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Concert review: Bell Centre witnesses Katy Perry’s glitzy tour debut

After Witness: The Tour’s opening night in Montreal, at least we know Katy Perry’s “unavoidable production delays” happened for good reason.


After the debut of Witness: The Tour at the Bell Centre on Tuesday, at least we know Katy Perry’s “unavoidable production delays” rate higher on the spectrum of acceptable show-postponement excuses than the usual “scheduling conflicts.”

The holdup with elements of Perry’s stage design — which led to the first few tour dates being shuffled, with Montreal ultimately scoring the opening-night honours — could have been caused by any number of high-concept set pieces. The giant floating lips that swallowed the singer at the end of a driving I Kissed a Girl; the planetary perch that sent her up to the rafters and drifting across the arena for Thinking of You; the outsized hand that cradled her as a few Independence Days’ worth of pyro shot up to the ceiling for the grand finale of Firework. Maybe the mini-trampolines on which Perry and her dancers bounced during Nicki Minaj’s piped-in part in Swish Swish were on back order from Amazon.

Perhaps the extra production time could have been used to adjust some visuals whose juxtapositions and statements were as confused as they were colourful. When Perry rode a stationary motorcycle in a Tron getup for the glib empowerment anthem Hey Hey Hey just before delivering the much more affecting empowerment anthem Part of Me in front of a screen packed with Pac-Man motifs, it was difficult to tell if there was something substantial to the gaming graphics.

That isn’t to suggest Perry’s carnival demands deep thoughts. Even when the presentation veered toward incoherence, it was rarely dull. And the energy was certainly there, with the singer staying in constant motion on a multi-stage set for two hours. But Perry seemed to be striving for something approaching maturity (starting with the forced importance of Colon The Tour), perhaps to the mild disappointment of some who remembered the insane goof-a-minute whimsy of her Prismatic tour, which stopped at the Bell Centre in 2014. At 32, it would be understandable if she has outgrown the Kitty Purry days of cat-suited hijinks.

Not that she has forgotten how to make an entrance. After a roller-coaster panorama of the planets and cascade of dry ice established the night’s recurring deep-space theme, Perry sailed in astride a neon star, emerging through the all-seeing eye-shaped screen that frequently parted to reveal new toys. Setting the quick-change pace, a teaser of the Witness album’s title track swiftly yielded to a pulsating Roulette, with colossal dice providing a playground for glitter-hoodied Perry and dancers whose outfits merged Alice in Wonderland surrealism with Vegas casino mascots.

Another motif continued as the slippery bass of Chained to the Rhythm ushered in a parade of dancers with TV-eye heads (suggested alternative title — Eyeball: The Tour). Add the towering floppy-limbed marionettes, and Perry could have been subconsciously channelling the iconography of fellow production-design obsessives Pink Floyd and the Residents.

Like the Prismatic tour, costume-change interludes came between loosely themed sections of the show. Sometimes very loosely themed. There was a vague retro feel to a segment that kicked off with bobble-headed dancers scurrying around Perry — who cut an Annie Lennox pose, with a slightly oversized suit and her over-discussed bleached/cropped hair — for the day-glo Teenage Dream.

The section’s playful mood continued when Perry asked “What do you think we should play next?” as her halter top flashed “Hot N Cold” — a cheeky nod to the show’s usually unforgiving margin of error, whether it was intentional or not. The flamingos flanking her did their best, but were upstaged by a cameo from Super Bowl star Left Shark, dancing just clumsily enough during the carefree California Gurls.

Carrying on with Perry’s love of oversized novelty items, a cartoon phone appeared because “you can never ignore a call from your mother. Those are the terms of getting your own phone, and those are the terms of going on tour.” Cue the definitely not pre-recorded voice of Perry’s mom, who greeted the crowd in French and told a halting joke about robots loving heavy metal. It was a cute, well-intentioned but poorly paced bit that, if opening night was anything to judge by, should either be tightened or given a scripted outline.

(Opening-night glitches accounted for a few other instances of dead time, notably the curiously long pause before Perry got ready to soar with Thinking of You. “Don’t worry — it’s our first show. We’re working through the kinks,” she said from somewhere in the dark. “It’s not that easy just hopping on a planet.”)

The pacing sagged again when fathers got equal time near the end of the show, as the stage was transformed into a basketball court for Swish Swish. “I need a really drunk dad,” Perry said. “I need someone who was dragged here by all four children.” The willing volunteer ended up scoring more points with the novelty balls than the star did. Eventually. Again, a fun bit in which you could feel the energy evaporate — almost as much as it did after a poorly calculated mood swing when Perry was dwarfed by well-watered roses for a brooding Déjà Vu.

The mad-florist section livened up considerably when Perry indulged her whimsy for the eerie E.T., sparring with a dragonfly who looked like a Beetlejuice extra as Venus flytraps stood poised for a meal. (They got it when Perry tempted fate in an overlong Bon Appétit that had already seen her doused by salt and pepper shakers while dancers circled with room-service trays. She remains a fan of on-the-nose visual interpretation.)

And if the Mom and Pop spotlights dragged, Perry scored when she caught an endearingly low-budget shooting star (planetarium visits are going to skyrocket in the wake of this show) and called up one of her younger fans from the back of the arena to make a wish.

The sincere and presumably unscripted wish: to be an artist. Occasionally, a pop spectacular’s memorable moments come without a big production.


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