Katy Perry - The O2, London
You get offered a Katy Perry ticket last minute, you gotta take it, right? Having delivered some of the biggest - and best? - pop hits of the last ten years, there should be no surprises about going to a Perry concert. The very definition of a singles act, all that filler on each of her albums will require some spectacle to fill the downtime between hits. The songs aren't that important, it's all about the show.
Five minutes before showtime there are plenty of empty seats, especially in the part of the O2 that touches the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and in the premium seats, suggesting she's overreached in her four night residency in London's biggest venue. The crowd is as expected: beside me are two excitable teenage girls, in front is a Perry wannabe, bubblegum pink wig and all, and down below are thousands of people with fluorescent tubes that they’ve turned into glasses, tiaras, necklaces and the like. The stage is set, and literally set up as a load of prisms, taking its cue from her latest, Prism.
The show doesn’t start until gone 9pm, which ain't terribly audience friendly. When they finally do get on with it and Katy Perry makes her first entrance, it’s all a little bit underwhelming. There’s no live band on stage, the music is being played from an old TDK tape by the sounds of it, and despite the opening song being her mega-hit ‘Roar’, it’s kinda... meh.
Eventually the band does appear, on the fourth song, and it starts to feel like an actual concert. The surprising thing is how badly her earlier hits have aged: ‘I Kissed A Girl’ still feels fresh, but even a jazzed up and slowed down version of ‘Hot ‘n’ Cold’ can’t save it - and she doesn’t even bother with ‘Waking Up In Vegas’. The less said about the album tracks from Teenage Dream the better, where ‘ET’ and the title track don’t fare much better.
What saves the show is the unexpected quality of the new stuff. ‘This Is How We Do’ and ‘Walking On Air’ are late show treats, all dressed up in 80s acid house winking smiley faces. ‘Birthday’ is brilliantly, raunchily done: an unsuspecting male audience member is sat on a throne on an elevating birthday cake whilst getting a close up view of Perry and her various body parts, and the dancers whirl around with giant birthday candles, before Perry takes flight around the arena on a bunch of balloons. It’s as mental as it sounds. And that’s nothing compared to the bat shit crazy section before it where Perry, adorned in a green wig and fluorescent clothing, is surrounded by huge inflatables (a taco, a handbag, something that looked like a walnut whirl with eyes) before parading around the stage in an inflatable Cadillac. And then there's the weird 'cat' section.
For most of the show her voice is almost drowned out by the backing track and the band, so her slightly squiffy voice isn’t too obvious. It’s only on the tracks where she’s singing almost solo, the belters if you like, where you can really hear her. She's better than you might expect. It feels good to hear a real voice, not the pitch perfect (or mimed) stuff that some artists come out with, and she pulls off ‘Unconditionally’ very well, even if she struggles badly with ‘Firework’.
Not that anyone in the audience cares, nor should they. This is a show based on spectacle and top notch pop. It’s garish, loud, weird, out-there, and the second half is miles better than the first. But it’s a show, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that for lots of people, music is just about having a bloody good time. No need for anything more complicated than that.