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Katy Perry with Robyn, Rye Rye at Merriweather Post Pavilion June 16

Katy Perry, Robyn and Rye Rye performed at Merriweather Post Pavilion Wednesday night. Reporter John John Williams IV reviews the show.

Katy Perry probably could flirt her way out of a speeding ticket. She knows how to bat her eyelashes, soften her voice just so, and smile her way out of sticky situations.

She’s loveable. How else do you explain the throngs of parents and their young children prancing around at Merriweather Post Pavilion Wednesday night to songs laced with lyrics about drug use and wanting to see male genitalia.

The fans at Perry’s “California Dreams” tour were clearly able to overlook all the innuendos and obvious adult content because she knows how to put on a show.

Her Candy Land stage designs are crafted to match her fun-loving, sweet, and sultry persona. Her set list includes hit after hit. It's hard not to stand up and dance along with the pop princess—even if she’s tripping on hallucinogenic brownies.

But at the core of her eye-winking gimmicks, and poppy tunes, is legitimate artistry. Her lyrics and song themes are multi-layered. They are both sassy and deep. They also show noticeable growth. And when she’s on stage, Perry fires on all cylinders. Whether it’s with her opening number, the ballad “Teenage Dream” or the fiery sex-charged “I Kissed a Girl,” Perry can switch gears with precision.

The ride was likely an initial shock to a number of parents accompanying their children to the concert. Judging from the horrified looks on their faces when Perry launched into lyrics about losing her virginity or when she  simulated oral sex on a microphone, they clearly did not do their homework on the pop star. Maybe they thought that her cartoonish eyes, and sugary, high-pitched voice meant that her material was meant for elementary school children.

But her video skits filled with mysterious pills, and a lecherous-looking villain should have cemented that this show was geared towards a more mature audience. You can't fault Perry. Her lyrics pretty much spell it out. (She's not talking about the NBC mascot when she sings: “let me see your peacock.”)

But back to the actual merits of the concert - and there were many.

The evening opened with Robyn, the platinum-blond pepper pot, who had the stamina of the Energizer bunny during her slew of dance hits. She was joined by Rye Rye for the rapper's new single, “Never Will Be Mine.” The pair was entertaining. Robyn definitely puts on a show, especially for the dancing thirtysomething gays in the audience trying to pass for 20-year-old twinks.

Perry took the stage shortly after. She immediately made a case that her strongest weapon is her showmanship. Perry simply does a fantastic job entertaining the crowd. Whether it be her dozen or more costume changes, her superb dancers who rocked hip-hop, ball room, and contemporary with ease, or her band who switched from rock to pop to campfire-style guitar strumming, Perry belongs in front of a crowd.

Her songs--no matter how mature--convey universal themes of angst, heart-break, optimism, and good old fashion attraction. She's the definition of pop. Perry performed 21 songs during her near two hour concert.

She included all her hits: “E.T.”, “Waking Up In Vegas,” and “Hot and Cold.” She slowed things down with ballads such as “Pearl” and “Who Am I Living For.” The slower songs allowed her to catch her breath from the fast-paced choreographed numbers that dominated most of her performance. She even threw in renditions from some of her favorite songs by other artists.

It was a real treat to hear Perry put her spin on “Only Girl” by Rihanna, “Big Pimpin' by Jay-z, “Friday” by the God-awful Rebecca Black, and “I Whip My Hair” by Willow Smith. It was touching to hear Perry talk about how grateful she was to be able to attract so many fans to a concert. You can tell that she's appreciative of her rise from obscurity.

Her band cleared the stage when she sang “Thinking of You” while she played a guitar. It was reminiscent of MTV “Unplugged.” Her voice was golden. And she captured the audience, who screamed with approval.

Perry also gave her background dancers and singers an opportunity to show off their skills during a five minute performance that included the background singers belting out the lyrics to “I Want Candy,” and “Milkshake.” Perry’s uber talented dancers charmed the crowd with freestyle dances to “How Many Licks” and “Tootsie Roll.” Perry reappearing wearing a blue wig to sing “Hot and Cold.” It was a high-energy performance where she changed costumes more than half-dozen times on stage. It was pretty amazing. Then launched into “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” which was also a crowd pleasure.

She failed miserably with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston. She was out of tune for most of the song, and didn't have the vocal chops to conquer this Houston classic. (Few singers can match Houston's vocal ability when she was at the top of her game.) Perry was able to detract from her vocal shortcomings by allowing more than 30 fans dance with her on stage.

Perry redeemed herself when she nailed “Firework,” which was one of her best songs of the night. Her voice was super strong and clear, and the pyrotechnics on stage made the performance magic. The crowd's cheering was deafening.

For her encore, Perry performed “California Gurls.” Perry, and her dancers shot streams of liquid foam from launchers. The crowd loved it. The poppy song was the perfect song to end the evening. It captured Perry’s light-hearted mood.

Setlist:

Teenage Dream
Hummingbird Heartbeat
 Waking Up in Vegas
 Ur So Gay
 Peacock
 I Kissed a Girl
 Circle the Drain
 E.T.
 Who Am I Living For
 Pearl
 Not Like the Movies
 Only Girl/Big Pimping/Friday/ Whip My Hair
Thinking of You
 Hot n' Cold
 Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
 I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)
 Firework

 Encore:
California Gurls

John John Williams IV is a reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He last reviewed Lauryn Hill when she played Rams Head Live.

Photo: Katy Perry performing at the Grammys in February. The singer is not allowing media to photograph the tour. (Reuters)

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