Katy Perry’s show Wednesday night began with LED-lit warriors gliding via zip lines from the rafters of the Smoothie King Center armed with LED-lit spears.
They had a pyramid-shaped jungle gym in the center of the stage in their sights when Perry bounced onstage for “Roar” wearing a cheerleader’s blouse and skirt, also trimmed with LED lights.
At her best, Perry delivered an off-the-wall sugar rush with good-natured, giddy energy. At one point, dancers performed Cirque du Soleil-like routines dangling from a geometric metal-pipe construction high above the stage while pyramids blasted off into space on the rear projection screen.
During the closing moments of the encore “Birthday,” Perry sat in a swing and whooshed through the arena over the crowd at enough speed to make it look fun, particularly when the swing pulled her through a cascade of balloons dropping from the ceiling.
Before the show started, it was easy to be cynical. Her musical history hasn’t shown her to be too attached to musical or spiritual ideas, and commercials for her fashion line, her fragrance and CoverGirl makeup — featuring Perry — ran during intermissions.
I doubt, though, that those ads bothered Perry’s fans, who were overwhelmingly female and ranged from young daughters to moms who weren’t sweating Perry’s integrity. They simply liked her.
It’s easier to understand Perry’s appeal live. On television and in the world outside the arena, she’s glamorous and leads the celebrity life. In concert, she’s aspirational.
Girls could see themselves in her. Instead of revealing gowns, she wore more practical and modest costumes.
She’s a game but average dancer and was slightly awkward talking to the crowd. Throughout the night, she modulated between a purr and a gym teacher’s bark midsentence, regardless of what she was saying.
“Do you love yourself?” she asked, emphasizing the last two words like a drill sergeant telling a recruit to drop and give him 20. “Because that comes first!”
But those flaws only made her seem more real, more one of them. At one point, a fan seated beside the catwalk that led into the middle of the arena got her attention. Perry saw the girl waving her phone, took it, talked for a few minutes about girls shooting selfies on the way to her concert, then got down next to the fan to shoot one with her.
Perry was at her least theatrical when she brought two 11-year-olds onstage to win a pizza. Like much of the show, the moment had a core absurdity, but Perry worked charmingly with the kids, at one point hugging the adoring boy to her chest as a joke between her and the parents.
Her concert had clear divisions between the cheerleader and gladiators part, the Egyptian alien part, the media-savvy cats section, the “Remember the Early ’90s” section and the acoustic section, which was signaled by a large cloth flower opening over the runway.
She played with the children during that segment, and it was the highlight because the singer-songwriter role presented Perry at her least convincing.
Nothing she sang or did in the hour before that suggested that she was as one-dimensional as those songs, and for 15 to 20 long minutes, she was one of thousands of talented young women who have truths to sing that are a lot like everybody else’s. Perry was temporarily ordinary.
Choosing which Katy Perry is the real one is part of the game. Because she has gone through so many looks and attitudes in her short career, fans can pick the one they like best and declare that to be the real Perry, which is not her real name.
When many of those looks whipped by in a video montage on the rear screen behind “Teenage Dream,” it became clear that regardless of the words to the song, the teenage dream Perry’s selling is stardom. She made it, and her fans can, too.
The 8-year-old girl beside me wore a tutu and a microphone headset to the show, and it was her night to feel like a star, as it was for all the women on hand in costumes, only some of which were inspired by Perry videos and looks.
Musically, there was oddly little to say about the show. “I Kissed a Girl” was remade as a heavy rock song, and “Hot and Cold” played as a Broadway number, but most of the songs were professionally played and familiar. They weren’t the focal point of the show, however. She was. Her songs were just the vehicle.
When CoverGirl got its name on the big screen for more than a minute as fans were prompted to put on their “Prizm-vision” glasses — which also had the CoverGirl logo on them — to see the 3-D fireworks display that closed the show, nobody flinched.
That, along with standing on stage in the middle of an actual fireworks show, is just the price of fame.