Concertgoers scream, applaud – and Tweet – as the pop star launches her comeback tour
Credit: Team Britney/Splash News Online

Britney Spears descended from the New Orleans Arena ceiling and back into fans’ hearts Tuesday night, restarting her career after years of tabloid tumult with a bump-and-grind performance on a Big Top stage.

“Ahhh Britney!” gushed one concert-goer via a Twitter message posted on Spears’s Web site, which live-blogged the show in words and cell-phone photos.

As the pop star launched her first tour in five years, the 16-song set began with Spears, 27, being lowered from the rafters in a cage and breaking into the single “Circus,” followed by “Piece of Me” and “Radar” with stripper-pole dancing.

“Oh my god, she looks amazing,” said Joshua Matassa, 23, from New Orleans. “And the show’s a spectacle – it really looks like a three-ring circus.”

Later, fire shot out of the middle of the stage during “Slave,” and the nearly sold-out 19,000-seat arena broke out into an explosion of screams as Spears performed “Toxic” and “Baby One More Time” back-to-back.

To cap off the show, pyrotechnics made firey rain sprinkle down on Spears and her dance crew as they finished performing “Womanizer.”

“Thank you so much,” said Spears as she blew a kiss to the crowd. “You have a good night.”

The performance marked a dramatic return to form for Spears, who’s been rehearsing for the 32-city tour, and placed aside – for now – the issues that derailed her personal and professional lives: the messy divorce from Kevin Federline, losing custody of her children, and the self-acknowledged breakdown that followed.

Instead, Tuesday was a night of celebration and a chance for Spears, who hails from Kentwood, about 100 miles away, to bask in the glow of hometown fans.