Rarely do I take the time out of my oh so busy schedule of blogging, listening to music and fantasizing about being Chord Overstreet’s kissing practice partner to review concerts but this one is a special occasion. I shelled out the money and blocked out the time in my rather empty social calendar to fulfill my gay civic duty and see Miss Britney Spears in concert. Now, this was not my first time seeing Spears lip-sync live: I attended her last outting, The Circus Tour, and was pretty satisfied and pleased. As you know from checking out the blog or following me on Twitter, I’m a rather big Britney fan but her live performances and tours can be rather hit-or-miss. Everyone gushes and swoons over the Dream Within A Dream Tour, by far her best and most popular, even though it features the music of one of her often-times overlooked Britney album from the Crossroads debacle. So still, how’d our fearless femme fatale do?
Well, let’s start with my minor gripes and (expected) bitchy complaints: the opening acts. Part of the whole appeal of this tour was that you were really getting the bang for your buck with the double billing of not only Britney Spears but Nicki Minaj. Well, if you’ve attended some of the later tour dates, Nicki Minaj is out and replaced by some not-so-great acts. In her place at the August 24, Raleigh, N.C., show were the duo Destinee & Paris and DJ Pauly D of Jersey Shore fame. Where to begin, where to begin. Destinee & Paris was a group totally unknown to me and after this tour experience they shall remain that way. Don’t get me wrong: they seem like grounded, nice girls fit for a Disney channel show but they honestly did not belong in this tour whatsoever. There was nothing more awkward than having everyone scratch their heads asking, “Who are they?” And seeing two Miley Cyrus-like blond girls up on stage doing the cabbage patch, running man and other awkward dance moves was just unbearable.
As for DJ Pauly D, I’ve heard mixed reviews and reactions. Many have said he’s great, wonderful, gets the crowd going and prepped. I’m sorry, but these people are f*cking delusional. HE WAS AWFUL. All this guy did was stand in the middle of the stage holding headphones to his head acting like he was listening to somebody or something important and played music off his computer. I am NOT exaggerating. Every now and then he’d put the headphones down and would yell, “How you doin’ North Carolina! I wanna see you fist pump! Wow, I didn’t know you guys knew how to fist pump!” Uh … you think people are mentally challenged that it takes a four year course and degree to fist pump? And the “music” he played was just … I mean, it was nothing to get excited about. They were just really bad gay club remixes to songs like Rihanna’s “Only Girl In the World” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.” And since our tour stop didn’t get Nicki Minaj he tossed in a “Where Dem Girls At” … but it wasn’t even remixed. I could’ve done his job with my scratched up but reliable 3,000+ songs on my iPod. Not impressed. Though, to be fair, all the girls seemed to dig him and he only addressed the females in the audience. I guess he was unaware that this is a Britney Spears concert and that you have girls and gays in attendance? Anyways …
The Main Event
The “pre-show” started close to 8pm; Britney did not make her debut until 9:30pm. As with the Circus Tour, this one had an agonizing 40-minute countdown to when Britney’s set was to start. When it finally did I went from being highly annoyed to super gay and excited with anticipation for what was to come. This tour had a rather nice backdrop/theme that ties the show together. Basically, it opens with a video: Britney’s a fugitive and on the run! She’s in nothing but a sequin-studded swimsuit running around in heels with fabulous hair and makeup and the police are after her. They finally catch her but she flexes some muscle and escapes their clutches. I couldn’t help but to think this was more of a motif of what happens every night in the Spears compound when she tries to escape and elude her father and handlers. Still, it was a nice opening that sort of picks up where the Circus Tour ended (where Britney performed ‘Womanizer’ dressed as a sexy cop with sirens blaring all over). “Hold It Against Me” plays off of the police/fugitive theme. It’s pretty much the same live performance with a slightly different beat and bass to make it a tad bit more epic. It wasn’t as thrilling of an opening as the wonderfully choreographed “Circus” opening was for the last tour but it was still fun.
The show keeps the party going with “Up N’ Down” which Britney performed in a cage with the police. There wasn’t much dancing here but she withered and slinked her way in and out of her cage/prison. “3” followed and though I love the song, the performance felt a little weird and awkward. She’s dressed in a short white trench coat and hat with big cheap sunglasses. Throughout the performance “flashes” the audience. It was cute, it was okay, it was nice for her to bring out one of her few number one songs for a show outing. Next she ditched the coat and took to her rising platform to do “Piece of Me” in a mask. Again, there wasn’t a lot of dancing per se but posing and swaying/grinding of the hips.
