Britney Spears – review

O2, London

As ever, Britney Spears arrives to play live in Britain in a cloud of faux-controversy. Last time around it was the fact that she was supposed to be miming that caused the trouble, but tonight's audience seem to take it as read that the singer is probably lip-synching throughout.

Indeed, her current tour dispenses with the notion of live music entirely: the band consists of a bloke prodding a synthesizer high up on some scaffolding, which if nothing else means you're spared the inevitable drum solo, a reliable low point of any pop gig.

This time, it wasn't all bad news – BRITNEY SPEARS SPLIT UP STEPS read one recent headline – but there were reports that tickets for her Birmingham show had sold so poorly that the promoters had been forced to indulge in what they called "segmented marketing to reach new customers", which turned out to mean knocking £25 off the ticket price. Perhaps the pop fans of the Midlands have a hitherto-unremarked upon regional aversion to lip-synching, or to her most recent album, Femme Fatale, around which her set is based.

Not necessarily bad news – there's a fizzing power about willfully plasticky rave-pop of single Hold It Against Me – but it's lighter on the hits than you would expect: she cuts a version of Hit Me Baby One More Time dead and does a cover of Rihanna's S&M instead.

Or perhaps the slow sales are founded in the fact that Britney Spears hasn't been in the news as much as she once was, her deleterious effect on the career of Steps notwithstanding.

There's a suspicion that the kind of person who goes to see Britney Spears live isn't really there for the music or her sparkling personality: tonight she seems as dead-eyed and distant as ever. What they're interested in is proximity to a global celebrity, something her last live show seemed to understand: it played on her tabloid notoriety, complete with introduction from internet gossip monger Perez Hilton. The theme of the current one is a little harder to divine.

There's a lot of stuff about breaking the law: an introductory film in which she murders a policeman, a dance routine from behind the bars of a cell. She performs Piece Of Me, the impressively defiant up-yours she released at the height of her public breakdown, backed by footage of guns and hand grenades. There's also a lot of footage of a menacing figure who appears to have Britney Spears under surveillance, no mean feat given that his surveillance equipment primarily consists of a cassette recorder, a typewriter and an old telly, Every time he enigmatic monologue: "tonight you and I dance a vicious dance … it takes a special woman to fight your fight … in France, a girl made her way from poverty into the arms of a king …" The implication seems to be that if he captures Britney Spears he might bore her to death.

Equally, there's a lot of stuff about Ancient Egypt, during which the mysteries of the Pharoes are evoked by Britney Spears doing dance moves approximate to Wilson Kepple and Betty's sand dance while standing in a basket: the grand spectacles the show presents keep turning out to be not quite as spectacular as you might hope, particularly in a world where Lady Gaga douses herself in blood and sets fire to a piano on a nightly basis. Still, the people who have paid for proximity to a global celebrity seem to go home happy.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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