Perhaps one day, Britney Spears will try a jaunt with no flashy staging, dancers and other gimmicks. But don’t count on that happening anytime soon. The 22-year-old pop superstar values image over content and seems to think that moving into the adult phase of her career means more skin and shallow sexuality that’s ultimately just tease and titillation.
This year’s Black Onyx Hotel Tour is centered around a futurist structure that also doubles as video screens and hosts special effects. An annoying ringmaster of sorts looking like a cross between a Cirque du Soleil host and Boy George in carnival drag serves as a snide commentator of sorts on the proceedings, which scream for a Vegas residency in Spears’ future, where the glitz can rule.
Monday’s show at Staples opened with “Toxic,” Spears’ current hit, which is speculated as being a slam at her ex, Justin Timberlake. The song is perhaps the strongest number on her latest album, “In the Zone,” which generally abandons melody and actual hooks on most tracks for electronically anchored rhythms and beats. New songs such as “(I Got That) Boom Boom” and the misnamed “Outrageous” (it’s anything but that) are faceless, indistinctive dance-floor fodder that seem designed to serve the choreography.
Wearing a tight black costume out of “The Matrix,” with pumped-up cleavage, then later turning up in a pink bra and frilly panties, among other outfits, Spears and her flock of dancers gyrated in typical synchronized moves, the women sometimes looking like sci-fi apocalypse hookers and the men at one point shirtless in just suspenders and wearing bellhop caps to keep with the hotel theme, even pushing the girls around the stage on luggage carts. At times it was entertaining but overall came off as a variation on the same show she’s been doing for several years.
Despite her reliance on all the visuals over music, Spears shouldn’t forget that her early hits also were catchy pop nuggets, videos or not. The few older songs in the show were given some of the most interesting treatments, including a jazzy, near-lounge take for “Oops! . . . I Did It Again” and Latin-styled percussion to drive “(You Drive Me) Crazy.”
Unlike past concerts, there were far fewer parents with little girls, and the audience mostly consisted of women in their 20s and up, many decked out in their trashiest semi-club wear for the night. And that’s probably a good thing, considering steamy stuff like Spears shedding a white robe to reveal a flesh-colored body suit underneath as she stepped into a clear glass bathtub and got to know herself during “Touch of My Hand” while other members of her dance troupe also engaged in masturbation mime on beds and chairs. She also simulated sex with a male dancer, but it was all contrived rather than erotic, though certainly not for the preteen set.
Every time it seemed as though Spears might show a little personality beyond her lengthy blond tresses and polished-white smile, her few words between numbers came off as terribly rehearsed. While she did use a hand-held microphone for a few songs to perhaps prove she does do her own singing, there’s little doubt, from the sound of it, that her vocals are enhanced on upbeat numbers, though her huff-and-puff breaths into the headset mic following aerobic moves were certainly very real.
The bill also included Kelis, whose style ranges from metallic heavy funk to her playful, bass-throbbing bump-and-grind sassy hit “Milkshake,” which bubbles with more genuine sex appeal than much of Spears’ latest material.
The night was opened by Canadian teen rocker Skye Sweetnam, whose spunky set included a punky version of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” The 15-year-old’s debut album is due in May on Capitol.