bet against Cher coming back around and serving up another round of fashions, stories and dance hits. 

"What is your granny doing tonight?" Cher asked early in the evening, and if anybody has an answer that topped what Cher was doing, let's see it. 

Nile Rodgers and Chic warmed up the stage early in the night with a blazing set of disco, funk, R&B and soul that got the older-skewing crowd up and moving. Rodgers makes a convincing case for being one of the world's greatest living musicians, with a catalog that spans "I Want Your Love" to "I'm Coming Out" to "Let's Dance" and "Get Lucky." On Tuesday night, he was opening for an icon, but he's every bit an icon himself.