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Concert Reviews:
Hard to feel sorry, or anything, for Britney Spears' Femme Fatale at the Palace

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Friday, July 29, 2011

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AUBURN HILLS -- In a summer when the likes of Katy Perry, Rihanna and Ke$ha are putting a fresh spin on the well-worn pop diva spectacle concept, Britney Spears -- a "veteran" at the age of 29 -- faces the challenge of staying relevant.

And on Thursday night (July 28) at the Palace, she wasn't quite up to the task.

Oh, Spears' 90-minute, 20-song Femme Fatale show -- supporting the album of the same name -- had plenty of the expected visual dazzle, from opulent staging to pyrotechnic special effects and choreographed production pieces with her 13 dancers. You want Spears to fly? She did, three times -- with wings, even, as confetti bathed the arena during the show-closing "Till the World Ends." She and her crew rode a small pink car around the stage during "How I Roll" and then handcuffed a willing crowd volunteer named Will to it while Spears serenaded him with "Lace and Leather."

And a few fans from the Groupon-aided crowd of 14,000 were brought on stage to dance during "I Wanna Go," though they were conspicuously kept from getting too close to Spears by the deftly deployed dancers.

That's a microcosm of what was so off about the concert, in fact. While Spears is hardly the first singer to be eclipsed by her surroundings, at Thursday's show she seemed particularly bloodless, dispassionate and untouchable, existing within the show rather than driving it. Neither singing live nor dancing very hard -- and barely speaking between songs -- Spears was collecting a paycheck and selling merchandise, no more or less. That she made no real effort to hide herself while changing costumes between the encores of "Toxic" and "Till the World Ends" only speaks to her lax attitude.

The irony is that with Femme Fatale she's aping one of her idol Madonna's reinvention moves but not her moxy. With just two musicians providing a synthesized, clubby thump to the songs -- mostly drawn from her last three albums and leaving plenty of hits on ice -- the show's musical direction hearkened to Madonna's late 90s turn to electronica with "Ray of Light" and its successors. But where that was inventive, in Spears' hands Thursday it felt like merely budget-cutting, a rote exercise in ease and economy rather than musical adventure.

And the loose, five-act "narrative," in which Spears was portrayed, on video, as a secret agent on the run from authorities and a decidedly cheesy cyber stalker, with nonsencial and downright silly.

Nevertheless, the Palace crowd which was happy to dance along to the woofer-pumping pulse of "Up n' Down," "Big Fat Bass" (with will.i.am on video), "If U Seek Amy," "Gimme More" and "Womanizer" -- some of which referenced specific remixes -- and bop down memory lane during "Boys," "I'm a Slave 4 U" and a medley of "...Baby One More Time" and "S&M."

Opening act Nicki Minaj was also undone by over-ambitious showmanship during a messy half-hour set in which she portrayed an intergalactic warrior, Roman, sent to battle the evil Nemesis. The music from her platinum debut album, "Pink Friday," merits better than that, but Minaj and her six dancers, stiff and unfocused, failed to recreate the set's cheeky exuberance.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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