Katy Perry’s third Sprint Center show since 2011 was a lot like the two that preceded it: a relentless barrage of bright, brash visuals and uncompromising energy accompanied by nearly two dozen beefy and catchy uber-pop anthems, the kinds that stir up loud sing-alongs and a lot of dancing.
Friday night, nearly 10,000 people attended her Witness Tour show, named after her fourth studio album. The music was nearly secondary to the visual onslaught, which started with the first song, an abbreviated version of the “Witness” title track. Perry emerged from offstage airborne, aboard a glitzy, space-age vehicle – astronomy and the planets were the show’s primary theme. As she landed, waves of fog overtook the stage, which was also populated by Perry’s five-piece band and her two backup singers.
She was dressed, head to toe, in red, wearing the first of the more than a half-dozen ensembles that would add even more flash and glitz to the show. She followed that with another “Witness” track, “Roulette,” during which several of her dancer/acrobats emerged from a huge pair of dice. Then came “Chained to the Rhythm,” the best song on “Witness,” a gargantuan anthem built upon the kind of titanium pop hook that made Perry a pop star from the get-go.
Then came the title track to “Teenage Daydream,” the most popular and successful of her four albums, an irresistible funk-pop tune that set off the first of many arena-wide sing-alongs. She was joined on stage by two towering figures with television heads propelled like marionettes, but from within their bodies, by two anonymous performers. They would later control the two-story pink flamingos that pranced about during “Hot N Cold” and “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).”
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Her wardrobe and her dancers’ costumes were the product of someone’s wild and inventive imagination. Some of the notes I took down as descriptions: “Like Dr. Seuss meets Star Trek”; and “Alice in Wonderland in leather thigh-high boots with stiletto heels.”
Perry’s personality is as much a part of her success as her music. She has keen comedic chops and she puts them to good use in helping herself come off as witty but also goofy and self-effacing, whether she’s talking to her mother via the enormous pink handset of a landline phone or jousting with the crowd to arouse another laugh or ovation. Her shtick may be canned but it comes of as honest and earnest.
She put in a rigorous two hours of work. Her moves weren’t quite as slick as the professional dancers who surrounded her all night, but she kept up with them admirably and was in constant motion all night.
Unlike pop divas who unleash similar garish spectacles, Perry keeps herself grounded, in more ways than one. Her music tends to skirt controversy or ideology, unless you count “I Kissed a Girl” as a daring moment. And she is willing to mingle with her fans – shake their hands and invite them on stage, which she did twice Friday night. Before “Swish Swish,” she played a game of basketball with a Kansas City man named Wesley. Each took shots with an enormous basketball at an enormous hoop and backboard. (He won 2-1, though she gave him an extra shot.)
A couple songs before that, she invited a girl from the back of the arena to come on stage and make a wish upon the shooting star that had emerged from the rafters as she performed “Thinking of You” solo acoustic.
The girl, Zoey (sp?), 12, said Perry was her idol and that she wanted to be a pop singer, too, but didn’t think she was capable. When Perry asked her what her wish was, the girl changed gears and said she wished kids in high school would stop bullying her older sister, who is autistic.
And then the girl broke down, and as Perry embraced her for a solid minute, she did a bit, too. Perry turned it into a moment of triumph, getting the crowd to shout out an anti-bullying chant and calling out the high school (McPherson, Kansas, we’re looking at you.) She followed that with an inspired version of “Power,” which suited the moment perfectly.
The rest of the show was another blitzkrieg of catchy pop anthems accompanied by more visual pizzazz. During “Thinking of You,” a galaxy of floating orbs descended from the ceiling and Perry rode aloft upon her own planet.
At the end of “Bon Appétit,” Perry was on the receiving end of a blizzard of salt and pepper glitter, delivered from two oversized shakers. During “E.T.,” she battled what looked like a huge wasp with zebra stripes. During “I Kissed a Girl,” her dancers pranced around wearing eyeball heads. And Left Shark, her famous Super Bowl halftime sidekick, made an appearance during “California Gurls.”
Elsewhere there was a trampoline dance and one of several confetti storms during “Swish Swish.” A dozen or so large inflated eyeballs were unleashed into the crowd during “Roar,” which lived up to its name.
For her encore, “Firework,” Perry emerged from the palm of a large hand situated at the end of the runway that nearly reached the soundboard at the other end of the arena.
It’s a big, arena-sized anthem, one that’s almost too big for her voice. It’s also another song about empowerment, a declaration that we are born with the will – a spark -- to overcome adversity and be who we want to be: “You’re original and cannot be replaced,” Perry sang with the earnestness that resonates with 12-year-old girls who consider her a role model and an idol.
Witness; Roulette; Dark Horse; Chained to the Rhythm; Teenage Dream; Hot N Cold; Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.); California Gurls; I Kissed a Girl; Déjà Vu; Tsunami; E.T.; Bon Appétit; Thinking of You; Power; Part of Me; Swish Swish; Roar. Encore: Firework.