I popped my Britney Spears concert cherry last night at Madison Square Garden, and it was a one-night stand I won't regret.
"But Jim," you ask, "how the hell did a pop culture fanatic like you go 27 years without seeing Britney perform live?" I dunno. I guess I never had the urge to pony up the $8 million needed to catch a Britney show. (I kid. Ticket prices are less than that. Slightly.) Plus, I was never a diehard fan of Britney's music. Don't get me wrong: I always dug her as a pop culture force, and the hoopla around her and her career has been fascinating to me since day one. I just can't say I have ever purchased a Britney song on iTunes.
Not to mention that Britney has a reputation for not always singing live at her concerts. Why would I want to pay money to see someone lip-synch for two hours? I'll save my money for the next time Grizzly Bear is in town. Now that's a concert.
But given all the "She's back!" buzz surrounding the Circus tour, I jumped at the chance to check out her first of three nights at Madison Square Garden. "If I'm gonna see Britney, now's the time to do it," I told myself during another one-sided conversation. She's a total underdog that you can't stop rooting for, and I was curious to see if she's really "back."
Let me echo the sentiments of her fans, folks. Yep, she's baaaaaaack! And I had the time of my life at her concert.
Here are five more things that totally surprised me about the "Circus" tour.
» Jordin Sparks = Force To Be Reckoned With
Jordin Sparks debuted on the Circus tour last night, and she came out like she owned the place. The girl has more bona fide smash hits than some artists twice her age, and she flaunted each and every one of them during her tight opening set. MSG lit up with camera flashes the instant Ms. Sparks appeared on stage (wearing a sick-looking feather skirt) to sing "One Step at a Time." The crowd was less enthusiastic about the pair of newer album deep cuts she tossed into the set (girl's gotta sell her new record!), but once she finished with a one-two-three punch of "Battlefield," "Tattoo" and "No Air," the room was bouncing and singing in unison. It didn't hurt that Sparks sounded spectacular live, even with her ear monitor flying off two songs in. She is a fantastic addition to the Circus tour.
» Just Because You Have No Legs Doesn't Mean You Can't Jump On A Trampoline
Britney's show begins with an extended circus act. There are expert hula-hoopers, clowns, aerial gymnasts and synchronized martial artists aplenty. There's also a scene-stealing legless wonder who climbs out of her wheelchair and bounces super-high on a trampoline! TLC is totally developing a show about her. You just know it.
» Little Girls Still Love Britney
I was flabbergasted by how many really young kids there were at the gig. I thought Britney fans had all grown up with her. But there were a significant amount of young'uns present who weren't even born when "Baby One More Time" premiered on MTV. And while the Britney show isn't as raunchy as you might think, some parents definitely had the awkward "Why was that man wearing a leather mask?" conversation on the ride back to Jersey.
» Fans Really Love "Do Somethin'"
I thought "Do Somethin'" was widely considered the steaming turd of the Spears catalog, even among hardcore fans. But when the opening bars of the 2004 oddity blared out of the speakers, the crowd went bananas. Hell, I'll admit I even took some perverse pleasure in screaming "Do! Som'in!" at the top of my lungs. I wish there had been a pink Hummer onstage, though.
» "Everytime" Is Not About Britney's Conflicted Feelings Toward An Ex — It's About Her Fans (And Her Addiction To Fame)
Midway through the set, Britney's mic got flipped in for a brief moment so she could address the screaming room. After a quick "Thank you," she burst into "Everytime" while sitting in a large swing above the stage. The ballad hit me in a new way. On one hand, Britney wants our
"face to fade away" so that she can be a normal gal. On the other, she knows she needs us to "see clear." (Remember when she went nuts and her career got put on the back burner?) And then there's this stanza: "I may have made it rain/ Please forgive me/ My weakness caused you pain/ And this song is my sorry." All is forgiven, Britney. I'll never make a Frappuccino joke again. (Britney enthusiasts will point out that the "Everytime" video addresses fame in a very head-on way, but when that song came out, all the press around it was about the implied suicide/fake-out at the end of the video. Plus, she did, like, a bajillion interviews where she said she wrote the song about a certain someone whose name rhymes with Dustin Fingertake.)
So what about that whole lip-synching thing? I get it now. The fact that Britney probably doesn't sing live is a moot point. Of the dozens of fans I chatted with before and after the show, they were there to see a spectacle, and Britney and the Circus tour definitely delivered just that. I finally understand that having a giant sing-along in a dark room with Britney Spears could be just as transcendent a concertgoing experience as seeing Grizzly Bear sing complex harmonies live with a children's choir.
Now if Edward Droste and company added amputees and trampolines to their next tour, they'd be unstoppable.
PS: I'm checking out Nine Inch Nails at Terminal 5 tonight. Which show do you think I'll like more?