Cher has been a would-be has-been for so long that it's hard to remember a time when she wasn't proving she's still got it.
On Monday night, nearly a decade after the conclusion of her so-called farewell tour in 2005, the 68-year-old pop legend brought a new road show to Staples Center. The arena was full, and so was the stage -- with acrobatic dancers, a seven-piece band and, for one sequence, the detailed makings of a late-19th-century circus. The tour's name, D2K (for Dressed to Kill), ensured an array of extravagant costumes as well.
"It's really nothing," Cher said with a wave to her surroundings following an opening number that paired her thumping empowerment anthems "Woman's World" and "Strong Enough." Then she pivoted, happily owning up to the concert's deluxe spectacle: "What's your granny doing tonight?"
Of course, age -- and the low expectations attached to it -- are just the latest in a series of obstacles Cher has faced over the course of a long career in show business. Halfway through Monday's 90-minute performance, she strung together "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves," "Dark Lady" and "Half-Breed" -- hits from the early '70s about various cultural outsiders -- before playing a collection of movie clips that reminded you how many other misfits she's portrayed onscreen.
The message was clear: Whether it was her low voice, her unconventional beauty or a sense of candor uncommon in glad-handing Hollywood, Cher has always been battling some perceived liability -- a superstar presenting herself as a marginalized figure.
"I don't think that this means that I am somebody," she said in the 1988 Oscar speech that ended that clip reel. "But I guess I'm on my way."
That viewpoint has resounded with younger singers such as Lady Gaga, whose entire artistic mission is about channeling the energy of the outcast. (It also made for a natural fit between Cher and Cyndi Lauper, who opened Monday's show with a set of durable tunes from her 1983 debut, "She's So Unusual.")
But where Gaga turns that alienation into a kind of cartoonish triumphalism, Cher doesn't get too terribly excited about it. For all the glitter and high-tech pageantry -- the enormous feathered headdress, the aerialists balled up inside two miniature planets, the moving platform she rode above the audience toward the back of the venue -- her concert felt reassuringly human, even low-key at points. It gave you a sense of the woman beneath the bedazzled loincloth.
Early in the show, she told a story about being disappointed by a present she'd received from the corporate honchos behind one of her favorite beverages, Dr Pepper. "Is this an appropriate gift for an icon?" she asked, holding up a six-pack-sized cooler for the judgment of the crowd.
Later she admitted she never liked her song "Just Like Jesse James" (but sang it anyway) and described "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" as "the beast" for its demanding vocal leaps. One of two songs she did from her generally unloved 2010 movie musical "Burlesque," the heaving power ballad did indeed put up a fight as things got a bit warbly in the middle (perhaps only to demonstrate that she was singing live).
Cher pushed through to the end, though, then donned a crimped blond wig for the ebullient disco jam "Take It Like a Man," from her appealing 2013 album, "Closer to the Truth." Given the record's relatively low impact on the pop scene, she spent more time on it than expected; there was also "I Hope You Find It," an earnest benediction originally recorded by Miley Cyrus, and, inevitably, the pulsating "Dressed to Kill."
But Cher, scheduled to play Anaheim's Honda Center on Wednesday, reached back too for "The Beat Goes On" and "I Got You Babe," both of which she sang as duets with black-and-white footage of her late partner and husband, Sonny Bono. And she led her fans in fist-pumping singalongs of "If I Could Turn Back Time" and "Believe," each crucial to previous Cher comebacks.
Should we expect another of those sometime after the D2K tour wraps in November? On Monday, she advised against it, insisting that her current show is her final go-round. Then this wily survivor gave a wink the entire arena could see.