WASHINGTON D.C. — Strolling within a mile radius of Verizon Center Wednesday night must have made for an unusual sight: Thousands of young girls walked in the same direction — donning royal blue, synthetic wigs — and hoisting posters that read "Roar" and "It's my birthday" and "KatyCats." Wednesday night marked pop queen Katy Perry's second night in D.C. for her Prismatic World Tour (she played here Tuesday, and kicked off the tour in North Carolina over the weekend), and a mass deluge into the arena of daughters pulling mothers.
The night was dedicated not so much to music, or even art, but was rather fiercely devoted to spectacle, dazzlement and a kind of homage to all things Katy. What fans (and their chaperones) came and stayed for was quickly made clear around 9 p.m., when Perry finally appeared from a prism in a Roberto Cavalli LED-lit skirt and crop top with an army of neon warriors surrounding her. It seemed everyone there, regardless of age, wanted to have a good time — without thinking too much.
After opening with a charged "Roar," the hit single from her 2013's "Prism," and jumping rope in the dark for an impressive 20 seconds, Perry launched into a version of "Part of Me" that took a turn for the trap and featured her and spear-clenching warriors breaking it down in something that resembled a tribal ritual.
Without a pause, Perry went into "Wide Awake" and crouched on a triangular platform that hoisted her high in the air and rotated her around for a few choruses. She boasted a kind of energy in her performance that comes off less as a Chris Martin-esque A.D.H.D. and more like athleticism, making her seem less in her own world and more physically present.
"I took off my cape earlier and there was a lot of sweat," Perry said at one point in the show, referring to both the D.C. heat, as well as how much she had been dancing. "Ick."
Perry worked so hard during her down moments to connect with the crowd — she invited a giddy kid onstage and offered him a steaming pizza, and promised that, although this all took place in an arena, she felt like it was one-on-one, and reminded everyone that even she, Katy Perry, experiences "crappy moments" — that it could have been construed as desperate. The extent to which stars should try to downplay their stardom is rough terrain — half the time working brilliantly, the rest backfiring in a hit of self-absorption. Although incredibly scripted, Perry somehow ended up selling the kind of genuineness that was set up for her. Her fans thanked her for it with screams.
A voiceover by Perry talking about stars and space and a path into the future could then be heard marking a clunky transition (and one of Perry's many outfit changes) into an Egyptian-themed "Dark Horse." Perry, dressed as the "Pharest of them all" rose out of the stage floor on the back of an enormous mechanical horse, accompanied by the digitized face of rapper Juicy J, which reminded everyone what they had paid for: The kind of entertainment you can't find on YouTube or get through your headphones.
Perry first started as one of the boys, writing pieces about pushing through teenhood and embracing all that's rowdy — her 2008 single "I Kissed A Girl" earned her acclaim first — and hasn't strayed from it. Big-booty back-up dancers dressed as mummies, Perry watering her sunflower garden with glitter, a giant yin-and-yang hoop skirt lifting her into the air, an inflatable taco, a tribute to Madonna's "Vogue" and a lap around the "runway," all support the notion that Perry hasn't quite diversified yet, perhaps because her formula of bubblegum plus mischief still works. And it does.
Perry makes things fun. Her jazzy, feline rendition of "Hot N Cold" taking place in "Kittywood" (drawing on her alter ego, caricature Kitty Purry) beginning with Broadway-style snaps, tail swinging cats, giant, carpeted cat-scratching towers and Perry herself clad in a skin-tight pink cat-suit could only be described as delightful, which is exactly the intent underlying everything she does.
Perry never shied away from adding a subtle twerk to her show, or a bra-focal outfit, and definitely embraced raunch with a video featuring her, devilishly grinning, in a straitjacket. Yet she remains loyal to a fan base that is so young they've barely had any experience with music. "For how many of you is this your first concert?" Perry asked during one of her spiels. Nearly every hand in the place shot up.
There's something Perry has that she hasn't exploited yet. She's taken advantage of her own good humor and cuteness and healthy sense self-deprecation, but she hasn't yet explored her own ability to be fierce. Perry has come close to some kind of breakthrough with singles like "Dark Horse" and "E.T," but has left a more adventurous, musically focused demographic wanting more from her.
After an encore of "Birthday," a number that turned the Verizon Center into a party complete with a giant rotating cake, raining confetti and Perry gliding through the arena from strings of balloons, she ended with the anthemic "Firework," and stood alone on the massive stage. At last, the crowd was diverted from spectacle to singer. Upon the line, "Even brighter than moon," a prism — the same prism from which she arrived — slowly enclosed her. Perry shot her arm up into the sky and slowly descended, all while the blue wigs screamed.
Midnight Sun contributor Ellie Kahn is a rising junior at Emory University and a former intern at the Baltimore Sun. She last reviewed Skrillex at Pimlico Race Course for Midnight Sun. Wesley Case edited this review.