Perched on a flowery swing halfway through her two-hour show at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Tuesday, Katy Perry lamented during a song, “I didn’t feel the fairytale feeling.” But the 13,000 people – mostly teenage girls and gays – who attended her real-life Candy Land sure as heck felt it.
Perry’s kitschy, glitzy show, her first arena tour (last time she played Michigan, about two years ago, it was at Clutch Cargo’s in Pontiac), took from classics like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Wizard of Oz,” opening with a silly fable via video about her search for pet pussy Kitty Purry and, of course, a boy. Clips carried the Dr. Seuss-type narrative through the whole show, but onstage is where all the action was.
Large lollipops, pink mountains, candy cane walkways and cotton candy clouds made the dazzling set look like a Willy Wonka dreamscape (and made me more than just a little hungry for something sweet). There were mimes, Vegas showgirls, and more glitter than a room packed with drag queens. It was an imaginary world where nothing seemed real – not even Perry, whose doe-eyed cutesiness was made for this type of Disney heroine role. She opened with “Teenage Dream,” the first in a string of hits from the album of the same name, in a silver sequined dress that flared out and featured swirling peppermints.
Her voice, long dogged in live settings, didn’t hit all the right notes as she ran through the first few songs (proof that she didn’t lip sync) – the addictive “Hummingbird Heartbeat” and “Waking Up in Vegas,” off her 2008 debut, “One of the Boys” – but improved as the show moved swiftly along. Even “Firework,” her pre-encore song that she called her favorite (and ended in, of course, fireworks), wasn’t the abysmal, out-of-range mess it sometimes is (meaning, for once, I wasn’t hoping Rachel from “Glee” would come and take over).
Other highlights were an edgier version of “Ur So Gay,” performed with her full band and an electric guitar solo; the jazzy intro to “I Kissed a Girl,” which then launched into the blistery radio version; and the middle set of songs – including “Circle the Drain,” “Pearl” and “Not Like the Movies” – that showed there’s more substance under the Hershey Kiss bra (which, yes, she wore).
The candy theme was in full effect, breaking into “I Want Candy” and “Milkshake” for her dancers to shake their tail feather at while Perry got ready for “Hot ‘n’ Cold,” which had her instantly – and almost magically – changing costumes. For a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (no, it didn’t even come close to the original), she invited some 30 fans from the audience for a dance party onstage. One fan in a matching candy button dress hung around for a photo, and Perry was a sport as the girl tried to get the perfect shot.
Perry spent a lot of time playfully interacting with her adoring (aka loud) fans and not much time dancing; she left that up to her exuberant troupe of dancers. Her choreography was loose and the most she had to do was zoom around stage with that flashy smile and animated princess eyes. But behind that bubbly innocence was dirty-girl subtext that probably didn’t please some of the parents, and not just because “Peacock” isn’t about a bird. Perry indulged in a psychedelic brownie, non-so-subtly flirted with a shirtless guy she brought on stage and suggestively squirted a white foamy fluid from large bazookas onto the audience during her final song, “California Gurls.” We get it, Katy. For a good time, call you.