Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A PERRY ON TOP

Pop queen delivers plenty of fireworks -- and she can sing, too

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When Katy Perry was last in town, it was July 2011 and she was in the middle of her confectionary California Dreams Tour -- a massive, nine-leg jaunt that kept her on the road for almost a full year.

It was a dizzying Candyland-meets-Alice in Wonderland concept tour -- replete with a silver, Hershey's kiss-shaped bra, a candy-cane staircase, a whipped-cream bazooka and a plot line involving a "magic" brownie.

Tuesday night's stop at the MTS Centre was a less cohesive but no less stimulating affair, and it didn't make you want to brush your teeth afterwards. Perry's mega-watt Prismatic tour -- in support of her fourth studio album, 2013's Prism -- sees her eschew the cutesy act for sheer, big-budget production. To be sure, the Prismatic stage set up is a freaking feat of engineering, from the mammoth triangle-shaped catwalk that extended just past the centre of the floor to the set piece that folded up into a prism to the blockbuster light show. Perry's brand of arena bombast is next level.

When the pop star herself emerged from the centre of that pyramid in a neon dress, she was met with an adoring roar (sorry) from the sold-out crowd of 14,000 (1,000 more than 2011), which had a strong contingent of screaming, glitter-cheeked, school-age girls who looked like they were about to short-circuit with excitement. She opened with the empowerment anthem Roar -- which contained a fun, glow-in-the-dark jump rope routine. That segued into a hyped-up version of Part of Me and Wide Awake, during which Katy sang from a triangle-shaped platform suspended high in the air.

Well, "sang," most likely. It was quickly apparent that Perry was alternating between singing/lip syncing to a backing track; on both songs it almost sounded like she was hitting every other word (ouch). The reliance on a backing vocal track wasn't clear. Her own choreography is usually no more involved or demanding than a beginner-level step aerobics class; she leaves the heavy-lifting to her estimable back-up dancers. And when she did sing -- like, really sing, as on early set highlight This Moment -- she sounded solid.

Still, the fans didn't care. When she re-emerged on a golden horse in full Cleopatra for the club jam Dark Horse, the crowd went nuts. It's easy to be skeptical of the sheer volume of spectacle; is there so much to look at because there needs to be? Still, Perry's an entertainer, to be sure -- and when she sank her teeth into it, as on the Superbowl-level performance of I Kissed A Girl, she was dynamite.

She's got a sense of humour, too. In a section dubbed 'cat-toure,' she emerged -- dressed as Kitty Purry, in a sparky pink cat costume -- on a giant ball of purple yarn for a campy, Cats-inspired performance of Hot N Cold, one of the night's strongest vocal turns. For International Smile, Kitty Purry and her back-up cats made full use of the scratching-post set pieces. (They then strutted their stuff down the catwalk -- get it? -- to Madonna's Vogue. Pure camp.)

The mid-set acoustic performance of By The Grace of God was a highlight. Dressed like Glinda the Good Witch (but with rainbow locks), she sang her heart out. Really sang. And yes, it was beautiful.

She treated the audience to some charming stage-banter -- she knows we're the Slurpee capital of the world, which elicited a big cheer -- and then she gave away a pepperoni pizza to a young fan named Emily, who she brought up on stage. She picked up a sparkling guitar for a lovely rendition of The One That Got Away. "We love you, Katy!" a few little girls called out before she sang Unconditionally.

The energy was brought back up with neon '90s dance party -- DJed by the crazy winky face Emoji -- featuring Katy's backup dancers. Perry -- in green hair and a smiley-face skirt and bra combo -- was suspended above the crowd for Walking on Air. (It was no Pink.) The'90s force was strong; for It Takes Two, she donned a yin-yang dress with a towering skirt. This Is How We Do was firmly in this decade, featuring giant Emoji balloons, an Emoji video and Katy cruising around the stage in a pink blowup convertible.

She saved her biggest hits for last, closing the main set with high energy Teenage Dream and California Gurls before returning for not one, but two single-song encores. For Birthday, Perry brought up a birthday girl from the crowd to sit in a special throne perched on top of a double-tier platform shaped like a cake while she floated over the crowd. She topped that with an explosive performance of Firework, which required special 'prism-vision' glasses. The two-hour show ended, naturally, with a fireworks display.

Say what you will about Katy Perry. She knows how to put on a pop show.

This is the second time that Texan country star Kacey Musgraves has graced the stage at the MTS Centre this year; she opened for Lady Antebellum back in March. That she's able to open for both speaks to both her versatility; she's also opened for Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss. Musgraves is still touring in support of 2013's Grammy-winning Same Trailer, Different Park -- a juggernaut of a debut that announced the arrival of an exciting new voice in her genre.

Musgraves was great in March, and she was great Tuesday night; she finally looks comfortable on a big stage -- even working the length of Perry's formidable catwalk. Her setlist drew primarily from Same Trailer -- including the free-to-be-you-and-me anthem Follow Your Arrow, and the always stunning Merry Go 'Round-- but she sprinkled in a few surprises, too, such as Miranda Lambert's Mama's Broken Heart, which Musgraves co-wrote. The next time I write about this woman, I hope it's as a headliner.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2014 C1

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