It has been a while since the Sprint Center shook and rocked like it did Wednesday night. The arena was 95 percent full, and for most of the two-hour show, from the two pits that flanked the stage's runway to the seats in the upper deck at the far end, the crowd sang, danced and rejoiced like fans watching their team win a World Cup soccer game.
She also had at her disposal an album that is now historic. “Billboard” announced Wednesday that Perry had become the first woman and the second recording artist to put five songs from one album --“Teenage Dream” – at the top of the Billboard 100 chart. The other: Michael Jackson and “Bad.”
It’s easy to understand why. Like the rest of her hits, the “Dream” songs are big, shiny and catchy, brimming with melody and groove – as musically infectious as they are lyrically simple, if not inane.
She is a decent singer, one who has little trouble handling songs that require power but not a lot of range. As a dancer, she can pull off enough basic moves to hang with her troupe, although the choreography gets significantly more basic when she gets involved.
But all that is secondary to her songs and to her personality, which may be her most appealing attribute. She is funny, witty, a master (mistress?) of levity. Even better, she doesn’t take any of it too seriously.
Her one moment of sincerity came as she stood on a platform that carried her above the crowd to the back of the arena, so she could serenade those fans with a solo/acoustic version of “Thinking of You.” As she tossed guitar picks down on the fans below her, she thanked everyone for coming out and spending money and said her primary intent at every show was “to make people smile.” Mission accomplished.
The show was designed around a loose narrative that starts in a butcher shop, where she chops meat all day and daydreams about candy and confections and a handsome baker boy. When her cat runs away, she ends up pursuing it all the way to Candyfornia.
There were candy stripes all over the stage and in the costumes (including some festooned with spinning lollipops) and cartoonish representations of icing, cotton candy and baked goods. It all felt like a frothy puree of Dr Seuss meets “Alice in Wonderland.” It had campy bad-B movie written all over it, and it was all very slick and delivered with a wink.
But it wasn’t necessarily a G-rated show. If you figured the crowd would comprise mostly moms and their 5- to 13-year-old daughters, you would be way off. Way more than half of the crowd was adults, many without children in tow, some into their 40s, 50s, even 60s. There was some salty language, sexual innuendoes (“Peacock”) and some innocuous drug references. At one point, Perry nibbled on some brownies and got “affected” by whatever was in them. Later, she also made the universal gesture for toking a joint.
The setlist included a “Katyoke” interlude in which she and her band took a spot toward the front of the stage and Perry sang bits of covers, including songs by Jay-Z (“Big Pimpin’” ) and Rihanna (“Only Girl in the World”).
Her cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, which rivaled David Byrne’s famous live rendition, prompted one of the more joyous outbursts of the evening. That was part of a finale that included her party anthem “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” “Firework” and her closer, “California Gurls.” Amid the mayhem those songs inspired, the stage erupted in confetti and foam and other visual stimuli, as if it the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve.
She no doubt left most fans wanting more (like few Kansas City crowds, most of this one stayed until the lights went up), even those walking out with foam and glitter and confetti stuck in their hair. She also, no doubt, left everyone entertained. And plenty were smiling, which was the icing on the cupcake. Or the ... whatever … in the brownies.
Setlist: Teenage Dream; Hummingbird Heartbeat; Waking Up in Vegas; Ur So Gay; Peacock; I Kissed a Girl; Circle the Drain; E.T.; Who Am I Living For?; Pearl; Not Like the Movies. Katyoke: Only Girl in the World, Big Pimpin’, Friday, Whip My Hair; Thinking of You; I Love Candy; Hot N Cold; Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.); I Wanna Dance With Somebody; Firework. Encore: California Gurls.
Janelle Monae: The Kansas City, Kan., native got the opening slot – before the DJ, even -- which meant people were still entering the arena when she started her set with her warm cover of “Smile.” By the time her set was done, the arena looked about two-thirds full. Those who were there got a good sense of the energy she pours into each show. But the sound was bad: muddy as hell, especially during the wild, manic numbers like “Cold War.” And she had no video feed and mediocre lighting so, even from decent seats on the lower level, she seemed remote and diminished.