BY MARK GUARINO | SUN-TIMES MUSIC WRITER
If the twerking, transvestite mummies that chased Katy Perry around the stage had any purpose, it was probably to suggest that, really, nothing makes a lot of sense.
That was okay since Katy Perry — I’m sorry, Kitty Purry as she was called during a “Cats”-inspired segment, but more on that later — is not a singer who demands much of her audience other than to catch up. Her show at the United Center Thursday was dialed to warp speed as it traveled to strange and exotic lands, such as ancient Egypt, a garden where a watering can produces a Chicago pizza, a world of inflatable products Katy happens to endorse, and a frisky cat palace whisked directly from the evil mind of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Besides the mummies, there were neon-colored tribesmen, backup singers dressed as sunflowers, two guitarists who flew above the audience and shot sparklers from their frets (their playing was that hot!), and Katy sat atop a giant ball of twine dressed as a pink panther.
All pomp, no circumstance. Perry is now a major star — the United Center is the first of two consecutive nights in town. How she got here: She offers her audience their money in a visual parfait but with no aftertaste. Unlike her market competitors who also headlined the United Center this year — Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga — Perry does not tweak norms, demand servitude, or even engage much in the self-empowerment babble that audiences like. She is a rare pop star that isn’t about anything, a kind of store brand sprayed across a spectrum of bright colors, the total collection available on aisle six.
Ten dancers and a five-member band appeared as kind of ghosts. Besides some incredible gymnastics, and one group jump-rope session, the choreography glided the dancers in and around for two hours, but you often felt: When does the dancing start? The musicians were similarly shadowy. On “Teenage Dream,” no less than three guitarists joined Perry on the lip of her catwalk, all striking poses around her, a hidden fan whooshing back many manly manes of hair. But not a single guitar was heard, only the thudding disco beat and a synthesizer. Maybe a roadie tripped on a cord.
Then came the “Cats” segment in which everyone regrouped and returned, for some unknown reason, as cats. They acted liked cats, walked like cats, and swung their tails like humans do when dressed as cats. There was even a chase scene when a mouse appeared atop a giant scratching post. He was a sly mouse who scurried about while the cats threw large pieces of foam cheese at him.
I have nothing against cats, or even people pretending they’re cats, but I do have something against musical filler involving songs that have little to do with cats. “I Kissed a Girl” featuring grinding cats? Please. The idea was pure dog.
Perry appeared to sing into a microphone when she was suspended on cables while on her back and jogging in place. But the powerhouse singing of the night took place when Perry was backstage doing something and her two backup singers took charge in a big way, singing “Finally,” the infectious CeCe Peniston dance hit. They were confident, smiling, and got the audience into an old school disco vibe. But then Perry returned dressed in a smiley face bra.
The set spanned nearly two hours. The opener was “Roar,” her monster hit from late last year that was stripped down to pure rhythm — soon after she and her Mohawk-ed tribesmen launched into the ancient rite of neon jump-roping. Perry also played an acoustic guitar for “The One That Got Away,” a quiet ballad that allowed her audience to hear her sing about serious things.
The show was fun. She invited an eight-year-old girl from Wisconsin onstage and gave her a deep-dish pizza. (In Philadelphia, Perry gave another girl from the audience a Philly cheesesteak. What will she give a girl in Grand Rapids on Sunday?) She sang Madonna’s “Vogue” and led her dancers down the catwalk. Even hometown boy Kanye West showed up, on video looking like the “Wizard of Oz,” to add some flow to “E.T.”
Near the end, many inflatable objects floated through the United Center, like when inflatable Benny the Bull is launched during the basketball games. One was a taco, another a smiley face. There was also a giant inflatable lipstick tube stamped with the name of the cosmetics line Perry endorses. Nope, you couldn’t click your mouse to skip the ad; it hovered right above you like a drone.
Speaking of sports, there was also a dance cam, which zoomed around the stadium as house music played. Everyone on the audience became the star for a few seconds each. Katy was backstage changing clothes.