Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj at the Xcel Energy Center, 7/6/11

Categories: Last Night
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Photos by Stacy Schwartz
Britney Spears with Nicki Minaj, Jessie and the Toy Boys, and Nervo
July 6, 2011
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul

Another tour, another bloated, tepid, phoned-in performance from the persistently famous and persistently underwhelming Britney Spears.

It's been two years since Spears has played the Twin Cities, and in that time the fans willing to cough up big bucks to see the superstar in action have dwindled dramatically. In April of 2009, Britney's "Circus" tour brought a capacity crowd of over 18,000 to the Target Center for a dizzying show that overshadowed the blase performer's ineptitude with dance routines, moving sets, and spellbinding light and glitter displays; in 2011 she returned to play to about half that many fans and offered up almost the exact same formula, with fewer acrobats and a couple of extra meandering, pointless video montages and costume changes.

When I reviewed Spears's Target Center performance back in 2009, I expressed some remorse and hesitance over panning her performance and attempted to sympathize with what has become quite a controlled, bizarre life for a celebrity who found fame at such a young age. And, to be sure, Spears is not the only one to blame for the fact that her brand continues to rake in outrageous sums of money while offering up little of substance; the heavyset man in a business suit that stood on the left side of the stage scowling throughout the performance served as a blatant, unintentional metaphor for the puppeteers that control and profit from every aspect of Spears's extravagant spectacle. But the machine that continues to churn out $350 front-row concert tickets, $50 flimsy Britney leggings, $25 Britney concert programs, and $8 limited-edition Britney soda pops has done little to care for the quality of her performance itself, and a show that relies heavily on lip-syncing and costuming and fails to provide any real engagement or entertainment makes for a tedious experience that could easily be replaced by listening to her albums on a high-quality stereo system at home or at a club.

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​Indeed, nearly every aspect of her show felt overly familiar and contrived: The Marilyn Monroe skirt that flapped dramatically as Spears stood over a multitude of breezy vents; the overly sexualized but never sexy dominatrix skit that drew an unsuspecting, gangly teenaged boy out of the audience for an awkward display; the tour of "multicultural" costumes and set designs that brought us to ancient Egypt and a cartoonish version of Japan for inexplicable reasons. Even one of her biggest hits, "...Baby One More Time" failed to pick up momentum and finally fell flat, cut short to delve into Rihanna's "S&M" in a final attempt at relevance. 

All the while, Britney flailed her arms and danced stiffly, as if running through a dress rehearsal and trying to save her energy for a real show that will never happen, and relied heavily on sliding props and a moving sidewalk to propel her body forward amidst her dazzling troupe of dextrous dancers. It wasn't until the encore that Spears appeared to loosen up at all, reveling in the infectious energy of what is probably still her best song to date, "Toxic," and calling on a guest appearance by opener Nicki Minaj to liven up her final number, "Till the World Ends." 

Even as Britney was swooped up by a metal swingset and wrapped in Victoria's Secret-esque angel wings, even as glitter cannons launched confetti and fireworks and Brit Brit hung on for dear life as she was whisked through the air, Minaj managed to steal the spotlight for those final few moments with a few coy glances and a playful smile, a testament to the budding hip-hop phenom's astounding abilities as a performer and personality. Minaj was the true star of last night's show, and despite the low ticket sales for the Twin Cities stop, this tour is bound to help launch her into the next stage of her career. She was a stunning sight to behold, her fierce, antagonistic energy taking control of the room as she strutted and rapped, a battalion of badass babes in combat boots serving as her only accompaniment. Though her set relied heavily on songs that she's guested on rather than her own tunes, the quirky, kitchen-sink beats of those songs and her own material were tied together by Minaj's sassy, snapping voice, which never seemed to let up. That her costuming and her set's futuristic, intergalactic storyline were more creative than Spears's only served as icing on the cake.

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Early openers Nervo and Jessie and the Toy Boys fleshed out the tour's all-female lineup with short, lighthearted sets; Australian duo Nervo offered up a quick 15-minute, trance-heavy DJ non-dance party (7 p.m. might have been a bit too early to get people out of their seats), while Jessie and her two double-jointed and energetic Toy Boys entertained the crowd with catchy, albeit insipid and nasally dance-pop songs, getting a good reaction from the crowd with their hit "Push It."

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Nervo
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Jessie and the Toy Boys
Personal bias: I was honestly more excited for Nicki's set than Britney's, especially given Brit Brit's disappointing show last time around. I suppose I got what I was expecting, as Nicki stole the show.
The crowd: Slightly younger than the crowd at last month's Rihanna show but just as scantily clad.
Overheard in the crowd: "It's Britney, bitch!" -- every single person in the crowd at some point in the evening.
Random notebook dump: A brief note on our lack of professionally shot Britney Spears photos: The Femme Fatale tour required photographers to sign a rights-grab contract -- something that's becoming all-too-common for larger arena shows -- and we don't like people grabbing at our photographers for no good reason. We were able to photograph the opening acts, but declined to shoot Britney because of the restrictive contract (you'll notice that the Star Tribune was the only outlet in town to forfeit their photographer's copyright in order to take pictures of Brit Brit).
For more photos: See our slideshow of Rihanna, Jessie and the Toy Boys, and Nervo by Stacy Schwartz.

