Review: Katy Perry successfully redefines herself on new tour

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Katy Perry was all glitter and ’80s glamour Thursday night at Mohegan Sun Arena, where she pulled off the second performance on her Witness world tour promoting her newest album. Besides all the show antics, which included dazzling references to 1980s arcade games, analog TVs, and a guitar player in a Ziggy Stardust-inspired leotard, Perry’s main prerogative throughout the show was redefining herself from who she used to be.

What was immediately apparent, however, was that we wouldn’t be getting quite the same Katy Perry aesthetic that shot her to pop stardom. Gone are the days of candy-cane costumes, whipped cream, and cutesy purple bears dancing alongside her.

Her new album, “Witness,” has already left some fans wondering if they could keep up as she ditches the bombastic pop and melds into the type of mellowed bass lines often heard in Berlin techno clubs. And although I’m impressed that she has incorporated influences outside of her standard formula-pop, it was those earlier songs, such as “Last Friday Night,” that changed the face of pop music. Despite all of her ridiculous shenanigans, she was fun and told kids of my millennial generation to just enjoy life.

We can’t blame her for needing to change it up, though. A pop star can’t forever keep up with the Candy Land concept. But shedding the persona that has come to define Perry is easier said than done. And our biggest question was whether her fans would be willing to follow along.

The show, which was organized into five separate acts, with a costume change in between each one, didn’t fail to pull out all the stops when it came to special effects, such as back-up dancers choreographed to a T, lasers, confetti and LED backscreen visuals.

But when Perry came out on stage, her style change seemed less original and more reminiscent of Lady Gaga. Her first outfit was a glittering, red, hooded sexy Jedi-esque getup. We weren’t talking cream-colored pinks anymore. She felt slick.

Her second act, the one I was most excited for, featured her biggest hits from 2008-2010. Those included “Teenage Dream,” “Hot N Cold” and “Last Friday Night.” It was the most disappointing part of the show, however. Stuck between two universes, Perry seemed uncomfortable combining her new style with the one that made her famous — although the show tries to take a stab at it. The new aesthetics, which were reminiscent of vapor-waved palm trees, ’80s pop-art (specifically odes to artists Masoud Yasami and Patrick Nagel), and references to the album covers of Duran Duran, all felt forced when paired with those tracks (even though I appreciated the references). To top that off, Perry seemed half-committed to the performance. She didn’t finish many lines from those songs, which maybe wasn’t apparent to the unobservant show-goer as she sang over her pre-recorded voice. I will admit that she did experience an ear-bud malfunction, which may have been the underlying culprit to her less-than-fantastic performance. It might also be the reason she couldn’t finish lines that required pitch changes. She did pull it back together for “California Girls,” the fourth song in the act, which, to my delight, was danced beside Left Shark, her goofy sea-creature sidekick remembered from his first appearance at Super Bowl XLIX.

The concert’s third act, which featured songs from her newest album, picked up steam as she paired impressive vocals with pole-danced choreography alongside her male dance partner (obviously a professional gymnast) to “Tsunami.” The song, which uses ocean metaphors to convey emotions of feeling stuck and needing to move on, may have been the perfect half-point precursor to segue into the better and more spirited final acts. It was during her slower ballads, such as “Save as Draft,” where she seemed to blossom — the antithesis of the fluffy pink, delicious pop-star that we all think she is. Maybe that was the point.

Her performance of “Thinking of You,” one of her older ballads, may have been the highlight of the show, as she sang the song decked in a full-glitter Cleopatra costume riding on top of a planet, that hung from cables, throughout the arena while playing an acoustic guitar. Black lights combined with hanging day-glo-swirl planets proved to be a beautiful spectacle. It should be noted that here, as it was with “Tsunami” and “Save as Draft,” Perry was able to sing powerfully and with conviction, but the sounds she produced didn’t diverge much from that of her albums. I had to wonder how much of the back-track was coming through, even though I was convinced that it was primarily her.

Perry’s strong points, besides being an entertainer above all things, is interacting with the audience. She felt genuine and sweet, and in those moments, the audience was getting the Katy that they have come to know and love. At one point, she brought a little girl on stage to make a “wish on a star,” and towards the end of the show, as she performed “Swish Swish,” she stopped the performance to dedicate the song to all the dads in the audience. “I know that you never wanted to come to a Katy Perry show. You were dragged here,” she laughed before selecting one lucky dad to come up and play a hilarious game of giant plush basketball with her. It's her charming, self-deprecating attitude that has always made her standout, especially in comparison to other modern-era pop stars.

For all the audience hand-holding, pointing to excited show-goers and down-to-earth banter, it was in these moments where we got to see her bubbly side — all of which was adoringly eaten up.

All of this alludes to the type of pop star she is — she is inescapable, her personality infectious, and she is someone who you’ll come to love despite trying hard not to. By the end of the almost two-hour show, she had a majority of concert-goers jumping, screaming, and singing along to the lyrics of “Roar” and “Firework” — proving that her fans will continue to embrace her, because at the heart of everything, she was still Katy Perry.

m.biekert@theday.com

 

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