Britney Rules 'Circus' Ring With the Greatest of Tease

Fans were eager to see Britney Spears perform at the Verizon Center Tuesday night on her comeback "Circus" tour.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 2009; Page C01

A demure Britney Spears shuffled quietly onto the Verizon Center stage last night, illuminated by a single overhead spotlight, and began to sing a plaintive, a cappella song about . . . oh, who the heck are we kidding?

Britney Spears creates a scene just by stepping out of the house. And so for her comeback tour, she's settled for nothing less than an outrageous pop extravaganza. Not for nothing did she name her 2008 chart-topping album "Circus," y'all.

Brit-Brit's entrance here was preceded by a snarky video announcement by gossip maven Perez Hilton, after which Spears descended from the rafters in black vinyl dominatrix boots, a red ringmaster's jacket and not a whole lot else, a bejeweled whip in her hands. Lights flashed, smoke wafted across the stage -- actually, three circular stages set up in the center of the arena -- as dancers in bondage outfits and clown makeup twirled.

The title track of "Circus," which summarizes the pop star's big-top existence, boomed over the PA, and a dancing, strutting, preening Spears halfheartedly pretended to sing. (If she sang live last night, it wasn't particularly obvious. And if the musicians hidden on the floor surrounding the stage played live, well, who would've known?)

Not that anybody seemed to mind. Too busy fending off sensory overload, which was exactly as Spears seemed to want it.

The show wasn't a concert. It was an over-the-top spectacle in which Spears -- considered a major popwreck just a couple of years ago -- made a compelling case for herself as the current queen of pop performance art.

The 90-minute set was heavy on songs from her most recent albums, "Circus" and "Blackout," though Spears did return to her debut for an explosive version of her breakthrough hit, " . . . Baby One More Time."

The set was more notable for its staging than its songs, as big-wheel bikes raced around the stage, contortionists contorted, videos flashed (and Spears threatened to) -- and somebody got an onstage lap dance.

So much pop stimulation.

Spears, at 27, is busy rehabilitating her career after it -- and she -- went off the rails. (You remember: The shaved head. The umbrella attack. The soporific VMAs performance. The K-Fed.)

The Circus show -- a part of the first full tour for Spears in five years, which is an eternity for a pop star -- filled Verizon, even with many tickets priced north of $100.

On the concourse, Britney Inc. was doing brisk business, too. The performer's fans (mostly young, overwhelmingly female) lined up eight deep to buy "Britney Spears"-brand tattoos ($3), feather boas ($10) and black velour tracksuits ($150). Brit-Brit thongs -- $20 per barely there pair -- seemed to be especially popular. Keep it classy, kids!

Multiple fans dressed in tarted-up Catholic-schoolgirl uniforms, complete with knee-high white nylon stockings -- Britney's signature look a decade ago, when she crash-landed on the pop-culture radar by declaring: "I'm not. That. Innocent."

As it turns out, she wasn't kidding. The encore number was proof enough of that.

As the stomping beat and sirenlike synths of "Womanizer" rang out, Spears appeared onstage dressed like the chief of the stripper police (mirrored sunglasses, hot pants, boots, blue cop's shirt unbuttoned just so). The requisite dance routine followed, after which sparks rained from the rafters and confetti showered the screaming crowd.

Spears bowed, waved and then walked off the stage and into the bowels of the arena, her exit not nearly as outrageous as her entrance.

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