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Concert review: The Britney Spears machine rolls into Planet Hollywood

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Britney Spears’ Piece of Me residency kicked off Thursday night at Planet Hollywood.
Photo: Denise Truscello

Three stars

Britney: Piece of Me December 27, Planet Hollywood.

After literally years of anticipation, Britney Spears finally debuted her resident show Piece of Me at Planet Hollywood’s newly christened Axis theater on Friday night and the result was … exactly as expected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—Spears’ worst moments come when she’s unpredictable, and she’s never been a daringly original artist. As a singer, she mostly functions as a cog in the Britney Spears machine, serving as the face for a brand that’s maintained by dozens of equally (if not more) important people behind the scenes.

And it was those people behind the Britney machine who made the strongest impression during Piece of Me. To start, it was a nonstop parade of hits, a reminder that over the course of her 15 years as a pop star, Spears has worked with some of the best songwriters and producers around. Her troupe of 14 dancers was consistently outstanding, working through multiple styles and set pieces in a variety of eye-catching costumes. The design of the sets, costumes and lighting was inventive and immersive, on par with other Vegas extravaganzas. Director Baz Halpin deserves credit for building a strong show around a performer who is essentially a charisma vacuum.

Did Spears sing live? It would be hard to tell from anywhere except right near the stage, but the vocals were too consistent and processed to have come from someone who was constantly in motion. Even when she sat down with a handheld microphone for the ballad “Perfume,” the vocals overlapped in a way that clearly wasn’t natural. She did dance, although her moves were mostly perfunctory, and she was always the least accomplished dancer onstage.

So what was left? She said, “What’s up, Vegas?” and “I can’t hear you!” to get the crowd excited. She thanked her dancers and her band (four musicians who clearly couldn’t have generated all the music heard in the theater) at the end of the show and gave them awkward high-fives. She half-heartedly spanked an audience member (on opening night, that meant TV bobble-head Mario Lopez) during “Freakshow.” She smiled.

During “Everytime,” she descended from the ceiling dressed as an angel, then was transformed into a dark, sultry sexbomb as the show transitioned into “… Baby One More Time.” During “Toxic,” she flew down from a giant tree as visuals of a rainstorm played behind her. Those moments and others were amazing, but Spears’ presence in them was almost superfluous. As a pop spectacle, Piece of Me was well-crafted and entertaining; Spears herself succeeded just by showing up.

Setlist:

“Work Bitch”

“Womanizer”

“3”

“Everytime”

“… Baby One More Time”

“Oops! … I Did It Again”

“Me Against the Music”

“Gimme More”

“Piece of Me”

“Boys”

“Perfume”

“I’m a Slave 4 U”

“Freakshow”

“Do Somethin’”

“Circus”

“I Wanna Go”

“Lucky”

“Toxic”

“Stronger”

“(You Drive Me) Crazy”

“Till the World Ends”

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