Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Case for Teenage Dreaming

I was not terribly surprised when my decision to go to the Katy Perry concert generated a certain amount of sniggering when I mentioned it to a few people (mainly at the gym). The actual decision to go came about because I had been discussing acts I would like to see, and Ms Perry's sugary pop music and her own fairly off kilter attitude (from what I gleaned from the media of course) struck chords with me that made me think seeing a concert of hers would be fun. And so, an off the cuff remark that I would go and see her if she came to Wellington came home to roost (if cuffs can do that) when a Wellington date for her California Dreams tour was announced. Luckily, I knew others also attending, and so the stage was set for a fairly... youth-oriented evening.

Unfortunately, the venue chosen for the show was the TSB Arena. I have been to a few performances there, and while the Split Enz concert went quite well, I took that to be more because I was seated facing the stage rather than the venue itself, as I have paid for "more expensive" seats and ended up in the elevated seats looking sideways at the stage - or at least, what I can see through some annoying people who refuse to sit down (ah, that Billy Connolly stage show...).

Luckily, this time around, the TSB arena worked out perfectly. Sure, there was a queue for the entrance that stretched back almost as far as the Bluebridge Ferry terminal, and the egress was about as easy as having a calm debate with Titewhai Harawira, with people heading "against the stream" of the crowd, others determined to overtake those already trying to get out, and then the terrible decision to sell merchandise just near the main - and only - exit which led to a huge bottleneck just before heading out of the building. But the forced intimacy of the venue and the fact that there was standing room only on the floor gave the whole occasion a wonderful party atmosphere.

When I arrived, local act Zowie was wowing the early arrivals with her angry girl power attitude anthems. I had only heard of her in passing and knew nothing of her songs before I saw her perform, but I thought her stuff was pretty good, though not really aimed at my demographic. She was swiftly followed by a speed talking DJ who I could barely understand, but who made the crowd go wild by counting down the number of songs left in his set before the main act arrived. His songs got progressively slower and less catchy as the countdown continued, and it was a little bit of a surprise when his final song led to a 15 minute hiatus before the main show began (not sure if a countdown is really meant to work that way), but his set got everyone in a jumpy, arm wavy mood, and set the fun tone for the rest of the evening.

And when Katy Perry came out, that tone was ramped up to "awesome" fun. The show was amazing: the costumes, the set design, the lighting, the effects, the dancers, the singers, the songs - and of course, central to it all, the incredible performer that is Katy Perry. It got off to a great start when my favourite, Teenage Dream, got the party underway. Mixed in amongst an almost incomprehensible story about a trip to candy land that unfolded on the large screens above us, the songs may or may not have contributed something to the plot, but it didn't matter. There were quite a few songs I didn't know, but then Perry has had quite a few hits despite only releasing a few albums, and they were all mixed up amongst the "unknown" tracks, and so struck just the right balance between the two.

The highlight of the evening had to be the amazing performance of ET, which has quite a slow, aggressive beat. All the words were flashed up on the screen (helping everyone sing along), and the lighting effects went all 1980s disco fantasy, with green lasers bathing the venue in a funky retro-futuristic light. Of course, the crowd went wild for Perry's classic I Kissed a Girl, and everyone was hanging out for the great belting-it-out anthem of Firework (with real fireworks blasting across the venue) that signalled the almost end of the show.

And in between all that, Perry proved to be a completely amazing person. Her call for people to take their shirts off was answered by a young man whose speed and/or athletic build earned him a call on stage and the chance to peck Perry on the cheek. Girls were not left out, as a later "name that tune" challenge resulted in one woman earning a kiss. And at one stage Perry seemed to be pimping out her male back up dancers to any girls or guys willing to meet up with them after the show.

There were a few slower parts. A call to the audience for songs for Katy to perform was a nice idea, but the outcome was pre-ordained to appeal to the very poppy songs (like that Friday song and the whipping hair back and forth one) and so seemed to slow things down for no reason. Perry talked to the audience a few times as well, thrilling the crowd with lots of local references and reassuring everyone she knew she was in Wellington, New Zealand, thought he odd references to pouches and Summer Heights High, while very antipodean, were probably meant to appeal to a more Ocker audience. Bless.

But the crowd - with me amongst them - were willing to forgive any such lapses. The music was amazing, even if I wasn't overly impressed with her version of Whitney Houston's I Want To Dance With Somebody, though it was a great excuse to get some members of the audience on stage, with one lucky lady even brought back to get an up close and personal photo on her i-phone. Speaking of which, one thing that did surprise me was the number of cameras in attendance, with my view occasionally obscured by a dozen people raising their digital recording devices above their head to capture the performance for posterity.

Perry is stunning, her Wonder Womanly outfits emphasising her incredible Lynda Carter-esque curves, and the screens made the most of her dazzling blue eyes. A couple of mildly drunk guys behind me repeatedly yelled - in their deepest possible voices - a generous offer of lodgings at their place for the night should Perry require it, and though she herself made that request to the audience later in the evening, I think the men behind me would not have had their offers accepted. There were plenty of people who made the effort to get dressed up too, with blue and pink wigs galore (though not on sale at the merchandise counter), and the brigade of Girl Scouts at the back of the venue got special mention.

The show finished at just the right time for me to catch my train home, and as everyone left, the crowd was abuzz with praise. I have been to a few amazing concerts, but in terms of sheer spectacle, energy and fun, I don't think anything could come close or outdo this one. And, in a case of cosmic synergy framing the evening, as I walked back to my house under a starry sky smeared with a light dusting of autumnal mist, the final song on the radio was Perry's Firework. Brilliant.

Verdict: Not quite perfect, but the California Dream tour concert by Katy Perry was pretty close. Were the universe to tilt on its axis and a few million possibilities and probabilities change, I would marry Perry in an instant and bear her fine females. She is awesome, as was the show, and I will definitely go to one of her concerts again - despite any sniggering my enthusiasm might arouse. 9.5 fireworks out of 10.

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