No matter what you think about her music, you have to give Katy Perry this: at least she’s honest about her ambitions. During the Los Angeles stop of her “Hello Katy” tour the Wiltern Theater Saturday night, she told the squealing, sold-out house “I’ve lived in Los Angeles eight years, trying to make it.”
Viewed though this prism of careerism (Perry thanks her managers, lawyers, agents and record company more often than she thanks her fans) both Perry’s quick ascent and her chilly, calculated 75-minute concert made sense. “I gotta leave my mark/I gotta run it hard/I want you to remember me,” she sings in the show’s insistent opening number, “Fingerprints.” The rest of the show betrayed the attitude of someone whose biggest imperative is success: She reserves for herself the right to act however she wants; everyone else must fall into the role she demands they play: adoring Katy Perry.
When being a tomboy fails to attract some boy’s attention, she changes to pearls and dresses in “One Of The Boys” (the title track to her Capitol album); a boy she can’t win over is derided as a “Mannequin”; the skinny indie-rocking subject of “UR So Gay” isn’t into men (although he does read Ernest Hemingway, marking perhaps the first incidence where the author of “The Son Also Rises” is invoked as a gay icon), he’s just not into her. And she doesn’t even know the object of her fleeting affection’s name in “I Kissed A Girl,” she’s only a conduit for Perry to get more attention.
Perry sings these songs in brassy contralto; it stops just short of the old-fashioned chest thumping of Ethel Merman and Liza Minnelli by the addition of a New Wave hiccup at the end of most phrases. The music mixes elements of the New Wave with modern pop constructions — the snaky synth lines slipping through the chunky guitars during “One Of The Boys” is reminiscent of the Cars, while the caffeinated keyboard bass that throbs underneath “Hot N Cold” combines a throbbing, electropop keyboard bassline with a streamlined chorus that could just as easily shown up on an Ashlee or Britney song. And her idea of a classic ’80s song–performed, she explains, to give the moms in the aud something to dance to–is the Outfield’s “I Don’t Want To Lose Your Love Tonight.”
But when she tried to display some real emotion, Perry fell short. The solo “I’m Still Breathing”–an attempt to showcase her singer/songwriter bona fides, as well as the only song in which she takes any responsibility for anything–failed to connect, as did “Lost,” a self-pitying, hung-over ballad. And for all of Perry’s attempts to play the naughty, good girl gone bad–the occasional curses, the talk of hot boys, the pulling up her dress to reveal her panties–her perf generated little heat. She’s not looking to steal anyone’s boyfriend, she assures the couples in the crowd, just turn them into “stalker fans.” Perry may look like a flapper with her Louise Brooks bob and flirty gold dress (she changes into a leopard print catsuit for the encore), she may bend over and shake her butt during the mercenary “If You Can Afford Me,” and grind against her white (with glow in the dark piping) suited band, but there’s no doubt that for her, desire is a one way street. That she’s candid about it doesn’t you feel any less used when it’s over.
Perry plays New York’s Fillmore at Irving Plaza April 7-9.