It started with a song, which accidentally became an anthem, and now has inspired -- as host Margaret Cho introduced Saturday's five-hour spectacle -- the world's first all-gay-icon music festival. The True Colors tour, which takes its name from Cyndi Lauper's 1986 hit, benefits the Human Rights Campaign, and nowhere was the show's message about celebrating freedom and diversity more powerful than in its lineup of performers -- not so much in the sound of the music but in each artist's unique celebration of the outsider.
Lauper, who conceived and organized the 15-city summer tour, is both an impassioned consciousness-raiser and a wacky entertainer. She persuaded us to write postcards to senators and later -- bounding barefoot across the stage in a black minidress and wig , leather harness, and enormous rainbow hat -- convinced us that time doesn't have to rob a person of her fashion sense, her sense of fun, or her excellent pipes.
Despite persistent technical problems, Lauper belted exuberant renditions of "Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)," "Money Changes Everything," and "Girls Just Wan na Have Fun," as well a handful of strong new tunes. She brought "new old friends" on stage for a pair of wonderful duets -- the Gossip's Beth Ditto sang on "Time After Time" and Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer joined Lauper on her irrepressible cover of Prince's "When U Were Mine . " She also brought most of the night's performers back for a final, galvanizing singalong of "True Colors."
Debbie Harry fared less well. She dressed the New Wave part (tiny silver skirt and lots of red patent leather) but ignored the Blondie catalog in favor of less memorable solo material -- "French Kissing in the USA" and "Rush Rush" -- and thin pop-rockers from her forthcoming album "Necessary Evil." Harry's legend is alive, though, and her face was plastered on a T-shirt worn by Erasure frontman Andy Bell, who, with keyboardist partner Vince Clarke, a trio of female singers, and a boatload of synth-pop anthems, turned the Pavilion into a giant disco. Bell is as flamboyant and theatrical as ever, and new dance-floor gems like "Sunday Girl" and "I Could Fall in Love with You" defied the years.
Rufus Wainwright was a special guest on the Boston date, but that didn't stop him from bringing a blowsy, seven-piece band (sporting an eye-popping assortment of stripes and an over-the-top sensibility to match) to play lush pop from his new album, "Release the Stars." More than a gay icon, Wainwright is an audacious voice for emotional expatriates of all persuasions.
The evening's first two acts were tremendous -- at making music and breaking molds. The Dresden Dolls plumbed the farthest corners of dubious sexuality with a riveting mix of wit, hooks, and intensity, while lo-fi dance-punk trio the Gossip -- fronted by riot grrrl/soul diva Ditto -- upended conventional wisdom about what a rock star looks like and what a rock song sounds like.