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Live review: Katy Perry @ Manchester Arena (22/06/18)


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The audience are kept waiting as a giant Big Brother-like eye, the centrepiece of a cosmic stage set-up, casts an electronic gaze over the arena. The show is 50 minutes behind schedule and the moans and groans are audible from the Mum’s around: "As long as she still does her two hours and plays all the hits then I’ll be happy", can be heard in various forms.

When the house lights finally died, a pounding bass line scored an animated sci-fi journey through outer space that played out across the stages multiple screens; imagine if the original Crystal Maze introduction had a Hollywood budget.
Katy Perry descended from the heavens, arriving on stage via a high-wire star shaped chair to Witness. We were certainly witnessing something. Katy Perry on stage is a techno Slim Shady, complete with bleach blonde crew cut and outfit inspired by a gold sprayed, peroxide Tin Man. It’s much at odds to the goofy, cotton candy playfulness of her earlier musical output and stage persona. 
Such was the scale of production the arena was at risk of breaking out into a Mexican yawn between songs while elaborate set designs were built and deconstructed. Huge gold dice tumbled onto the stage during the opener, while giant puppets in suits with TV sets for heads accompanied a thumping version of ‘Chained To The Rhythm’. A ‘This Is Your Life’ style family photo album showed transformation from innocent teen Katy Hudson to chiselled global superstar Katy Perry, which proceeded the sickly slick popsicle stick production of ‘Teenage Dream’.
The hits continued. Perry, by this time on her third outfit change, slipped off her jacket to reveal a flashing ‘Hot n Cold’ LED sign on her top. The climax was lessened by a prolonged monologue of her love of British quirks collected through two weeks of touring the Isles; a proper cup of tea, beans on toast and going out on the lash down the pub. Perry made a nod to the inexplicable events of last summer with a homage to the ‘beautiful, resilient people’ of the city, a scar still visible  from the airport style security on entry and a visibly diminished crowd not at full capacity.
Katy, as the audience scream to her, was amusingly too busy air strumming to her bright pink Flying V guitar to mime the lyrics to ‘Hot n Cold’, which was almost brushed over played at double quick tempo. 
A hyper-sexualised routine of squat dropping, gyrating back up dancers and visuals of provocative, exploding champagne bottles accompanied a supercharged ‘California Gurls’. Having kept an eye on the tour, it was no surprise to see ‘Left Shark’, the social media phenomenon that stole the limelight at her 2015 Super Bowl performance, make an appearance during the song. She allowed ‘Left Shark’ centre stage once again with a foot piano rendition of ‘The Birdie Dance’. It was a humorous and self-deprecating moment, but the rhythm of the show was lost again during the time-consuming assembly of yet another gimmick. 
The theatre continued with a succession of more bizarre performance artistry; pole dancing on the stems of large roses, venus fly traps and a dancer in stilts dressed as a giant insect. The most literal backdrop of the night saw her consumed by a giant pair of rubber lips during ‘I Kissed A Girl’. 
The EDM frog ribbit refrain of ‘Roar’ was the evening’s closer, before an encore of ‘Firework’. Those that didn’t have to rush off to catch public transport were treated to a glitter extravaganza. Perry stood in the palm of a giant hand and led a poignant tribute: “let’s sing this song for all those 22 angels”. Though the persistent Mancunian lilt she insisted on using when pronouncing ‘Man-ches-tah’ did get annoying, she signed of the show by declaring us ‘the best city in Britain’. Agreed Katy, agreed. 
As a neutral and non Katy Cat, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the theatrical elements of the show. But while the set design is commendable in scale and vision, and Katie Perry certainly has the energy to bombast through two hours of pop exuberance, her young audience couldn’t quite keep up after a late start as the songs played second fiddle to the extended witness metaphor. 
Words: Charlie Boydell-Smith

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