On the Brit-Brit scale, “The Circus Starring Britney Spears 2009 Tour” was better than the star’s last major trek, 2004’s “The Onyx Hotel,” but below her best tours, including 2000’s “Oops . . . I Did It Again” and 2002’s “Dream Within a Dream” – the latter being one of the best pure pop spectacles that this critic has ever seen.
Given everything Spears has been through in the last five years, a period of time that saw her become the ultimate tabloid queen, this uneven, though enjoyable outing was still more than what should have been reasonably expected.
The capacity crowd of 18,000 fans that turned out in Sacramento to see the 27-year-old star was rewarded with a flashy, big-budget spectacle that nearly matched the hefty ticket prices, which topped out at $750.
The theme was the “Circus,” the title of Spears’ most-recent album, and the action took place at the center of the arena, in an “in-the-round” setting. There was one large stage that connected to two smaller ones, creating a true “three-ring” affair. A band of musicians was hidden from plain sight in a pit that surrounded the three stages, thus assuring that
at least some of the music we’d hear on this night would be live.
After an opening set by the Pussycat Dolls, which did absolutely nothing to change the perception that these ladies are little more than the poor man’s Spice Girls, Spears kicked off her 80-minute set in dramatic fashion as the curtain rose on center stage and she appeared dressed as a ringmaster. She jumped right into the new album’s terrific title track, and then followed up with the hit single from 2007’s “Blackout,” “Piece of Me,” which is by far the best tune Spears has ever recorded.
It was hard not to be swept up in the sheer star power of the moment. Even after the many all-too-human moments we’ve seen from Spears over the last five years – the breakdowns, the childhood custody battle, the botched appearance on the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards – she still is able to make a crowd gasp simply by appearing onstage, as if 18,000 fans are saying in unison, “OMG! It’s Britney!” None of her contemporaries, women like Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera and BeyoncÃ©, can produce quite the same effect.
Spears can no longer be considered among the elite dancers in show business, so the decision-makers (i.e., her father and tour director Jamie King, who has worked with Madonna in the past) seem to know this and have constructed a show that cleverly sidesteps the need for Britney to do much hoofing around.
A crowd, for the most part, just wants there to be plenty of movement onstage, and King fulfills that wish in many cases by simply having other “Circus” cast members wheeling Britney around on cool contraptions. During “Piece of Me,” for example, Britney rode atop a lion’s cage, doing basic “Vogue”-style hand gestures and some basic body writhing, while being pushed around the stage by guys dressed like they were on their way to the next bondage ball.
It’s worth noting that, while there were some risque outfits, this is not a sexed-up show in the fashion of “Onyx Hotel,” which featured a “bathing” sequence that fans still mention. This time around, this former Mouseketeer, who is now a mother of two, is putting on a fairly family-friendly affair, although one that isn’t trying to compete for the “Hannah Montana” crowd.
For the first part of the concert, the “Circus” motif was particularly well-handled. The cast included plenty of clowns and weirdos, guys playing with fire, curious characters performing slight-of-hand trickery and even one bodybuilder – in other words, it closely resembled what’s regularly seen right down the street at the State Capital.
At one point, a magician even made Spears disappear, a feat that her detractors have been unable to accomplish thus far. Yet, that wasn’t the most startling disappearing act of the night. For some unknown reason – perhaps, King ran out of ideas? – the “Circus” motif suddenly vanished toward the end of the show and Spears was left to rummage through Madonna’s closet during the last numbers.
She did save some of her best songs for last, including “Toxic” and “. . . Baby One More Time.” The encore should have marked a return to the “Circus” theme as Spears belted out the obvious closer, “Womanizer,” but instead fans received an utterly too-clichÃ© sexy cop routine.
Again, given just how far Britney had fallen, this comeback show represented a pretty impressive outing. Yet, Spears will have up to up her game for the next tour – especially if she wants to sell those $750 tickets.