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Sweet as candy, Perry is naughty and nice

Posted by James Reed  June 19, 2011 02:19 PM

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Perry performing earlier this month in Duluth, Ga. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup via Associated Press)

KATY PERRY
With Robyn
At: TD Garden, last night

By James Reed
Globe Staff

Puffy clouds of pink cotton candy. A sparkly dress with spinning peppermint pinwheels. A giant fake pot brownie that induced hallucinations. An Elvis impersonator, a pair of mimes, and seven costume changes within one song.

Welcome to Katy Perry’s vision of Candy Land come to life on her new California Dreams tour. It’s relentlessly fun – nothing more, nothing less – but it also suggests that the pop star’s live show has finally caught up with her ambitions.

Perry’s sold-out concert at the TD Garden last night was essentially a theater production, sometimes a circus, with Perry as the unsinkable ringleader. Frivolity suits her as snugly as one of her many hip-hugging dresses.

Loosely based on a running video narrative about Perry being transported to a candy-coated wonderland, the show highlighted what she is capable of with the right staging and enough fans to pack an arena. They came for the singalongs (“Hot N Cold,” “E.T.,” “Teenage Dream”) but likely left with an appreciation of Perry’s talents as an entertainer.

She reconfigured "I Kissed a Girl" with a vampy jazz intro. Channeling Mae West, she summoned four guys from the audience onstage to give her a peck on the cheek. When they all flashed their abs, she had some advice for her less-chiseled suitor: “Suck it in, baby. You’re about to be on TV.”

Just like on her albums, the show had its share of filler (“Hummingbird Heartbeat,” “Who Am I Living For?”), and it’s clear that Perry still doesn’t have enough hits to sustain a two-hour spectacle of this magnitude.

That explained the extended interlude of ballads that, while heartfelt, sapped the sass that made the show so amusing earlier in the night. An acoustic medley of some of Perry’s favorite songs this year – including Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair,” Rebecca Black’s “Friday” – played especially well to the teen crowd.

Pandering? Sure, but it was a small price to pay for a concert so well paced and upfront about its intentions. Unlike, say, a Lady Gaga performance, where every detail is meant to trigger a specific response, Perry’s show was unabashed in its pursuit of a good time. She gives you little to think about beyond her songs’ fleeting moments of debauchery (“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” “Waking Up in Vegas”).

Actual fireworks exploded over the stage during “Firework,” a treacly ode to self-empowerment that her fans have obviously taken to heart. Surely, you thought, the show had climaxed, but then Perry returned, briefly in a Bruins jersey, for an encore of “California Gurls” that ended in a shower of confetti. The woman knows how to go out on top.

With a short but sweet opening set of electro dance tunes, Swedish pop singer Robyn worked hard to win over an audience that had probably never heard of her before. She proved what her admirers have been saying for years: Robyn deserves to be much more popular.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

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The latest news, commentary, and reviews on music in Boston and beyond.

Contributors

Sarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.

Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.

Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.

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