Review: Katy Perry brings cartoon pop to spectacular life at Tampa’s Amalie Arena

Always on, always over the top, Perry proved the power of her outsized ambitions.
Katy Perry performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Dec. 15, 2017. Photo: Jay Cridlin.
Katy Perry performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Dec. 15, 2017. Photo: Jay Cridlin.
Published Dec. 16, 2017

God bless Katy Perry.

Bless her Cirque du Soleil-sized vision for her Witness: The Tour, which careened into Tampa's Amalie Arena like a phantasmagoric freakshow on Friday. Bless her 15-foot flamingo puppets, her shed-sized golden dice, her army of eyeball-faced dancers, And, yes, bless Left Shark, that woebegone Super Bowl meme who came with her, and bless the way he and Perry locked ankles, slapped fins and bumped butts.

At a time when Beyonce's off slaying, Gaga's gone cow-glam and the old Taylor can't come to the phone, Perry, bless the cartoon heart beating out of her chest, is still living to keep pop music kooky and crazy and colorful.

"It's Friday night, which means anything can happen, and you can recover tomorrow," Perry told the crowd. "You can just dance and be a little extra."

A little extra? It's hard to imagine a more maximalist performance than Perry's, a Daliesque dreamworld of insane teenage dreams – or perhaps a preteen all hopped up on Pixy Stix and Pepsi. Ten years into her life on pop's A-list, Perry is still its biggest, boldest kid at heart, which is why you saw so many actual kids sprinkled among the 11,000 fans in attendance.

If this was any of those kids' first concert, it was one they won't forget. Behind Perry towered an LED screen the shape of an eyeball and size of a warship; its corners stretched to Row H on either side. Unfurling into the crowd was a lurid tendril of a catwalk, to the end of which she cartwheeled for Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) in a light-up bra flashing HOT and COLD.

This was a preacher's daughter who grew up in the church, who said her mom still prayed she'll someday stop singing I Kissed a Girl. Now she's at the center of a 3-D holo-circus from space, swallowed up by enormous puffed-up puckers dangling above the stage at the end of that very song.

Describing every bus-sized prop and would take all night – the dangling inflatable globes; the stilt-walking bugs and metallic Venus flytraps; the towering, TV-headed puppets who lumbered above Perry's dancers on Chained to the Rhythm; the pyrotechnics that went boom-boom-boom on cue during Firework. Perry even brought and danced with Left Shark, that viral Super Bowl relic from 2015, because not doing so would be a totally incongruous moment of sanity.

And while Perry's latest album Witness experimented with more grown-up sounds, in concert, she couldn't help but froth 'em all up. Roar wove in elements of Jay-Z's Hard Knock Life; I Kissed a Girl toyed with Robin S's Show Me Love; Bon Appetit had whiffs of Paula Abdul or Madonna. Even a song like Swish Swish, which on the surface sounds fierce and frigid, morphed into a living video game, with Perry bouncing on trampolines, dangling on a wire and challenging a dad in the stands to a game of one-on-one.

Nothing could stop Perry from being a living cartoon, not even a chat with her mother. After an eye-winking, chest-honking California Gurls, Perry leaned on an oversized prop phone to call Mary Hudson, who turns 70 on Saturday. After Perry asked her mom, a minister's wife and preacher herself, how she felt about the big day, she replied: "I don't have to care anymore!"

Perry nodded. "That's why I'm just continually being my weird self on stage," she said.

Sure enough, she later emerged in a bodysuit and wig of silver sparkles, strumming an acoustic guitar for Wide Awake. Then, sitting atop a Saturn-like float, she took off and drifted around the arena, above the heads of her fans, swirling through a system of tie-dye inflatable planets as she played Thinking Of You.

The Katycats in the crowd followed Perry's lead in costumes as colorful as her own: Tutus and bodysuits and sparkles; tiaras topped with candy and cupcakes and wine goblets, wigs of neon fuschia, chartreuse and teal — and a few heads of hair dyed the same. And all over, everywhere, were pairs of twinkling $25 kitty ears, pulsing pink and purple all night.

Late in the night, Perry brought brought two young sisters, ages 7 and 4, to say hi and make a wish. The elder wished to make the world a better place. The younger wished for a pet dinosaur. Only at a Katy Perry concert could both requests seem reasonable. God bless her all the more for it.

— Jay Cridlin