In the city of sin, Britney Spears behaved. There was no dissing of Justin Timberlake during the opening night of the second leg of the Dream Within a Dream Tour. No cigarette smoking. No… whatever vice the rumor mills have her doing this week.
Things may have changed in Britney’s well-chronicled life since the last time we saw her onstage – and that’s only if you believe the gossip – but there were no signs of it Friday at Mandalay Bay. The 20-year-old headliner was the same pop princess she was at 19.
Nearly every part of Spears’ 90-minute show was the same as it was when she launched the tour last November, save for a few production details, updated remixes and a new song, or at least part of one.
About midway through the eye candy that is Dream Within a Dream, after fireworks capped off a vigorous version of “Stronger,” Spears sat down on a piano bench next to one of her keyboard players (the one who resembles a young Elton John). Instead of addressing the flack she has taken for her revealing garments, like she did on the first leg of the tour, Spears told her adoring fans she wanted to update them on her life. Don’t hold your breath: She didn’t reveal the status of her relationship with Timberlake or go into other nitty gritty details, but instead talked about feeling overwhelmed and writing songs as therapy.
Spears then sang a few verses of a new ballad before segueing into “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” The new song, for which Spears did not announce a title, was similar to the fan favorite that followed, but with a bit more traditional R&B flair, a la Alicia Keys.
The “intimate portion” of the evening (if that sounds clichÃ©, it’s because it was) seemed to resonate the loudest with the nearly sold-out arena (seats behind the stage were still available for $50, half the regular price), if not for being the biggest deviation from the show most of them probably already own on DVD, then for being the only real chance to see Britney concentrate on singing.
The rest of the show was far more about the dancing and the spectacle. Despite taking several months off, Spears didn’t miss a step, looking as well rehearsed as ever. Some things, such as a few of the “thank yous,” appeared a bit too practiced, but no one seemed to mind.
Either because they had already seen it or were still lost in it, the audience didn’t pay much attention to the whole Dream Within a Dream concept video that began the show. It was when Spears appeared strapped to a moving wall like a knife thrower’s target that the building erupted. It helped that the band had already gone into a remix of “Oops!… I Did It Again” that enlivened the original with an insulin shot of funk.
Spears continued into “(You Drive Me) Crazy” and the rest of the winning formula that is the Dream Within a Dream set list, complete with all 12 different outfits and stage props that vary from a giant music box to a Flintstones-like car.
Theatrically, there were a few changes. Video screens did not have as prominent a role on the stage (the bald Britney footage was axed completely), except when the real Spears danced with a video of herself.
Musically, the biggest difference was “Boys,” which was replaced by a new remixed version, presumably the one Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes has done for the “Austin Powers in Goldmember” soundtrack. Spears didn’t talk about the remix, which is also her next single and video, but she did wear a new outfit for it that was a tad more shagadelic than the suspenders she had previously worn for the number. “Overprotected” was also remixed for the second leg of the tour.
For the grand finale, the waterfall was back, and it’s still quite possibly one of the coolest (and sexiest) stage effects ever. Undoubtedly the loudest screams of the night came when Britney’s cowboy hat first hit the water. It’s just one of those moments that you can see over and over and still find gripping.
Although the rest of the night seemed mostly like a rerun, there was one huge difference: the opening act. Rather than snag another “TRL” favorite, Spears handpicked soulful up-and-comer Nikka Costa.
Costa – who noted her godfather is Las Vegas legend Frank Sinatra – and her party-starting back-up band had a hard time luring in the pre-teen crowd that was still outside purring over the newest Britney posters, but the older women and men in the crowd, ranging from high schoolers to grandparents, were grooving along by the second song.
A cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” didn’t get the response Costa had hoped for, though her own “Like a Feather” had people dancing in the aisles.
Wearing Lenny Kravitz glasses and a floral-patterned dress over cut-off jeans, Costa didn’t appear to have much in common with Spears, but as she sang, “Everybody got their something.”
Spears’ Dream Within a Dream Tour continues Tuesday (May 28) in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is scheduled to run through July 27 in Mexico City.