Katy Perry at Madison Square Garden (Photo: Carolyn Churchill)
As Katy Perry pointed out early in her Monday night Witness album tour stop at Madison Square Garden, her concerts are “weird, wacky and wonderful,” and she would seem to have pulled out all the stops and then some this time out.
But Perry also acknowledged the darkness of the day after the Las Vegas shooting in demanding that her audience join her in “singing louder and dancing harder than we’ve ever danced,” and so they did--though no one sings louder or dances harder than Katy Perry.
The futuristic, surrealistic show itself was so far over-the-top that the Garden needed its roof to contain it. Initially employing an outer space visual theme (including imagery on a vast backdrop shaped like an eyeball to go with the Witness album cover artwork), Perry floating out on a star to the strains of the new album’s titletrack, then sang its track “Roulette” while acrobats and dancers popped out of big gambling dice props.
This opening portion of the show also included Witness’s lead single “Chained to the Rhythm,” rising and falling stage platforms, and the first of three confetti machine spews—each time sending out scads of scraps of different shapes and colors.
But the non-stop action was not confined to the stage, as the production also involved a long ramp running to a small satellite stage two-thirds deep into the arena. Incredibly athletic, Perry regularly made the dash there and back—sometimes skipping, always singing, and often accompanied by her dancers.
One time, at the stage at the end of the ramp, she even had to take time to tie a shoelace—though that might well have been written into the show.
The concert actually ended at that small stage when Perry climbed atop a huge hand that had suddenly materialized, sang the encore “Fireworks” while fireworks shot up from the main stage and stars erupted out of the confetti machines, then disappeared for good into the closing hand.
Another time she twirled a muscular male pole dancer about on a revolving flower stem, and on the set-closing “Roar” she joined a couple of her female dancers on mini-trampoline routines there while she sang (she had long ago donated her cupcake trampoline from her 2011 California Dreams Tour for Japan tsunami relief).
Perry also called her mom via a giant pink phone after leading to the back stage a pair of colossal pink flamingos manned by barely visible puppeteers, then warned her before hanging up that she was about to sing “that song you don’t like”—“I Kissed a Girl.” Ending it, she boarded a harness and flew back to the main stage, disappearing in a gaping pair of lips, only to reappear, after a costume change, and get swallowed by a Venus flytrap prop after dancing with a monstrous fly.
But the fly, flamingos, and even the famous Left Shark from Perry’s 2016 Super Bowl halftime show (it appeared during her performance of “California Gurls”) were overshadowed by the next-to-last performance of the set, essentially a re-enactment of her “Swish Swish” video, complete with immense basket, dancers carrying big basketballs, and a summons from Perry to a dad in the audience (there were many parents present clearly chaperoning tween daughters), who came down from way up in the rafters and blanked her in a quick free throw competition—her band and dancers booing her embarrassing failure to score.
The dad, though, was overshadowed by an earlier call-down, after Perry flew out from the backdrop after another costume change, decked out in a silver spacesuit and riding Saturn (surrounded by other planetary balloons) before landing on a small third stage in the front half of the Garden. From there she grabbed hold of a shooting star (suspended from the ceiling scoreboard) and spotted a young girl way up on the other side of the ramp, a nine-year-old girl from Long Island who was actually named Island.
No need for Island to wish upon the shooting star, since her dream of meeting Katy Perry had now already come true. So with lit-up cellphones as stars, Perry herself made the wish for world peace.
“I know it sounds cliché,” she said, “but our people are hurting tonight.”
She asked for “harmony, kindness, tolerance, acceptance and peace in this world,” and recognizing the “tough day” after Las Vegas, invoked the unifying “magic” of music and asked everyone to say hello to someone near them and then say “I love you.” Somehow this really didn’t sound cliché, either.
Perhaps it was Perry’s non-stop work ethic, that and an oversize personality even bigger than her voice, which was never subsumed by the spectacle, and even in its shtickiest aspects, always real.
Addressing the arena and its denizens as community, she said, “This should never be a place of fear. I’m not afraid of you.” And with that she climbed down from her perch and walked through the crowd while singing “Power” from Witness.