Lady Gaga set the bar pretty high for pop concept tours with her Monster Ball trek, but Katy Perry’s current stage show proves she’s certainly up to the challenge – giving rise to the notion that prog rockers have nothing on female pop stars when it comes to high art in performance.
Perry’s two-hour tour de force may not be as envelope-pushing as Gaga’s psycho-sexual spelunking, but there’s a definite surreal edge to the carefully-choreographed storyline (directed and designed by Baz Halpin) – which comes across as something of a G-rated acid trip a la classic H.R. Pufnstuf via a live-action rendition of Candyland.
Despite trace elements of sexuality, Perry’s is a remarkably innocent show, focusing on a warm, non-threatening stripe of girl power and a sisterly sort of bonding (the aud was decidedly female-skewed). Costume changes hit the double-digit range and special effects – like gingerbread men spewing whipped cream – were often inspired.
But what about the music?
Well, that was hit and miss. Perry deserves a pat on the back for eschewing backing vocal tracks – and showcasing a serious set of pipes in the process. Likewise, she merits a thumbs up for effortlessly maintaining a hyper-caffeinated energy level for the set’s first 45 minutes – highlighted by spot-on versions of “Waking Up in Vegas” and “I Kissed a Girl.”
But when it came time to show off her breadth as a performer, things didn’t go quite so well. An overly long set of oddly-chosen covers – Rebecca Black’s “Friday” and Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” among them – seemed more suited to a suburban VFW talent competition than an arena show by one of the world’s most in-demand pop stars
Then again, Perry only has two albums worth of material to draw from, and a palpable desire to give an audience its money’s worth. If she fleshed out her own material – instead of glossing over underrated songs like “Peacock” and “The One That Got Away” – she’d no doubt leave fans more sated.
Perry did pull out all the stops in a lengthy encore, shepherding a controlled-but-cathartic stage invasion, even firing a glitter-spewing bazooka into the crowd, while rolling out her latest hits, including “Firework.” The spectacle was, most assuredly, the thing. But at the end of the evening, one got the feeling she could simply sit down and sing her songs without losing very much in the process. But with sexy gingerbread men at your disposal, why do that?
Katy Perry plays L.A.’s Nokia Theater from August 5th through 7th.