I'm not sure if any celebrity has had more written about them in the last decade besides Britney Spears; some good-some bad all of it fascinating in some fashion. However, as a result, many have had a hard time separating the performer from the celebrity. People look at her and see tabloid headlines and lip-synching and often have a hard time looking beyond. That in itself is a shame because while she doesn't have the same grasp on the music media as she did with her first few albums, her recorded output in recent years shows growth. I was ready to write her off a few years ago, but with each album she has continued to penetrate the pop landscape and as her Femme Fatale tour rolled into Chicago, both Spears and the Chicago crowd was ready for lift-off.
Spears last toured in 2009 and while the staging was in-the-round with a series of extraordinary staging, it felt bitter and icy. Spears looked disengaged from the proceedings and it felt as if they had taken her out of a box right before show time. Despite what some reviewers have posted about her current tour, it features a rejuvenated Spears in a show that provoked the crowd in all the right spots.
As a screen split in two on the main stage, Britney Spears appeared on a platform with her lead single from Femme Fatale "Hold It Against Me". Dressed in a silver outfit that continued to reveal more and more with every chorus, Spears was in her element. "Up N' Down", dressed in white private investigator dance of "3" and "Piece of Me", which found Spears flying on a platform from the front of the stage towards the back before she disappeared into a trap door on the main stage. The whole show featured gimmicks galore yet the crowd never seemed let down from it as it never left room for hesitation. Last tour, the stage was a exceptional in-the-round creation whereas this time, it was a 180-degree stage with a large extensive platform that went more than halfway onto the floor. While not providing as many stunning viewpoints as the 360-stage did, she had enough props and commitment to make it meaningful and never losing the crowd's interest.
Dispersed with several noir-like video segments, they proved to be time for Spears and her dancers to change outfits. The second portion of the show proved to be among the evenings most entertaining with the thumping "Big Fat Bass" which found Spears in a red skirt almost rapping the one-dimensional, but gripping beat further escalating the tension between her performance the crowd. A car pulled up to the front of the stage, as the ten background dancers were in dazzling colors (looking like extras in a live action Aladdin remake).
Colorful costumes aside, the beattastic song is a sure fire hit and should be a future single. The incessant percussion beat and its catching chorus found every single soul on their feet cheering along. Spears, who has taken career cues from Madonna, leaned the set heavily on material from Femme Fatale. While on paper this would appear to be imprudent, it showcased the album vividly and featured its strengths. "How I Roll" I had overlooked on my initial listens of the record but the performance will be etched in my mind for a while to come. Lace and Leather" (from 2008's Circus) found Spears pulling a male fan from the crowd who she danced and teased with a leg wrap around the back of his head for and the car drove back to the main stage. "If U Seek Amy" had a 1950's swing style to it compared to the poppish quality on the studio cut. It was another pleasant surprise of the evening as the arrangements were not cut and paste renditions from the records.
"Gimme More" rippled throughout the arena with Britney's spoken declaration ("It's Britney...bitch"). Vintage hits "I'm A Slave For You", "Baby, One More Time" (in biker gear) and "Boys" (with the dancers mimicking snakes) all filled the nostalgia crave. A pair of perfectly chosen covers worked beautifully within the set; Rhianna's "S&M" and Madonna's "Burning Up". On the Madonna cover (all the way back from 1982) found spears riding a larger-than-life guitar like it was a bull. However, it was the newer material that resonated strongest and evoked the largest roars of the audience. "I Wanna Go" along with the evening's finale of "Till the World Ends" found the crowd in a manic state or nirvana. Amidst pyrotechnics and 15,000 dancing fans (mostly female) Spears disappeared beneath the stage as a shower of pyrotechnics draped the stage.
Is the show well produced and executed? You bet. It may be too rehearsed for some, but it's perfectly suited for troubled time and for those who want to dance their worries away. The Femme Fatale tour is a step up from her Circus jaunt two years ago. It features Britney Spears much more animated and invigorated on the stage. The 90-minute show may not go down as a epic tour de force live performance; it serves its purpose perfectly. More than anything, the crowd ate it up and danced like a clock was counting down to the apocalypse without a worry in the world and ultimately, that's the greatest gift pop music can ever give us.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer. His daily writings can be read at http:/the-screen-door.blogspot.com.