After a major and very public meltdown, Britney Spears signed to Caesers Palace for a risky piece of me business, a touch and go wobbler where the post-20s superstar either made it or freaked it. Two years later she resigned till 2017 for $35 Million, and re-opened with a vamped up production. The first time I saw Britney live she was still riding a swing in the middle of Madison Square Garden singing “Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman”, somewhere between Disney girl and one woman Louisiana hay ride, and the last time she was in the wilds of Jersey, with one Nicki Minaj opening, and a stressed out, lugubrious Britney -not dissimilar to Justin Bieber’s performance earlier this year, lip-synching her life away.
Last night at the gorgeous Axis Theatre -imagine a state of the art Playstation Theatre, she was still lip-synching, but now it didn’t matter, because now it wasn’t a concert, it was a glitzy Vegas show in the middle of the strip. Bright, sparkling, energetic, with eight costume changes and about as many set vamps, from guitar riding heaven during “I Love Rock N Roll” to Amazon suicide jump during “Toxic”, the place was an explosion of everything you come to Las Vegas for (including Brit Slot Machines in the casino). I had been to see Olivia Newton John the night before and whatever Olivia was about, she was about the songs first. Britney has an occasional brilliant catalog but the show wasn’t about the songs. They were a backdrop to getting on the Britney ride and holding on.
Sure, as a fan of the great woman, I live for “Piece Of Me”, “Toxic” “Oops… I Did It Again”, all performed last night, and even “Private Show” and “Do You Wanna Come Over” -both off her fine if obvious new album Glory. And while “Make Me…” was a toxic first big single, featuring the terrible G Easy and Spears out of time with modern pop, that effectively stalled Glory (the problem is that modern pop is about embracing the zeitgeist, and the divorced mother of two sons, does nothing of the sort any more) no one cares.
Lucky for her, the operative word in this show is not scandal, not even sex, but work. The twelve dancers are beautiful but industrious as opposed to scandalous, and Britney herself seems concentrated on the business at hand rather then anything APPROACHING self expression. Tellingly, she opened the show with her last smash, the house rollicking “Work Bitch” and ended it with a thematic reprise and a “You better work bitch” shout to take it home: it bypasses Britney’s terrifically messy life and replaces it with the Protestand ethic, she makes money the old fashioned way. The story was all about work and “It’s Britney bitch”, the shows star was not in the revelation market. This despite the pre-show $1500 meet and greet (aka we’ll take the photo, and be sure not to touch the star) which will get you no closer to her, trust me here, though I didn’t go the bucks. In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been the worst investment. And in retrospect, saving Britney from being the woman who once went berserk on a poor retail employee, screaming on the top of her lungs “I’m not the person you think I am…” before going on a wild car chase, cutting off her hair, losing custody of her boys, and having the courts put Britney’s father in charge of her business. None of which reflected that badly really, the price of long term fame, and the albums that followed it were the best of her career, the late-00s Blackout and Circus are complete standouts. “Piece Of Me” is off Blackout, her first post freakout.
“Piece Of Me” seriously bypasses all of this stuff. The first rule of rock and roll stardom, for Jerry Lee, for Chuck Berry, hell, for the changes Bowie, is become who you are -as another freakouter Julianna Hatfield once put it. Who Britney is is a member of the Hatfields and McCoys trailer trash who broke through and so who she was was always, necessarily, hidden from real view. She wasn’t the girl we wanted her to be and so Las Vegas allows her to be this untouchable ultimate showgirl, hotter than hell blonde vision. It has sold well and it is easy to see why, not only is she twenty years younger than any other Vegas resident, she, like Vegas itself, is an imaginary, every girl at the same time. She crosses over and how, rock critics love her, moms and their daughters, and the dads, the disenfranchised from the slot machines and the slot machine players who only unglue themselves from their seats for the all you can eat buffet, love her. She crosses over and back again. The stage is a dream, and we are in Britland. Whether dressed as angel descending from heaven, or dragging a lucky audience member (“Your eyes are gorgeous” she tells him!) by a leash as he crawls on all fours (“You’re a great crawler, I love the way you crawl” -him and me too), bypassing anything close to an emotional center, all she does is say get on the freakshow and have your eyes and ears explode.
Really, no, it is mostly pre-prepped stuffed, and it isn’t an expression of Britney back when she was a top pop performer, back when she was the very best at being Britney, better than Selena or Ariana, only Taylor beats her at it. Time and life passed her by as a recording artist but, like Neil, Paul, Bono, even better than Madonna, on stage, she is at her best. After all, it’s Britney, bitch, whoever that might be.
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