CONCERT REVIEW: Britney Yet to Hit Stride

The performer still has work to do, says PEOPLE music critic Chuck Arnold

Photo: Team Britney/Splash News Online

Don’t call it a comeback quite yet. Britney Spears still isn’t all the way there. At least not from the standpoint of the kickoff concert of her much-anticipated Circus tour – her first trek in five years – at the New Orleans Arena Tuesday night.

While she avoided the train wreck that was her 2007 MTV Video Music Awards appearance, a visibly nervous Spears, performing in front of enthusiastic fans near her Kentwood, La., hometown, never really hit her old stride.

The circus-themed extravaganza, played out across an adventurous three-ring set, opened with an extended introduction featuring clowns, acrobats and jugglers, making it way too long before Spears finally hit the stage.

Descending from above in a red ringmaster-meets-dominatrix outfit to sing her hit “Circus,” she showed that her body was tight, even if her dancing always wasn’t. Indeed, throughout the show’s four sections, there was a lot more strutting than real choreographic feats from Spears. And there was a decided lack of joy in her performance, which felt labored at times.

Lack of Engagement

It didn’t help that she hardly engaged the audience, not addressing them at all until after her lone encore, “Womanizer,” performed in sexed-up cop uniforms. Given that Spears probably doesn’t do much live singing either, it left a definite chill in the air.

The show was all about the spectacle, with vibrant visuals, illusions, Cirque du Soleil-inspired aerialists and an army of dancers taking some of the focus – and the pressure – away from Spears. There was one major miscue, when Spears didn’t join two backup singers for a rendition of Duffy’s “I’m Scared” – apparently because the lyric sheet went missing onstage.

When she wrapped the concert about 90 minutes after emerging, she seemed more relieved than anything that it was all over.

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