Katy Perry is sweet as candy, but California Dreams concert is far from empty calories (review)

KATYPERRY2.jpgView full sizeDoug Beghtel/The OregonianWith dancers dressed like showgirls, Katy Perry sings “Waking Up in Vegas” during her Rose Garden arena concert in Portland Friday night.

Katy Perry

sure is sweet. When she launched her

California Dreams tour

earlier this year, she promised a show that would be deliciously different from the typical summertime concert.

“I have this whole thing in my show that is about candy and cupcakes and meat,” she said. “It’s both really sweet and shocking, but not in a sexual way.”

And so it proved Friday night at the Rose Garden arena, where Perry gave her fans a sugar high with a spirited two-hour set of infectious songs performed on a stage that resembled an adult version of the children’s board game “Candy Land.”

And her audience was ready for the fix. Before the lights went down, seats filled with teen and pre-teen girls wearing pink tutus and bright blue wigs, middle-aged moms in gumdrop-covered dresses and cupcake bras, and one young boy wearing a kingly red cape festooned with white, lacy fringe, carrying a lollipop-shaped sign that read “Katy, will you be my queen?” The arena even smelled cloying, thanks to all the cotton candy-covered glow-sticks that people were munching on.

Channeling equal parts Betty Boop, Bettie Page and Betty Crocker, Perry often looked like a sexy confection, wearing low-cut dresses decorated with swirling peppermint candy, rainbow-colored boas and peacock-feather trains. In all, there were 16 costume changes – seven of them in one song alone, thanks to some onstage magic tricks.



Katy Perry peforms her California Dreams tour at the Rose Garden

But unlike pop shams like Britney Spears and Ke$ha, the dress-up act wasn’t a disguise for a lack of talent. Perry wrote or co-wrote her addictive songs, and some of them, like “I Kissed A Girl” and “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” have lyrics about ditching social constrictions and embracing personal oddities. When she performs them, Perry is all about empowerment, made all the more tasty with dollops of buttercream frosting. That’s a pretty great message, as pop role models go these days.

While Perry’s show is built around up-tempo production numbers, like “Waking Up in Vegas,” which featured an Elvis impersonator, a dancing slot machine and curvy showgirls, she proved she could slow things down, too. She ably played the guitar and purred out a handful of ballads that revealed more musical depth than she’s given credit for.

And Perry’s got vocal chops. After sounding a little off-key in her opening number “Teenage Dream,” Perry’s voice steadily improved as she belted out a string of Top 10 and No. 1 hits, culminating in “Firework” and “California Gurls.” The strong finale numbers had plenty of visual pop, thanks to pyrotechnics, machine guns that sprayed the crowd with whipped cream, and confetti cannons shooting out pink crepe paper.

Stringing the songs together was a fantasy video story – something about a demonic butcher, a cute cupcake baker, a runaway cat and a drug-laced brownie – that provided an excuse to fill the stage with dancing gingerbread men, backup dancers dressed like candy canes, and a couple of scary mimes doing so-so aerial acrobatics.

Like eating too much candy, Perry’s show is a sweet rush. But there’s so much artistry, catchy melodies and enthusiasm at work that it’s in no way empty calories. After all, everyone needs a handful of Jolly Ranchers, Red Hots and Dots from time to time.

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