Katy Perry - Madison Square Garden - 7/9/14

Katy Perry - Madison Square Garden - 7/9/14
All photos Santiago Felipe

Better Than: Every other multimillion-dollar concert I've seen

As someone who suffered through David Bowie's excruciating *Glass Spider* show (when Katy Perry was, er, three years old), I can say with some authority that just because a concert is big and expensive doesn't mean it's good. And as the art of concert-as-spectacle has become both bigger and more refined, over the past few years we've gotten eye-popping (and usually wallet-popping) extravaganzas from Kanye West, the Rolling Stones, Nine Inch Nails, the Knife, U2's 360 and Roger Waters' The Wall, to name just a few.

Strictly as a show, Katy Perry's Prismatic World Tour tops them all.

See also: [SLIDESHOW] Katy Perry at Madison Square Garden

Katy Perry - Madison Square Garden - 7/9/14
All photos Santiago Felipe

It's not just the scale, detail and (not least) the humor of the production, although those are mind-blowing enough on their own. She flies over the audience three different times. A giant triangular video screen, as tall as the building I live in and three times as wide, projects eye-popping graphics and videos throughout much of the show. A triangular walkway extends two-thirds of the way across the arena floor, and the lighting rig just as far across the ceiling. There are fireworks, flames, lasers, balloons, confetti, dozens of props and probably 10 costume changes for Perry alone -- and it's often just as clever musically, with smart arrangements, sly references and even an acoustic set that should shut up anyone who thinks she isn't much of a singer.

It's brilliantly, comically, over-the-top: At one point, there were flames, smoke, and guitarists flying high above the stage while sparks shot from their instruments -- all for a two-minute instrumental break during a costume-change.

To create a satisfying, let alone electrifying, two-hours-and-change show of that size from just three albums is no mean feat -- and while the tickets and especially the merch were not cheap (a $35 poster?), it's hard to imagine anyone was not entertained.

After a strapping opening set from Capital Cities, the house lights dimmed at 9:05 p.m. to some truly awesome screams from the crowd, which was (not surprisingly) largely female and young, if not female, *very* young and accompanied by moms. Brightly colored wigs, tutus, and pastels were heavily represented, although the two dudes in bear costumes actually got a shout-out from Katy during the show.

Any attempt to list the show's head-spinning array of looks and sounds would take as long as the show itself. It opened with a large triangular cube rising from beneath the stage -- amid flashing lights, shots of steam, laser stabs, and dancers clad like neon warriors stalking the stage -- which gradually opened to reveal Perry in a neon dress, launching into "Roar."

See also: Katy Perry's Mummified Dancers Are Not Racist

Katy Perry - Madison Square Garden - 7/9/14
All photos Santiago Felipe

As the show progressed, there was an Egyptian-themed set visually reminiscent of Earth, Wind & Fire's *All N All* phase and Perry's own "Dark Horse" video that featured her rising from beneath the stage on a mock Trojan horse operated by two dancers, and later dangling 20 feet above the stage from a perilously spinning gyre. It segued visually into a Scooby-Doo-ish mummy-themed treatment of "I Kissed a Girl" -- the song that "put me on the map."

There was a completely over-the-top cat-themed segment, with a barrage of cat videos (and lots of bad puns) and props including giant cat towers, a bowl of milk, a fishbowl and mouse costumes -- all for a big-band arrangement of "Hot N Cold," the most radical reinterpretation of the night, which interpolated Henry Mancini's *Pink Panther* theme. That song wasn't the only musical wink: snippets of Madonna's "Vogue," Cece Peniston's "Finally," and Rob Base and DJ EZ-Rock's "It Takes Two" were worked into the set at various points, and the vocoder breakdown in "International Smile" is so Daft Punk-esque the wink is implicit.

The long, garden-themed acoustic set was performed at the front of the walkway and featured Perry's best vocal performance of the night on "By the Grace of God." At one point she talked about the garden at her home in California, sprinkled some glitter from a watering can into a stage trapdoor, and out emerged Ferras, the first artist on her new Metamorphosis label. (The first flower from her garden -- get it?) He took to the keyboard and they performed their duet from his EP, "Legends Never Die." She then strapped on a sparkly acoustic guitar and accompanied herself solo, unspectacularly but competently, for the first verse of "The One That Got Away" before being joined by the band. See also: "That Just Feels Dismissive of Real Pain": Why Katy Perry's Mummified Dancers Are Racist  

Katy Perry - Madison Square Garden - 7/9/14

That was followed, incredibly, by a segment with an early-'90s acid-house theme (a Pixar-esque nod to the grown-ups in the audience?), complete with dancers clad in dayglo, smiley faces, peace signs and bicycle shorts, and a DJ playing behind a giant beatbox.

Unlike most big-production shows, this one had many personal touches as well: She talked to the crowd a lot during the acoustic set, thanking them for "putting up with me" for eight years, recalling her stint on the Warped Tour -- "Can you imagine this on the Warped Tour?," she said, clutching her flowing gown -- and laid down on the edge of the stage and took a selfie with an audience member. At several points during the show, the visuals took a back seat and she worked the crowd like a traditional frontman, even though she was a hundred feet away from the band at times.

Katy Perry - Madison Square Garden - 7/9/14
All photos Santiago Felipe

The main set closed with a pastel-colored California theme (clamshell halter, palm-frond skirt) for "Teenage Dream" and "California Gurls," and then came the encore, and the kitchen sink: "Birthday," with balloons and confetti falling from the ceiling, Perry soaring over the crowd beneath several big balloons, and a giant birthday-cake-shaped platform rising from the stage upon which a lucky audience member named Mercedes (whose birthday was actually the day before) was perched. The encore closed, inevitably, with "Firework," for which the audience was told to don the pink 3-D glasses that CoverGirl, the tour's heavily present sponsor, had provided, to enhance the fireworks, sparklers and laser effects.

Katy Perry - Madison Square Garden - 7/9/14

Perry climbed back into her pyramid cube, it closed and dropped beneath the stage, and the show was over.

There's a self-aware smirk, a knowing wink, an ability not to take herself too seriously (the affliction that felled Madonna, Gaga and other of her forebears) that is Katy Perry's saving grace. The Prismatic tour, for all its expense and atom-splitting technology, is above all else fun, smart and crowd-pleasing, and I'll take that over the self-serious bombast that usually accompanies shows of this scale any day of the week.

Random Notebook Dump: There are 58 shows scheduled on this tour. I have no idea how she's going to do it.

Overheard: "Daddy, that was SO COOL."


Roar Part of Me Wide Awake This Moment/Love Me Dark Horse E.T. Legendary Lovers I Kissed a Girl Hot N Cold International Smile By the Grace of God Legends Never Die (with Ferras) The One That Got Away/Thinking of You Unconditionally Walking on Air It Takes Two This Is How We Do/Last Friday Night Teenage Dream California Gurls


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