US comeback queen Miss Britney Spears headed to Manchester for the final UK leg of her Femme Fatale tour. Has she really lost it? Can she dance? Can she even sing? Chris White went along to find out...
As a pretty die-hard Spears (Godney amongst her inner circle...) fan, you’d expect this review to be inherently biased. However, having seen Britney live three times now; at her best (Onyx Hotel Tour, 2003), and probably worst (Circus, 2009), I’d say I’m in a qualified position to review her latest tour performance.
Media judgement has been varied to say the least. After opening to rave reviews in the US, garnering praise for both her appearance, live vocals, and dancing ability, things seem to have (if you believe the Daily Mail – I don’t, FYI) gone a little off track recently. It seems Britney’s lost her enthusiasm for this tour malarkey upon hitting Europe. Or has she?
Despite a last minute panic sale with reduced tickets hitting Groupon early last week, the arena is packed. And I mean packed, to the rafters. The predictable crowd of girls and gays are out in force, and there’s a definite buzz in the air. After acquiring a suitably close position in the standing pit, the warm up begins with new girl duo Destiny & Paris. Pretty much as they sound, two cute blondes who mime the dance numbers, sing impressively on an Adele cover, and emulate Brit's trademark hair flicks admirably. I become a fan on Facebook as soon as I get home.
Last minute additions (I believe) The Wanted are up next. The crowd goes wild; the boys look a cross between nervous and bored. Having been impressed by them at a previous gig, tonight they were distinctly underwhelming. Excellent vocals are marred by a distinct lack of stage presence. I do wonder how they plan on pulling off their own arena tour next year.
Twenty minutes left, and a countdown appears on the screens either side of the stage. The lights dim. INSANITY. The huge stage props and video screens are revealed, and the intro video begins. The progressive trance-like music alone is giving me gooosebumps.
After an intense fight scene, the plot is set as Britney is shown being captured by policeman in a futuristic environment. Then, she’s there. The screen parts, Britney is striding out, and the arena is imploding (or so it sounds). As far as atmospheres at gigs go, I challenge many other artists to achieve this level of frenzy. From my obsessive fan research I’m expecting quite a bit of live vocals in the opening numbers. Call me deluded, but I can hear notes. Enough to be satisfied anyhow.
First off, Britney is a little curvy. Slim, toned, agile, and expectedly sexual – but curvy none the less. But compared to her last tour, this is a different Britney. Her eyes are alive, her face full of expression. She interacts with the crowd regularly, moves around the stage constantly across all levels. Her dancing is on point, perhaps not back to its peak (doubtful it ever will be), but the choreography is complex and relentless. A causal spectator would surely never guess her dancing ability had ever been called into question.
The set list was impeccable. Opening with ‘Hold It Against Me’, her high-octane dance/dubstep single which leads the latest album, the majority of songs are recent. The electronic theme of the last album translates very well in the arena. The bouncy almost grime riffs in ‘Trouble For Me’ vibrate through your entire skull; the bass in ‘I Wanna Go’ makes the floor literally shake. Of course we’re treated to a smattering of Brit's biggest hits; 'Baby One More Time', 'Toxic', 'Boys', 'Slave 4 U' – all craftily remixed to fit in with proceedings.
The remixes are excellent and update the classics perfectly. Predictably, the opening of 'Gimme More' (It’s Britney Bitch!) causes riots. The staging is also highly impressive; either side we have some kind of electricity pylons, video screens drop into the stage area as and when, set pieces include motorbikes, giant tea cups (really) and a large Egyptian boat. Oh and an electric chair, obviously. The whole thing is bright, in your face, and engaging.
As finales go, this has to hands down be the best I’ve ever seen. After some impressive dance routines through ‘Till The World Ends’, leotard costumes buzzing with red flashing lights, Spears is hauled into the sky on a pair of massive angel wings, as pyrotechnics rain down from above. It’s as spectacular as it sounds.
Perhaps I’ve totally failed in my aim not to be too biased in writing this review, but my honest feeling is that it’s hard to find fault with this show. Maybe Britney could have sung a tad more, maybe she really should have included her upcoming new single in the set list (baffling), but in reality everything about this just worked. The 'Femme Fatale' tour is without doubt a tour de force for Spears, and has provided justification and validity, if any were needed, of her status as one of pop music’s absolute legends.