P!NK at Spark Arena, Auckland — flying high

There’s a lot of flying at a Pink concert. There is, in fact, a lot of an awful lot of things. But somehow the show manages to hang together in a way that other concerts can’t quite pull off.

P!NK at Spark Arena, Auckland, 4th August 2014. Photo Garry Brandon

Following the now well-established pattern of costume and scenery changes punctuating a nearly two-hour show with video presentations, Pink put on a rather spectacular production that opened, not entirely unpredictably or unreasonably, with her 2001 signature hit Get This Party Started. It’s a punchy kickstart to the show, but it wasn’t entirely representative of what was to come, at least not musically.

While much of last night’s concert was what one expects from an American female pop singer playing an arena tour in 2018 — massively overblown sets, a dozen dancers, costume changes — there was an underlying sense that Pink (she, apparently, prefers the less typographically convenient P!NK) would quite like to be a more conventional rock star. So for every Revenge, a disconcertingly poppy number given its subject and preceded by a slightly misjudged video about a theme park called RevengeLand, complete with a surprisingly Biz-Themed Dutch oven joke, with massive production and even a huge inflatable Eminem, there was a surprisingly touching reading of a song like Barbies, performed sans dancers, at the end of the runway, by Pink and her band. I say “conventional;” there’s little conventional about a rock band switching out bass guitar and keys for double bass and cello, but Pink’s band managed to make this work surprisingly effectively, and it allowed her voice — strong, clear, expressive — a rare chance to shine through the slightly crowded arrangements of her bigger numbers.

P!NK at Spark Arena, Auckland, 4th August 2014. Photo Garry Brandon

The set was what one might expect, for the most part — a trot through Pink’s big hits, taking in a good half-dozen numbers from her latest album, Beautiful Trauma. There were, of course, surprises, including Nirvana’s 1991 stunner Smells Like Teen Spirit, which was delivered with sufficient authenticity and venom that it could almost make one imagine this is the music Pink really wants to be making.

But this show was not simply about the music. The sets were hopelessly overblown, but managed — no mean feat, this — not to distract from the music. In the same way, her dancers danced behind, not around, her, giving Pink and her music the chance to hold the audience’s attention. Although not entirely fair, perhaps, comparisons with Katy Perry, who played at Spark Arena a fortnight ago, are somewhat inevitable; as I noted in my review of that show, Perry’s concert was an incoherent, muddled mess; Pink’s while still being quite extravagantly elaborate, stayed cohesive and focused and hugely entertaining.

It was, surely, exhausting for Pink to perform. More things flew at this show than I have ever seen at a concert — props, beds, dancers, and, frequently, the star herself, in particular for encore So What, which saw her shooting around the Arena, Peter Pan-style, suspended on a harness which allowed her to backflip as she zoomed down to almost — but not quite — touching range of her fans, and all the while not missing a single beat. It was, to be sure, a quite remarkable performance.

Slightly less remarkable, but worth a mention, were Pink’s opening acts. The Rubens were the standard rock-band opener, a fairly straight-ahead Australian pop-rock combo who really should be playing headliners by now instead of opening up for American visitors (I first saw them three years ago at the same venue, then warming up for Imagine Dragons), and while they have a handful of decent songs — I’m Saved is a genuinely good song — they still lack the stage presence needed to make the leap they need. Next up, and much more effective at warming up the crowd was Kid CutUp, a DJ from California who spun a surprisingly wide range of tracks, starting with AC/DC and taking in Charlie XCX on his way to Dave Dobbyn — a man, then, who knows his audience and knows that you can never go wrong in New Zealand by playing Slice Of Heaven. Combine this with intermission music that included The Knack and Squeeze and you start to wonder what audience this was aimed at, but I was happy.

I was not a Pink fan when I arrived at Spark Arena last night. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a convert now. But I can definitely see what the fuss is all about.

Pink plays Auckland’s Spark Arena a record-breaking five more times on this tour — full details here.


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