It takes a confident girl to pull off wearing a purple, green and black striped cat suit and ears, but Katy Perry is nothing if not self-assured.
If this “Teenage Dream” tour – which started in Europe in February and made its U.S. debut Tuesday night at the Gwinnett Center Arena – proves anything, it’s that Perry is a princess among her peers, a polished pop star who, on only her second tour, has mastered the art of spectacle.
Granted, her featherweight songs run the gamut from destined-for-decades-of-airplay (“Hot n Cold,” “Teenage Dream”) to already-forgettable (“E.T.,” “UR So Gay”), but the music isn’t what most people will be talking about.
Perry, with her inky Snow White hair and Zooey Deschanel eyes, looks like a Disney heroine, and her exuberant show, while a tad too scripted in places, is a perfect mold of her animated personality.
The story that frames the concert, played on a trio of video screens outlined in pink clouds, follows Perry through a trippy dream that sends her in search of her beloved Kitty Purry (yes, an animated cat) and the boy to steal her heart.
That dream unfolds onstage, with Perry rising from beneath the stage in a short dress dotted with spinning buttons mimicking peppermint candies to sing the fabulously lush title track of her latest album and cavort with her eight dancers.
The set is a hallucinogenic vision of a Candy Land board game plopped into the Island of Misfit Toys, an amusingly garish hodgepodge of pink frosted gumdrops and candy cane railing holding up a row of Skittles-colored stairs.
But much like Lady Gaga and Madonna before her, Perry is in the unenviable – or, perhaps very enviable for their bank accounts – position of being a married adult woman (she’s 26) whose core fan base is teen and pre-teen girls.
You can’t really blame her for selling a T-shirt emblazoned with “I Wanna See Your Pea Cock” or purring to a dancer dressed as a slot machine, “Can I pull your lever?” before kicking up her red heels to a rollicking version of “Waking Up in Vegas.” She’s an adult whose appeal lies in her cutesy sassiness.
But if you’re pushing glo-sticks at the merch tables and cotton candy in the aisles, should you also ask the crowd if they wish they had a beer in their hand or take the innuendo of “Peacock” an extra step by imitating the bird’s neck bob in a subtly suggestive manner?
Perry, though, has a ton of charisma, which more than compensates for her sometimes-shrill voice.
A couple of vocal highlights, though, came with “I Kissed a Girl,” which she began as a sultry jazz tune, smartly updating the song’s novelty aspect. But soon it kicked into its familiar form of football-stadium stomper, highlighted with some serrated guitar additions and a hugely impressive Springsteen-esque slide across the stage by Perry – in a gown and heels, no less.
Perry also radiated warmth on “Not Like the Movies,” a pretty – and gently perceptive – ballad sung wistfully while sitting on a swing with video of cartoon romances playing behind her on a white sheet.
And though the inexplicably popular but tuneless and hollow “E.T.” attracted one of the heartiest singalongs of the show, the most memorable segment of Perry’s rainbow romp came when she and three of her band members performed acoustically at the front of the stage.
Not only was the medley of some of Perry’s favorite recent songs – Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World),” Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’,” Rebecca Black’s “Friday” and Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” – a clever detour from her catalog, but it was the only point that Perry could veer from the pre-determined structure of the show.
The California girl talked about her attachment to the South given her father’s Memphis roots and inspired a roar when she quipped, “If I had to pick an In-N-Out Burger over the Chick-fil-A, I would not do it. I would pick the Chick-fil-A,” she said. (And anyone who has suffered through one of the California chain’s burgers knows what an easy choice that is).
Perry continued to joke that on her way to the tour’s next stop in Orlando, “Don’t think I’m not gonna hit up every Cracker Barrel and Waffle House.”
Her geniality continued to ooze when she strapped herself onto a “cotton candy cloud” that slowly brought her to the back of the arena, telling the sold out audience that, “I owe you because I never thought I’d play this arena in Atlanta,” before dedicating “Thinking of You” to them.
It wasn’t a perfect rendition, but it was a sincere one.
Fun Katy returned in a blue wig for a frisky version of “Hot n Cold,” which featured some truly cool quick-change magic onstage and a new infusion of energy from the singer.
Considering this worldwide tour roars through November, she’d better make a pit stop at that Waffle House to maintain her stamina.
Opening the show was Swedish pop star Robyn, a terminally underrated performer in the U.S. whose European-club music seemed lost on this Top 40-centric crowd.
Looking like a jittery aerobics teacher in a spandex body suit and clunky sneakers that never were anything less than a blur, Robyn suffered from a horribly muddy sound mix.
The lyrics to “Dancing On My Own” and “Indestructible” were indistinguishable amid the snaky, whizzing synthesizers and rhythms provided by a pair of drummers – a shame, because her smooth dance-pop is delectable on record.
But even in its groggy presentation, it was impossible not to feel the infectious touch buried in her music.
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