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Concert Reviews:
Spears' Circus Has Three Rings of Style Not Substance

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Wednesday, September 9, 2009

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AUBURN HILLS -- Britney Spears' Circus was not an easy sell.

After skipping Detroit on the first leg of The Circus Starring Britney Spears, her first tour in five years, the pop singer and tabloid star had enough trouble moving tickets for Tuesday's (Sept. 8) show at the Palace that promoters had to mount an aggressive campaign that even included advertising the concert on the rival Pontiac Silverdome's I-75 message board.

Hit us, baby -- MANY times.

They did manage to lure a reported 16,000 into the arena on Tuesday, though the large chunk of empty seats and curtained-off sections at either end of the arena's upper deck were evidence of Spears' diminished drawing power. Blame that on the economy, if you will -- and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong -- but there were portions of the two-hour, five-"act" Circus spectacle that showed why Spears has flagged in recent years.

It was oddly appropriate that Spears' stop in the Detroit area came in-between the Detroit International Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend and Wednesday's (Sept. 9) Beatles releases. A fluffy respite between meatier musical events, the lavish and visually dazzling show was unapologetically style over substance, a testament to Spears' acumen for eye candy and sensory overload. But that also wore thin after awhile, leaving us entertained but not exactly fulfilled.

The main difference between the Cirque du Spears and similar recent spectaculars by Madonna, Beyonce and Christina Aguilera is content. They have good songs to fall back on; Spears has mostly non-songs, and even some of her better moments, such as her inaugural hit "...Baby One More Time," were delivered on Tuesday with synthetic, beat-heavy remixes that neutralized their hooks. Spears and her entourage kept the dance floor thump going all night long, pausing only for the ballad "Everytime" -- which she sang suspended above the stage in the handle of a giant umbrella -- and generally not leaving anything that was musically memorable. Even in the YouTube age, that's important.

But Spears, who also covered Alanis Morissette's "You Ought Know," did give the Palace crowd plenty to capture on their cell phone cameras and recorders. Following short sets, sung to taped instrumental tracks, by Kristinia DeBarge and "American Idol" champ Jordin Sparks -- as well as 15 minutes of circus sideshow-style acrobats, clowns and trampoline artists (one without legs) -- Spears was lowered to the stage in a cage, shedding a hooded robe to reveal the first of a dozen costumes she'd sport throughout the night. With dancers twirling around her on stage and above her on trapezes, Spears worked her way around the three-ring, center-arena stage during renditions of "Piece of Me" and "Radar," slipping around stripper-style poles during the latter.

It was a strong opening that didn't quite hold momentum as Spears broke for her next costume change. But "Ooh Ooh Baby" was spiced with slick illusions executed by magician Ed Alonzo, who at one point made Spears "disappear" from center stage and quickly reappear in the north ring, singing "Hot as Ice." The Bollywood remix of "Me Against the Music" was dressed up in an Indian motif, while the S&M imagery of the "Freakshow/Peepshow" segment recalled the Stanley Kubric film "Eyes Wide Open" -- not mention any number of Madonna videos. Spears moved amongst hanging picture frames and plush divans during "Breathe on Me" and "Touch of My Hand," and "Womanizer" set Spears and her female dancers as billy club-toting police officers tracking down male "offenders."

In the end Spears and the Circus company took their bows amidst sparkling pyrotechnics and swirling confetti -- more flash that doubtlessly left fans talking much more about what they saw than what they heard.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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