Britney Spears in Dublin: The crowd – not the robotic star – carries the show

Review: In parts of the vacant performance it’s hard to tell if there’s a real human on stage

Britney Spears in familiar Disney dominatrix garb. Photograph: Mondadori Portfolio, Getty Images

Britney Spears in familiar Disney dominatrix garb. Photograph: Mondadori Portfolio, Getty Images

 

No-one in this over-stuffed, sold-out Monday night crowd cares that Mister Worldwide – Pitbull – ambles on stage like a lost taxi driver and plays what feels like the same song in a row for a half an hour, they’re high-fiving and squealing for only one thing- Britney Jean Spears.

Ms Spears is a star that represents a simpler, less complex time in pop, of the after-school hypnosis of MTV and weekend trips to town to buy CD singles. For some in the sweaty masses tonight, witnessing Britney Spears in the flesh is like seeing an avatar from an age before Twitter spats and overanalysing every utterance, from a time when pop could be all about simple pleasures.

Arriving onstage in her familiar Disney dominatrix garb, zipping into the head-spinning brilliance of Work Bitch she gallops along the stage, a hard-bodied show pony ready to hair-flip herself back into the adoring crowd’s souls. Womanizer follows- a booming Vegas dazzler replete with a flashy fluoro-light choreography.

Twirled and twisted by her crew of dancers she is a glitzy, hotpants wearing All-American gym instructor barely taking a breath throughout the slinky routines.

Therein lies the issue. Britney Spears exists like a butterfly crystallised in her own glittering amber, preserved in the perfect production of Max Martin’s hit factory. Such is her pristine back catalogue she blitzes through hits like Baby One More Time and Oops I Did It Again like she’s on standby for the next flight back to the Nevada desert.

There is a halting nervousness to her; she is forever pulling at her pony-tail, turning it into a blonde security blanket. She moves across the floor lost in the zone barely registering when the over-excitable audience start to sing Madonna’s parts in Me Against the Music.

It’s as if she is ill at ease, still trying to understand what her audience sees in her. At times you get the impression that she’d probably look forward to her hologram eventually taking over this whole touring palaver once and for all.

Even though she emits a pearly grin when the cry of “It’s Britney Bitch!” heralds the intro of Gimme More, there is a creeping feeling that amid the green lasers and hi-energy antics, Brit-Brit would rather be at home painting flower pictures with her hot boyf. And who could blame her? Is the fame monster holding our favourite princess prisoner?

Britney doesn’t seem concerned about the ever-evolving artistry required to be a modern popstar, like her more hungry chartmates.

So what is the Piece of Me tour? A chance to acknowledge that Do You Wanna Come Over is a stealth banger? An opportunity to gather with friends and marvel at the genius of Slave 4 U, but at what price?

Ultimately the fans want to see Britney live and hope that she’s happy, but with the it’s hard to tell if there is actually a real human performing on the stage.

Maybe none of this really matters, maybe the illusion and the smoke and mirrors is enough for the crowd whose energy propels the whole performance. They scream when Britney bounces around to Circus, reigniting a chain reaction of memories, they dance like everyone is watching and carry their idol through the show, a choir of unalloyed joy.

There is a reason for packs of girls dressed as flight attendants shouting themselves hoarse to the ever-green brilliance of Toxic and boyfriends hugging each other in vintage Spears T-shirts, but it’s not the lyrical genius of Email My Heart or her “winning” stage presence.

As Spears sings about her loneliness not killing her anymore on the anthemic Stronger, she is giving a voice to those who have found hope through her conquering her harrowing struggles, those who have achieved a life-affirming happiness through the pure escapism and fantasy of her hits.

Piece of Me might not be Britney’s best but it’s an opportunity for her devoted fans to thank her one more time.