Britney pulls out the stops — and it’s all for show

Britney Spears, shown at a May performance, played a sold-out TD Garden last night with little pep. Britney Spears, shown at a May performance, played a sold-out TD Garden last night with little pep. (Ethan Miller/ Getty Images for ABC/ File)
By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / August 9, 2011

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Spectacle, thy name is Britney. You want fireworks? Ms. Spears has them. Hydraulics lifting portions of the stage up and down? Can do. Male dancers uncoiling out of baskets like charmed, shirtless snakes? Try to stop her.

These sorts of things are standard arena pop-concert trappings, but Spears outdoes the Pinks, Katy Perrys, Rihannas, and Lady Gagas of the world for one simple reason: Spectacle is all she has.

It was certainly all she had to give last night in front of a sold-out TD Garden. Spears’s lip-synching has become so firmly established in the public record that it almost didn’t matter whether she sang live or not; it looked and sounded enough like it was prerecorded to suck all the energy out of it.

With its multicolored riot of dancers’ costumes, the Mini driven onstage, and the simplistic beat and melody of Japanese pop, “How I Roll’’ had the frisky pep the rest of the show sorely lacked.

It was especially obvious in the dinky jump-jazz “If You Seek Amy,’’ which aimed to be scandalously suggestive (to the point of the video accompaniment practically spelling it out for the crowd) without having anything behind it. “Lace and Leather’’ had Spears handcuffing an audience member to the Mini and then mostly ignoring him. It was like a child bawling for attention and then, once she’s got it, losing interest.

As a dancer, meanwhile, Spears came across just this side of wooden, like a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars’’ whose professional partner does most of the real work. She perched on a trapeze while an acrobat did the actual acrobatics underneath on “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know,’’ and her hip shakes at the start of “Three’’ looked less like moving to the music than like hitting marks. Throughout the evening, Spears didn’t give all she had, unless she did. It’s hard to know which would be more disappointing.

“Jersey Shore’’ star Pauly D’s opening DJ set pumped up the crowd, though the massive cheers that greeted him settled into polite attention and applause by the midpoint.

He was followed by Nicki Minaj, whose set may have had a story line - one that climaxed in her shooting a dancer dressed as a sexy version of Jigsaw from the “Saw’’ movies - but was mostly just explosive energy harnessed well and then let loose.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at

With Nicki Minaj and Pauly D

At: TD Garden, last night