Katy Perry with Carly Rae Jepsen at Rogers Arena, 2/5/18
Katy Perry’s fifth album Witness fell short of the woke “purposeful pop” she promised, but when it came to the purpose of entertainment, she hit the mark last night (Feb. 5) at Rogers Arena.
Before the props and costumes galore, Carly Rae Jepsen began the show mostly with songs from her latest album, 2015’s Emotion. Not to take anything away from her pop-rock anthems “Boy Problems,” “Let’s Get Lost,” or “Cut to the Feeling,” but predictably, none of those songs lit up the crowd the way “Call Me Maybe” did; it was, after all, the best-selling single of 2012.
The backdrop for Katy Perry was a screen shaped like an eye that spanned beyond the edges of the stage and from the stage floor to the ceiling. The iris opened, and Perry, looking like a reflective C-3PO, made her grand entrance seated atop a star that seemed to float through the air.
Every time I glanced away from her, new props had sprung up either onstage or along the runway that protruded to the middle of the arena. Planets dangled from the ceiling during “Wide Awake.” A giant pair of lips hovered in front of the iris during “Bon Apétit.” “E.T.” featured Venus flytraps. She straddled a speed bike that could have been borrowed from the set of Tron during “Hey Hey Hey.” A dancer swung around the stem of one of several (again, giant!) roses and used it as a pole to perform horizontal acrobatics.
A line from The Simpsons ran through my head all night: “If you like good food, good fun, and a whole lot of… crazy crap on the walls, then come on down to Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag!” On the screen, a clock wound backwards and a photo gallery of an adolescent Perry scrolled as she, now age 33, sang “Teenage Dream” in real-time. Simultaneously, the stage filled with random geometric props including a rectangular yellow block that hoisted her and a string of dancers into the air like the construction workers in “Lunch atop a Skyscraper.” She took to the air once more for “Thinking of You,” seated on a planet complete with rings as a ceiling track slowly pulled her over the audience’s heads. Oh, yeah, there were 12-feet-tall flamingos operated by stilts. “If you like pop tunes, good fun, and a whole lot of… crazy crap onstage,…”
Stepping into Perry’s world is like stepping into a kids’ show. Interactive segments punctuated the music. She invited a six-year-old fan named Aubrey onstage to make a wish. Perry tussled with a performer who wore a shark suit. She brought a “hot dad” (Dustin who works in cryptocurrency) onstage to shoot oversized basketballs into an oversized hoop during “Swish Swish.” The only thing missing was green Nickelodeon slime.
Perry acknowledged her more risqué material too. She omitted expletives on “Hot N Cold” but went all in later: “Time to play the song my parents like the least. But I have to play this song, don’t I? Because it got me here.” Of course, that song was “I Kissed a Girl.”
Perry went high throughout the show, but to end it, she went low. As “Roar” concluded, she disappeared from sight on a descending platform upstage. But she re-surfaced at the tip of the runway, standing in the palm of an ascending animatronic hand that unfurled just long enough for her to blow out with “Firework” before the fingers curled back up, and she was lowered out of sight for the last time.
Critics have largely rejected Witness as the piece of earnest, enlightened social and political commentary that Katy Perry had intended it to be. Maybe a better-received political album is in her future, but as her body of work stands, her music is for entertaining, and at Rogers Arena, she put on the exact show that can be expected of someone who’s reached the peak of sugary pop stardom like she has.