June 18, 2011
@ HP Pavilion
Better than: Not crossing a two-man religious picket line on a Saturday night to (apparently) celebrate fornication, homosexuality, and general hell-raising.
"God hates Britney Spears!" yelled a man in a "Repent or Perish" shirt. He was addressing a line of fans headed to see the pop star perform inside San Jose's HP Pavilion.
"Well," the man conceded after being yelled at by a clutch of Spears fans, "he probably likes her legs."Britney Spears' Femme Fatale Tour kicked off two nights earlier in Sacramento. Based on the Good Morning America performance we covered in March at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, we didn't arrive in the South Bay with high expectations for her dancing. In S.F., her movements during her three-song show looked stiff at best and pained at worst, a contrast to the backflips and hip shakes of years past. But here, nearly three months later and with a much longer 90-minute performance to execute, Spears displayed noticeably more pep in her step and elicited bigger cheers from any arena show we've attended so far this year. She thrilled a predominantly female and gay male crowd with sparkly costumes, an impossibly flat tummy, pyrotechnics, flying, and shirtless, acrobatic man-candy. Before Spears took to the stage, Nicki Minaj, a theater kid turned rap star from Queens, employed a storyline about a fairy godmother (a nod to the treatment for her "Moment 4 Life" video) and a wicked witch for her performance, lending her show a childlike air despite a couple of adult-leaning black-and-white corseted costumes. During the course of her set, Minaj and/or her gay male alter ego Roman Zolanski (yes, really) were put under a spell, "died," were attended to by a funeral procession of dancers high-stepping to something that sounded plucked off an Enya album, came back to life to slay the wicked witch in a hail of bullets, and had her triumphant "Moment 4 Life." In between, she managed to squeeze in songs from her debut album Pink Friday such as "Roman's Revenge" (her answer to Lil Kim's barbs), "Your Love," "Superbass," and "Check It Out," the latter accompanied by a giant projection of song collaborator Will.I.Am. She also offered snippets of her memorable verses on songs like Ludacris' "My Chick Bad," Young Money's "Bedrock," Trey Songz' "Bottoms Up," and Kanye West's "Monster." Minaj sounds fiesty and fierce on record, and is impressively animated with her face and body, but she sounded swallowed up by her glittery pink microphone and her "Superbass." It was, however, a marked improvement over even more diminutive live performances we've seen on television -- Minaj has noticeably improved her choreography and energy level. A 45-minute intermission gave fans a chance to rest their vocal cords and queue for snacks. We wondered why the break was so lengthy until we caught our first glimpse of an intricate, multilevel set and its myriad projection screens, which were later used to add amazing visual depth.