Katy Perry: jumping the left shark

I’m willing to accept that I might not be in the target demographic for Katy Perry’s concert at Auckland’s Spark Arena last night, the penultimate show of her Witness world tour; I not sure, though, that the pre- and early-teen girls who clearly were the target audience were all that impressed either though.

I was disinclined to favour Perry, to be quite frank, before she even took the stage. Her opening act, Zedd, did little to impress — old man I may be, but I simply don’t see that playing other people’s records is a live act. A few well-chosen numbers did get the audience jumping, but he’s still just playing other people’s records. But no matter — he’s the opener, not the headliner. But then, as the intermission began, adverts for Perry’s cosmetics line began to play on the video screens beside the stage. This did not impress — when you’re charging a couple of hundred dollars for tickets, showing your audience adverts for your slap is not classy.

So, I’ll confess, I was disappointed with Perry before she took the stage. When she did, I was simply bewildered. As you’ll see from Grace Watson’s excellent photo gallery at the end of this review, Perry came out perched on an enormous crystal-shaped thing, suspended maybe twenty feet above the stage, singing Witness. This soon gave way to Roulette, which featured two enormous dice for Perry and her dancers to clamber over. I’m really not sure Katy Perry understands how Roulette works, but it hardly matters – there they were, making as little sense as anything that followed, whether it was the enormous, twenty-foot flamingo puppets, or the LED bra flashing the words “hot” and “cold” to tee up the song Hot N Cold, or the appearance of Left Shark to play a huge floor piano such as Tom Hanks played in Big.

And this was where Perry totally lost me. Until now I was willing to accept the absurdity of the spectacle, devoid as it was of anything resembling a theme, a thread, a narrative, that would have made sense of it. I was willing to allow that each clump of four or five songs needed a different costume – Dark Horse, apparently, could only be sung in a red sequinned number, while black and white trousers were necessary to do justice to Teenage Dream. I tried not to question the eyeball-fronted television sets her dancers wore for Chained To The Rhythm (I think — I did slightly lose track of the set list). But Left Shark was where Perry, let’s be fair, jumped the shark.

Left Shark, you may remember, was a bizarre episode during the 2015 Super Bowl half-time show, where one of Perry’s backing dancers in a shark suit danced quite intriguingly badly. Perry has clearly decided that embracing Left Shark, without anything resembling anything I could recognise as context, in her show would be the height of wit and hilarity, and so out came Left Shark for what was, presumably, intended to be self-deprecating but what felt awkwardly self-indulgent. It also felt, as did much of the show, excessively scripted and forced, especially when she described Left Shark as coming “all the way from the Pacific Ocean” — this to a New Zealand audience, in a city that’s not much more than a brisk swim away from the Pacific.

More observant readers might have noticed by now that there has been little mention of the music. The music did, to be fair, feel just a little secondary. During Dark Horse, Perry’s voice was so far back in the mix that she barely stood out above her backing singers, and even when she did shine through a little more clearly, her singing was perfectly acceptable but ultimately unremarkable. But the show felt like it was much more about the spectacle than the music, all overblown sets and disconnected, bizarre, unnecessary puppetry, all so carefully and slickly polished and stage-managed that roadies with leaf-blowers came on stage between songs to clear confetti from Perry’s path down a runway long enough to land a Boeing. And her audience, I felt, weren’t really loving it as much as they might.There were some, such as the young woman in front of me who spent much of the show swinging her arms back and forth, occasionally in time with the music; there were many who cheered and clapped at the end of each show but who simply didn’t seem to be as engaged as one would expect. When Harry Styles played at Spark Arena last December, his audience screamed loudly enough to drown out the sound of the music. Katy Perry’s audience managed a significantly less impressive response.

I would have liked to have had more positive things to say about Katy Perry. She’s sold many, many records; she’s sold a decent number of tickets (not all of them, but a decent number), and clearly there’s talent there. But last night’s show simply felt like an awful lot of style, but not quite enough substance to back it up.

Leave a Reply