Blame, perhaps, the $40 ticket price or four-hour length—the show finally ending near midnight. After the cavalcade of opening acts (Nervo, Jessie and the Toy Boys, Nicki Minaj), there was a 45 minute intermission, forgiven the moment we first gawped a stage set re-imagining the detritus of a master villain’s lair, dominated by gigantic purposeless semi circle framing video screen to Stargate: Atlantic City effect.
The ensuing spectacle didn’t exactly seem aimed at the TRL market, though, honestly, the target demographic remains a mystery. With rigid, purposeless choreography blending elements of Noh theater, Broadway fantasy sequences, and an especially pervy Disney On Ice, the successive numbers defy narrative cohesion, despite the recurring filmed scenes of a sub Alias storyline casting our heroine as Sexy Assassin and Temptress ever spied-upon by a grizzled, hunky, lollipop-devouring voyeur.
It all blurs to a sort of extravagantly produced techno cabaret fever dream. A squad of male dancers, clad in cheekily martial uniforms (dystopian fascist chic plus hammerpants), imprison Britney and cohorts within gogo cages, the better to pole dance. For one song, she appears atop Egyptian styled dragon boat, and she leaves another in rejiggered Mini Cooper with the fratty mook plucked from audience to receive a brief neck dance still handcuffed in back.
Writhing about the neck of a gigantic, glittered, bucking Telecaster, the notion of Britney sport-fucking the traditions of rock ‘n roll as momentary whim – guess for yourselves whether fireworks spurt from guitar tip during tune’s climax – rings triumphant even as the mind reels at the labor and expense of throwaway tackiness writ artful. In a very real way, the gaudiest gestures were the point, and the amateurishness intermingled with painstaking craft forever separates La Britney from Madonna or Lady GaGa’s high pretensions. The dancers’ bravura acrobatics seemed less Cirque du Soliel-icisms than doctoral level breakdancing, some outfits resembled bedazzled jogging ensembles, and those thankfully few attempts at singing absent backing tracks grounded the swirling theatricality and underlined the femme beneath the fatale.
By now, one hopes, we’ve put to bed all grousing about lip-synched performances. Considering the breadth of her gymnastic exertions throughout the twenty-odd numbers – while not the dancer of old, she hardly embarrasses herself – only the most hidebound grouse should expect any star to maintain full voice midst non-stop movement, and, clearly, the nature of the modern concert has stepped well beyond a celebration of unadorned vocal prowess. More to the point, Britney’s ever-more distinct brand of pop has spiraled past auto-tune dependence to a sort of candied sonic experimentalism that virtually samples those few notes she delivers expertly.
It’s too easy to call her a puppet. She’s had far too many masters through more than a decade’s murderer’s row of collaborators, and, by the same token, her unashamed endurance past endless embarrassments that would sink another dozen careers belies any claims of media generated confection. She is, of course, a character, but, donning innumerable inchoate personae, she’s only ever her own creation, equally capable of unmitigated pap and ecstatic flourishes so breathtaking and ineffable as to smash through camp’s ceiling toward some transcendent euphoria of ennobled caprice.
By show’s close, as a pounding rendition of “Til The World Ends” raises the crowd in jiggling rapture and literally explodes the stage in rhythmic bursts and billowing confetti, Britney soars upward upon unmasked hydraulics and a pair of wings emblazoned with dimestore lights. Did our heroine die in the climactic fight? Has the Sexy Assassin experienced spiritual rebirth? Has she suddenly transformed to lifesize ornament atop an Ozarks iteration of the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree?
Leave Britney alone; she, alone, knows what she’s doing.