After a quick change she moved into “Big Fat Bass.” Now, I know it’s a track that a lot of people seem to dislike just for the sake of it featuring will.i.AM. There wasn’t a lot to the performance but the track got the crowd hype and excited. Sure, for part of the performance she simply sits and pops her chest and at our show spent a few moments adjusting her outfit before doing a little dance in the middle, but it was one of the memorable moments where the entire audience was turned into a big club/rave experience. While I’ve never been a fan of “How I Roll” you can tell it’s one of Britney’s favorite tracks because she actually came to life, interacted with the crowd a bit, made some cute expressions and got into the choreography more so than she did with any other song up to this point. I was surprised that she brought out the odd-ball song of Circus “Lace and Leather” and turned it into a burlesque number, choosing one of the most unattractive guys she could possibly find in the audience and basically giving him a lap danced topped with leaping onto his shoulders and wrapping her legs around his neck (with the assistance of a stripper pole). It was all in good fun and got the crowd laughing and probably make this poor ole chump’s life. This section ended with a really odd, bland performance of “If You Seek Amy.” I wasn’t at all fond of the mix: it took the bite out of the song and tried to make it too cutesy and burlesque-like with a Marilyn Monroe skirt-moment but … it just didn’t work for me and I found myself watching the video backdrop more so than her.
Next came an interlude with the show’s other character, a guy who’s obsessed with Spears and her “femme fatale” ways making a recording about finding and catching her. I liked the interludes only because they pulled the entire show together and made feel a bit more cinematic. In the interludes you see a lot of Britney’s music videos and well-known photos featured and all her different looks/characters and the guy is commenting on how she’s a seductress who is often changing her looks and appearances to woo and trick men. It worked for me, I like to think there’s something pulling together all her videos and work thus far. After he alludes to the fact that she’s part of a long line of femme fatales we get the much talked about “Gimme More” performance. Oh gosh, I’ve seen clips and didn’t feel moved by it but seeing it all happen in front of me on stage made me a believer. Dressed in a golden outfit, Britney comes out on an Egyptian boat singing a song she rarely seems to acknowledge considering it came from her notorious “breakdown” era. She owned the stage. The mix was hard-hitting, the posing and hand gestures she does nowadays fit and she seemed more confident than ever. “Drop Dead (Beautiful)” seemed to be another crowd pleaser, though there really wasn’t much to this performance and it already had an uphill battle following “Gimme More.” There are frames, she prances across the stage and interacts with the dancers. Oh yeah, and the video backdrop features a muscle, fit man and his ass. That (as you can imagine) had my attention more so than her performance. “Boys” came next and really, this was my least favorite number. The tour mix is very Bollywood and it simply does not work and feels confused, backwards and awkward. I’d have chosen to cut this over say “Burning Up” or “He About to Lose Me” because it definitely slammed the breaks on all the hype this Egyptian section had going for it. Next came “Don’t Let Me Be the Last To Know” which felt oddly familiar to what she did for the Circus Tour; she sat in a swing and lip-synced to the track while a hot fit guy twirls and does gymnastics around her. Okay! We get it, it’s your most popular ballad. Can we move on to something that’s NOT performed to death say uh, ahem, “He About to Lose Me” or “Criminal”? Hell, even break out and dust off “E-Mail My Heart” for that matter.
Things (thankfully) changed with the next set that was all up beat, sex-driven and club-ready. In cut off jeans and a sequined top Britney re-emerges to do a fun version of “Baby One More Time” on a motorcycle. Again, it worked for me, it was fun, it got the crowd once again interested and hype. Britney quickly segued into a short version of her “S&M” remix with Rihanna. Again, you can tell she felt more at ease when things got a bit more sexual and naughty-themed. She smiled more, she made more facial expressions to play with the crowd, she even moved a bit more freely and less stiffly. She moved into “Trouble for Me” which had me on the fence. It’s a track that while I like it, I often skip it because it gets boring and monotonous quickly. She did her best to make it fit into this sex/party theme and sort of pulled it off. The performance part of it had her interacting more with her male dancers and overall, it was a fun (but not the best) performance of a track that’ll probably be forgotten in a while from this album’s era.
