Cheryl Wheeler was at turns funny, tender and socially conscious – but mostly funny – always folksy and 100-percent entertaining during her better-late-than-cancelled, March 24 performance in Columbus.
Originally slated for November 2017, postponed because of illness, rescheduled and postponed again as sickness lingered, Wheeler returned to Columbus’ Six String concert series – her 15th appearance in the series’ 30-year-history – and erased any doubt that she’s worth re-arranging your calendar to see.
Seated and accompanying herself on ukulele and guitar, the 66-year-old Wheeler talked about recently making her will with wife, Kathleen, before launching into the hilarious “If I Die Before You.” She remembered putting on a bracelet for their wedding day – “any more than a bracelet and I look like Klinger,” she said to raucous laughter. And Wheeler punked the ASL interpreter next to her on stage, saying, “You have to say everything I say, right?” before talking about how weird and sloppy Cheryl Wheeler looks when she plays a concert.
And she talked about her dogs – including a terrier named … “Kitty.”
“I had an aunt named Kitty and we never got confused,” Wheeler said in defending the name.
Her sarcastic and ironic rendition of Jack Jones’ “Wives and Lovers” summed up Wheeler’s personality perfectly – self-deprecating, funnier than most stand-up comics, in possession of a lovely singing voice and a songwriter full of clever melodies make that songs like “I Like My Husband Better Than My Wife” and “My Inflatable Plane,” tunes that would be little more than novelty songs in lesser performers’ hands, strikingly effective.
Wheeler pulled out the 30-year-old – and prescient – “If it Were Up to Me” near the end of the second of two 40-minute sets and proved that despite her love of humor, and the song’s punky arrangement, she’s a folk singer at heart:
“Maybe it’s the art, maybe it’s the sex/maybe it’s the homeless, maybe it’s the banks/maybe it’s the clearcut, maybe it’s the ozone/maybe it’s the chemicals, maybe it’s the car phones/maybe it’s the fertilizer, maybe it’s the nose rings/maybe it’s the end, but I know one thing/if it were up to me, I’d take away the guns,” she sang as the audience exploded in applause.
A queen of contrasts, Wheeler feted a fan – a fellow New Englander who just happened to be on the same flight in the seat next to the singer – with “Happy Birthday.” She followed up with a second, minor-key version, a total downer, in the name of music education.
No fan of encores, Wheeler’s “fake last song” was a love letter to Kathleen called “Gandhi/Buddha” in which she sings of karma and muses, “I must’ve been Gandhi or Buddha or someone like that/I must’ve saved lives by the hundreds everywhere I went/I must’ve brought rest to the restless, fed the hungry, too … to get to have you.”
She followed with Kathleen’s version – “Contra Gandhi/Buddha.”
“I must’ve been Hitler or Satan or something like that … and drowned some puppies, too … to have to have you.”
We laughed – so hard we cried.
And we looked forward to the next Cheryl Wheeler concert and the opportunity to hear the things we missed while doubled over in hysterics.