There was one how-did-she-do-that? moment at Katy Perry’s show Sunday at Allstate Arena, something I’ve never seen before at a pop concert.
In the midst of one song, “Hot N Cold,” the 26-year-old pop singer changed outfits five – five! – times with the aid of an assistant and a makeshift, on-stage dressing room. Eat your heart out, Cher.
Even in a fairy tale, the heroine apparently can never have enough outfits. Perry fit 22 songs into a two-hour narrative loosely reminiscent of “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,” Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” or the “Big Rock Candy Mountain” childrens video – with an Elvis imitator in the role of Little Bunny Foo Foo.
Prancing and singing amid lollipops and cotton candy, Perry came on like a ditzy kids entertainer. She floated above the crowd on a cloud and strutted amid dancers who resembled wedding-cake ornaments. It was candycane-coated innocence masking a litany of girls-gone-wild escapades. If you want your 8-year-old parsing songs about being groped in skin-tight jeans (“Teenage Dream”), drinking until passing out and having sex with multiple partners (“Last Friday Night”), or flashing a stranger (“Peacock”), Perry’s your ticket.
Playing big sister to an audience still too young to experience many of the escapades she describes first-hand, Perry is also wise to the ways of marketing. She packages her songs as rite-of-passage escapism -- 21st Century twists on old hits by the Beach Boys (“California Gurls”) or Jill Sobule (“I Kissed a Girl”) that may reassure parents – while winking at and pandering to her under-age followers about growing up faster and looser than real life will currently allow.
She also knows how to deliver a relentless chorus. The gleaming hooks --- massaged by an army of songwriters and producers on her last two albums – have put Perry ahead of a wave of female pop phenoms, including Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Kesha. Perry’s the first female performer in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to have five consecutive No. 1 singles from the same album. The 13,000 screaming fans who filled Allstate testified to the lingering appeal of her year-old album, “Teenage Dream.”
Vestiges of her prim folk-pop past remained, as she strummed an acoustic guitar during “Thinking of You” and knocked out the gospel-tinged ballad “Who Am I Living For?” Her original material wasn’t quite strong enough to fill out the show, so she relied heavily on covers, including Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World)” and a celebratory version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” where she was joined by two-dozen ecstatic fans.She was most persuasive as a goofy pop cheerleader with a handful of catchy songs bent on “making you smile.” She munched on an oversized “special” brownie and pretended to hallucinate, she flirted with a shirtless male fan and then comically shooed him off the stage when informed her husband was paying her a surprise visit (alas, no Russell Brand sighting on this night), and she cracked jokes at her own expense and her risque age-inappropriate material.
At times, the wisecracking brought to mind not her pop peers, but assertively eccentric predecessors such as Bette Midler and Cyndi Lauper. Perry’s not in their class as an entertainer or singer – she’s more like a loud, wayward rocket that doesn’t always hit its target. But in a show dominated by robotic choruses, air-headed lyrics, endless costume changes and candy-store theatrics, evidence of an off-beat personality that didn’t seem to take any of it too seriously was a welcome revelation.
Katy Perry set list Sunday at Allstate Arena:
1. Teenage Dream
2. Hummingbird Heartbeat
3. Waking Up in Vegas
4. Ur So Gay
6. I Kissed a Girl
7. Circle the Drain
9. Who Am I Living For?
11. Not Like the Movies
12. Only Girl (In the World) (Rihanna cover)