Attending a Katy Perry concert is a bit like a stroll down the Las Vegas strip — a razzmatazz of colors that draws the gaze of parents and kids alike, where fun implores you at every turn, and the sort of gathering where, while in line to grab a bite or see the latest Cirque performance, drag queens stand beside middle-schoolers and no one bats an eye. Perry’s “Witness” tour, which arrived at Los Angeles’ Staples Center this week for a run of shows, however, just might be the biggest wink to ever hit an arena stage.
It’s hard to think of Perry as a veteran at the age of 33, but, as she noted midway through Friday night’s hometown bow, it’s been a decade since her debut album, “One of the Boys,” was released. During that time, she’s only fine-tuned her pop panache and skill at spectacle. As concert productions go, Perry’s is the definition of top-notch and an Instagram dream: a highly choreographed, sensory overloaded assault that sparkles, swings, struts, and even flies. Stage props included a jungle-gym “Little Shop of Horrors”-like creature; a giant pair of Chapsticked lips (Cherry, ‘natch); viral phenom “Left Shark;” lions, roses, and stilts… oh my.
But despite the bells and whistles, the dozen dancers, and the blindingly bright costumes, all eyes, including the floor-to-ceiling LED display projecting stunning video montages and shooting out lasers from its retina, were squarely on Perry, who soon into a 20-song set had the audience of 10,000-plus completely transfixed.
The hits came fast and furious: “Dark Horse” segued into “Chained to the Rhythm,” then “Teenage Dream,” “Hot N Cold,” and “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” the latter even more celebratory considering it was, for many in the crowd, the end of a long week of work or school. Surveying the room, college students from nearby USC and UCLA were well represented, and Perry, the consummate democratic performer, made sure the Electric Daisy-inclined millennials got treated to high-BPM vignettes as well.
The inter-generational appeal of Katy Perry owes much to the singer’s tricky and successful navigation of adult themes with kid-appropriate metaphors, even if the words sometimes get in the way. On “E.T.,” for example, Perry implores “stun me with your lasers.” On “California Gurls,” she promises, “we’ll melt your Popsicle.” In “Bon Appetit,” she coos, “I’m on the menu.” And despite using the F-word a couple times and making mention of marijuana edibles, for the most part, Perry kept her show wholesome and PG-13.
Curiously, where Perry’s songs do get unavoidably racy, like on “I Kissed A Girl,” she softened the subject matter with a G-rated introduction, like having her mom deliver via Skype a message to all assembled: that Los Angeles is the city of angels and those gathered are the messengers. Mary Perry then proceeded to run through a trio of angel-related jokes, one of which landed with a thud. “Why did the angel lose his job?” she asked. “Because he had a heart attack.” An awkward silence fell over the venue and mom and daughter quickly clarified, “a HARP attack.”
If anything, it’s gaffes like these that make Katy Perry arguably the most human of today’s pop stars. At Staples, she deflected an itch, a wedgie and a slight trip without missing a beat. She stopped to regale (read: charm) the audience on several occasions with tales of her past, like recalling performing “Thinking of You” at tiny Hollywood watering hole the Hotel Cafe. She doled out a wish to an 11-year-old fan, and a swish to a dad. She high-fived and engaged.
“Witness” may also be among the more inclusive of today’s pop offerings, particularly, again, when it comes to appealing across all ages. The costumes worn by Perry’s dancers , which included TV sets affixed atop their heads, for example, could be viewed as vintage or futuristic. Breaking into Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” playing the theme to “The Price Is Right,” and featuring the chomp of Pac-Man made the retro nods more obvious to ticket-buying parents.
Still, there’s no denying how thoroughly contemporary Perry has always been, whether it’s turning a mid-tempo rallying call into the smash hit “Roar,” or embracing the stark sting of the street-savvy “Swish Swish.” Ultimately, however, Perry’s purpose is to uplift as she did with the show closer “Firework.” The challenging vocal would have left even the most seasoned of singers spent, but Perry, after 90 minutes of splits, dashes and Zumba-like moves, had stamina to spare.