Katy Perry’s “Witness” Tour At Madison Square Garden, Friday, October 6th, 2017, Reviewed
Two things happened to women in pop in 2017: technology caught up with Arena performances, and Cirque De Soleil changed the game of the possible in Vegas. The result is the concert as the immersive experience: Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry, of course: three to four song mini sets followed by brief intermissions so they can change clothes, some fake audience empathy, and a big blast at the end. I am not claiming only women do this -Bruno Mars used the M.O. just the other day, I am saying Elton John doesn’t use it in Vegas. And they all have their niche, Hudson is the Latin spitfire, Gaga the old school Hollywood star, Taylor your BFF, and Katy is your big sister from another planet.
In many ways I preferred Noah Cyrus’s opening set to most of the above. A fast paced 30 minutes, the Cyrus’s are not the Kardashians and one reason is because they are hardworking pros and another because they appear to be nice guys. Maybe 20 years ago a friend of mine was on vacation in Florida when she noticed Billy Ray poolside, so being like any good natured pain in the ass, and this being pre-selfies, she went over to tell him how much she loved his music. That much is nothing unusual, what was unusual was his preteen, pre-Hannah Montana Miley greeted her as well, and was absolutely adorable. That isn’t even about innate character. it’s about upbringing and manners. I loved Miley till her dalliance with the consistently precious and pretentious Kevin Coyne, but even though I wasn’t keen on that stuff, and found Younger Now a little boring, I like her as a public figure. And I like Noah, her sister, even more. In a generous, full hearted set she performed her hits, threw in a Lady Gaga cover, invited both her father and big sister along for a terrific “Achy Breaky Heart” (the family crown jewels in one blast of country bubblegum) and concluded by inviting the awesome UK producer Labrinth on stage with her for new single “Make Me (Cry)”. A charming, busy, sweet half hour with room for an acoustic coupla songs, and to top it off Noah draped her mic with the flag, a typical rah rah move, right? It was the Puerto Rican flag.
“You’re getting me at the start of the tour while I am still excited and happy…” Katy Perry told us, and it was a full on two hours of spectacle that Katy carried on her back. Katy is what you’d get if you mixed Estella with Miss Havisham, she’s a charming, barely contained arrogance holding her hidden sadness close to her breast, it seems to emerge in flits and starts. Last night in a segment where she invited a ten year old girl to wish upon a shooting star special effect and terrified the wee one as well as making herself seem incapable of normal human interaction (she should watch her nemesis talk to her fans for a quick lesson)., “Did you ever expect you were going to be here with me on the stage tonight?” Perry asked the child before wishing for peace with the poor kid forgotten before she left the stage. The single saddest moment of the evening came moments before when Katy claimed to have everything she could wish for… except one thing. Worst would wait till later where Katy has a basketball game with a “dad” in the audience, an arrogant tosser from Jersey, and again her pacing is off, her attitude towards the man isn’t pleasant or quite friendly. She needs to can it now, she is showing herself up.
This unhappiness seems folded into the show, it’s like that new sitcom “The Other Place” where everything is supposed to be happy and isn’t. During “I Kissed A Girl” Katy gets eaten by a giant pair of lips, during “Swish Swish” she becomes a basketball falling through a giant hoop, Katy is literally salt and peppered for “Bon Appetite”, she has an uncomfortable phone call with her Mom in Hawaii. You can’t dodge the depression that is part of the form and sound. On “Thinking About” she flies about the arena in a flying saucer and instead of bringing us closer to her, the way Taylor (even Bieber) did, she appears further away than ever. She can’t break down and offer intimacy, and she is trying very hard. The oversized props are intimidating, she seems so small and everything around her seems so big, it is bearing down on her. She is a winner who performs like your big sister recovering from a messy divorce (though that was the previous tour, of course).
Still, we did get the Teenage Dream hits, she did save her best songs on the disastrous Witness, “Bon Appetit” was excellent, and her skills with hip hop values, which has taken her from Snoop Dogg to Kanye West to Migos, is best in class. Katy isn’t a great singer but she is great for the EDM pop she performs. The In The Space first part, with huge dice, is powerful but indifferent, the Act My Age portion is the best of the evening, channeling her hugely successful year: 2010. Celestial Body is strange and wondrous somewhere in the stars, and Mind Maze is a lost Perryism dreamscape, the build to the end, “Swish Swish” and note for everyone to exit “Roar” builds to the big blast “Fireworks”.
Katy Perry is a legendary and well documented jackass, and she can’t fake it, she comes across as arrogant whether calling us stars or shhing us up. Yet, I found myself feeling sorry for her. She seemed so alone there on stage, surrounded by props and dancers and fans. Just one wish left but Katy can’t tell us about that because it’s depressing… swish, swish, swish.