Britney seemed to be a bit reminiscent with the setlist as she dug up “I’m A Slave 4 U” equipped with a lot of her old choreography. Missing was the smooth grinding, writhing body of the past but in its place was just a gal who looked like she was having fun for once performing one of her old hits and doing more in terms of dancing than she usually does. When she actually does the part where she has to get down on the floor and pop back up quickly, you can tell the crowd (and she) all held their breath in wonder and awe as a bit of the classic Britney made a rare live appearance. Next came what I felt was probably the best moment of the night, “I Wanna Go.” She actually interacted with the audience–she talked, she smiled, she laughed and the tour mix felt more epic and big. It was the first time in memory where the entire crowd at a Britney concert was jumping up a down, singing along, fist pumping the air as if she were not just a pop star but a rock star. She seemed to feed off the crowd’s excitement and reaction and really came to a life as she had the entire RBC Center dancing, singing and going absolutely ape sh*t crazy over one of her new songs and anthems. She ended the set with another club/rave remixed oldie, “Womanizer.” Really, had the show ended here (which many seemed to think it had since they promptly left after she said “Thank you, goodnight!” and disappeared for a bit) it would have been a nice ending. She posed, she dusted out the old “I’ve got your crazy” staccato breakdown for the bridge, it was all good and fun and the mix was fit for the party-themed section.
Ah, but the show wasn’t quite over. Another interlude followed where the obsessed man reveals that if he can’t kill Spears (I know, it’s a bit creepy and odd of a subject) then he’ll find another man who will. In the video you see Britney in the background approaching him and she takes him out with ease. The last section of the show, “assassin,” has Britney dressed like a geisha prancing around to a techno version of “Toxic.” Similar to the show’s “If You Seek Amy” and “Boys,” this didn’t do much at all for me. It felt like the show’s equivalent of a bonus track that you’re like, “Oh hey, that’s cool!” but then skip right on over and go on with your business. The show’s proper ending, “Till The World Ends” sets everything right. Of course, had Nicki Minaj been present, it would have been even better but since she wasn’t, there was a simple little video appearance by Minaj toward the middle when the “remix” cut in. Britney broke out into a little kitten-inspired choreography involving pawing and acting cutesy and doing a little quick shuffling of her feet (I think that was dancing) but still, it was fun. There was no runway/catwalk present so she simply got onto her winged-platform, raised into the sky, sang/lipped the last verse and came back down to take her bows.
The Final Verdict
During the ride home I kept asking myself how did this measure up to the last time I saw her live. Really, it feels a lot like The Facts of Life theme song, “You take the good, you take the bad, mix ’em up and then you have …” The good being the setlist, for the most part, was rather solid: it was light on the really early Britney, skimped on anything that may have turned heads like a forgotten song she never performs (“Let Me Be,” “What It’s Like 2 B Me,” “Everybody”) and sticks to the well-beaten party/carefree Britney of the Blackout and Femme Fatale eras with a dash of Circus tossed in for good measure. Compared to The Circus Tour the choreography was a bit more involved but there was still a good amount of posing and hand jiving. She definitely seemed a bit more confident and at ease than she has in the past and though you can tell she stuck to a script, there was a bit more interaction with the audience this time around than there was with the last tour. Was it as epic and memorable as Dream Within a Dream or The Onyx tour? Uh, definitely not, but it’s a step in the right direction.
My complaints was with how much felt missing. There was no Nicki Minaj in the pre-show or in the “Till The World Ends” section; “He About to Lose Me” and “Burning Up” were gone (though I was hoping she’d shuffle them back in considering the last few tour stops were being deprived of her tour partner), the runway/catwalk was gone so there was a little less interaction than there could have been. I’d have liked to have seen “Criminal,” “Inside Out,” “He About to Lose Me,” and heck, even “Scary” actually performed over songs like “Don’t Let Me Be the Last To Know” or “Boys” that have been done to death. Also, her part felt very short and to the point: she was on stage at 9:30pm and things were wrapping up around 10:50 or so. Overall, fun, a nice outting. I’ll be curious to see what the announced DVD release of the tour will look like.
Best Numbers: “I Wanna Go,” “Gimme More,” “Baby One More Time,” “Womanizer”