In the history of traveling pop music outings, there’s probably never been a better first 10 seconds of any tour than the opening of Pink’s current show. After a small eternity in which the audience is left gazing at a reddish curtain, increasingly indented as unknowable pieces of staging are pushed into place, it suddenly drops and the crowd is immediately plunged into a “Get the Party Started” that appears to have already started a few hours earlier. A dozen bits of business are happening with the dancers, musicians and props, but at or hovering over the center of it all is Pink, hanging from a quadruple-scale chandelier that is already deep into pendulum mode.
The waste-no-time audaciousness of opening the show with this “joined already in progress” moment is kind of as if Cecil B. DeMille decided to dispense with preliminaries and start “The Ten Commandments” right as the parting of the Red Sea is happening, or the “Jaws” shark leaped out of the water in a jump cut right from the Universal logo. You had to suspect she was not getting the show’s climax out of the way before the opening chorus shifted to the first verse, but it was hard not to laugh out loud at the feeling that might be what was happening with this 0-to-120 turbo launch.
On Friday night at the Forum, the remaining two hours did not, in fact, register as an elongated anticlimax, with Pink’s ability to execute sequentially more impressive and physically challenging set pieces probably not coming as a surprise to anyone who’s watched two or more music awards shows this century. Friday’s show in Inglewood, following on the heels of other southern California arena dates in Anaheim, Ontario and across town at Staples Center, marked the closing night of the three-month, 38-city North American first leg of her “Beautiful Trauma” world tour. For any less severely athletic singer, the near-constant intermingling of dance and risk-baiting stuntwork might be a ticket to the trauma ward. But she makes “acrobat-diva” seem like the most natural career-day hyphenation in the world.
Cutting to the chase demands revealing what the real climax of the show actually is (this will be a spoiler only for those who plan on checking out the tour’s return to the states in March through May of next year, including a reprise visit to the Forum on April 19, 2019): That would be the penultimate number, “So What,” in which Pink turns herself into a human slingshot, zigzagging at slow and fast speeds through most of the airspace of the ticketed part of the arena, via a series of elastic contraptions that seem like they must be a life insurance salesman’s dream. I can say without too much fear of hyperbole that, in decades of concert-going and reviewing, Pink’s is the most “holy f—ing s—“ act of physicality I’ve ever seen as part of a pop show. That she almost certainly seems to be singing live during this and most of the other gyroscopic numbers was a cherry on top, in an age where most young divas cut to the pre-record the second the choreography kicks in.
Well, it’s more than a cherry. Pre-muscle mass, Pink’s vocal prowess was her original raison d’etre. And there are a few occasions in these couple of hours that she does shut off the gymnastics and sing — including the now-requisite semi-acoustic turn with some of her band members at center stage midway through the set, and again for the final encore number, “Glitter in the Air,” which feels like one of the few tunes where she’s not in the air at some point, on ropes or just being flipped over the backs of her dance squad. On these grounded occasions, you start to think: Wouldn’t it be nice if she could do at least a tour where she did nothing but show off her exquisite and powerful voice, foregoing the massive pageantry and really focusing exclusively on what’s at the heart of the music? But then she goes into another eye-popping showpiece, and you correct yourself: No. Let’s hope that never happens.
It’s worth noting, anyway, that Pink is touring behind one of her better recordings, also titled “Beautiful Trauma” (a little belatedly — those ropes and insurance take time to set up). And it wasn’t even a “video album,” so the opportunity to hear the material and experience it as more of an emotional experience than a Barnum & Cirque extravaganza is there… at home. She’s on a tier right now shared only by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, the only solo superstars who are able to write or co-write bracingly autobiographical material and then turn it into the Greatest Show on Earth without seeming like they’re selling out the material’s original, personal impulses.
Pink is a little less concerned than Swift is on her current tour with trying to make each piece of the production fit the theme she’s singing about. Sometimes clever set design, like the melting lampposts in the opening numbers here, doesn’t need a lot of justification. A good pas de deux can fit a lot of love songs, of course. This show’s second-biggest corker, after the warp-speed solo elasticity of “So What,” is the mid-show “Secrets,” where Pink and one of her buffest male dancers take to ropes over the center ramp and do a visual duet that has them taking turns becoming a human platform to hold the other up… along with some more sensual interlocking. It’s the one time in the show where Pink did not seem to be wearing any kind of safety harness.
A couple of choices in the set don’t hold up to her best material. “Just Give Me a Reason,” her duet with Nate Ruess, is kind of looking for a reason to belong in the show — not least of all when Ruess appears on a video screen to recreate his part. Why do pop stars feel convinced that fans will balk if a celeb that contributed a featured vocal years ago isn’t represented on tape? The same problem seemed to afflict “Revenge,” her duet with Eminem from the latest album — at least until an amusingly caricaturized inflatable of the rapper that appeared to be 10 times Pink’s size was wheeled onto the ramp. She took to the ropes (naturally) to take some stabs at kicking the massive balloon’s head, though it perhaps didn’t go as planned on this particular night. “I think Marshall kicked my ass tonight,” she said afterward.
That was almost as rough as the language got, which may have been a surprise for anyone familiar only with the F-bomb-peppered explicit versions of her albums. “F—in’ Perfect” was rendered “You Are Perfect,” which loses a little in the G-rated translation. But Pink, who brought her own young daughter on stage with a giant lollipop at night’s end, is apparently okay with sacrificing a bit of her trademark directness for the chance to endow some of the mom-and-daughter couplings in the audience with empowerment messages. Without overselling the social conscience ingredient, these were present in a repeat of Pink’s pro-androgyny speech from last summer’s MTV Awards that covered for a costume-and-set change, and another awareness montage incorporating everything from her UNICEF ambassadorship to quick-flash call-outs for #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Resist, nasty women and marriage-minded gay men.
These messages were probably too blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em to deeply aggravate whatever conservative fans might have been on hand, but they did serve to add context to the song that followed, “What About Us,” as moving an expression of political ennui in downtrodden times as we’ve had in pop music. It’s as brilliantly subtle as protest songs get, and for once her cast of otherwise jubilant dancers was charged with the mission of looking a little beaten down. The depressed part of the show didn’t last long, but even a short acknowledgement of how badly we need the celebration the rest of the show represents was flippin’ perfect.
Extra kudos to Pink for not only calling out every one of her musicians and dancers during the course of the show — only one reason why it ran well over curfew — but for including a credits roll after the encore that acknowledged the rest of the principals, too. How else would we know that the great Bob Mackie was responsible for additional costuming?