Nicki Minaj set list:
Roman's Revenge
Did It On 'Em
Bottoms Up (Trey Songz)
Bed Rock (Young Money)
Check it Out (Duet with Will.i.am)
Where Them Girls At (David Guetta)
Moment 4 Life
Super Bass

Britney Spears set list:
Hold It Against Me
Up and Down
3
Piece of Me
Big Fat Bass (feat. Will.i.am)
How I Roll
Lace and Leather
If U Seek Amy
Gimme More
(Drop Dead) Beautiful
Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know
Boys
...Baby One More Time
S&M (Rihanna)
Trouble for Me
Slave
Burning Up
I Wanna Go
Womanizer

Encore
Toxic
Till the World Ends

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10 comments
Angie
Angie

Substance for whom, On and on and on...drea? Most of the "hip" bands you rave about are just as vapid and lacking in talent. Her lip syncing skills are about as impressive as your reviews. She is hot, tho.

No1UKnow
No1UKnow

A factual error - The Star Tribune photographer (and pretty much every staff photographer at a newspaper, or news outlet like the AP) does not own the copyright to their work. It's the tradeoff for a good salary and benefits. Even *if* they were required to sign a photo release/contract it very likely wouldn't hold up in court as the photographer doesn't have the ability/authorization to relinquish the copyright. More than likely the Strib shooter wasn't even presented with a contract.

Kudos to City Pages for backing up their photographer and not expecting them to sign over their rights in order to shoot Spears! But please don't accuse the Star Tribune of turning over their copyright when that it is extremely unlikely that is the case.

Additionally, the Pioneer Press doesn't have as large a staff as the Strib and doesn't send a shooter to cover every concert especially if there are conflicting events (state government shutdown, Twins game, etc.). I do not think it's fair to imply that they refused to agree to "a rights-grabbing contract" as why they elected not to photograph the show.

Gimmie a break
Gimmie a break

Of course city pages and gimmie noise cares sooooo much about photographers.  You love them so much you use local photags pics without asking and/or paying.  You pay them with your undying gratitude, right?  At least Britney Spears is upfront about stealing from hardworking artists.

Joey Miller
Joey Miller

I thought Britney was amazing! I would pay to go to her concert again!

Britneyspears
Britneyspears

I wish I was there but I'mma give Brit Brit some props for coming to the Xcel Energy Center and even if she did have a bad performances this time around cut her some slack. She's on tour I bet her other performances were just fine she just had an off day. Niki is great but you can' t say she stole the show from Brit more than half if not all came because of Britney. Lets face it its not like the "Kool-Aid Jammers" were performing, if Britney had a bad performance the crowd was still glad to see her perform in action.

Anna Gulbrandsen
Anna Gulbrandsen

I'll say it here, too. PROPS for not signing that ludicrous photo contract. It's one thing to have a few restrictions, it's entirely another to hand over your photos/rights completely.

Hannah $ilk Champagn
Hannah $ilk Champagn

I feel that Nicki's set was underwhelming.  I think that was purposefully done so she wouldn't outshine Britney, as she did during the (not so great) remix of "Til the World Ends" (sans Ke$ha, who wrote the song).  If she was allowed all of the theatrics of Britney's performance it  might have been great, but she does not have the catalogue to support a great live show.  As her set list shows, she really is best at guesting on tracks at this point.  She can kill a verse, yet her own tracks leave something to be desired.  But I think that Britney delivered, especially on tracks from her new album.  Despite the overblown money-making concessions and merch.

Staciaann
Staciaann

1. I know for a fact the PP didn't send a photographer because they declined the contract with the rights grab, not because of a staffing issue. 

2. I specifically asked if I could still shoot the openers without signing the contract which is why there are photos of those performers.  (also, "Gimmie A Break," CP does pay its photographers & if you have an issue I'm sure Andrea will help you out.)  Personally, I do not sign contracts with rights grabs in any form.

3. I was there when the Star Trib photographer signed the contract, so he was presented with the same one I was. It's true that he does not own the copyright, and that the Star Trib itself does. Brit's management could say that the photographer is an authorized agent & so his signature could very well hold up in court - regardless, that's not the point.  These sort of rights grabs are getting more & more widespread, forcing professional photographers (or anyone who cares about their work) to decline coverage of these shows. The contracts generally state that the photographer relinquishes all rights & Brit could make a photo the cover or her next album or a t-shirt or poster & not even credit the photographer, let alone pay them. It's ridiculous & no one should be signing these, whether they be an AP photographer, freelancer, or amateur.

I'm really happy & grateful that City Pages supports the freelancers who decline to sign these agreements. Not all news orgs do.

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

Is there a specific instance you are referring to? Because as far as Gimme Noise is concerned, that is simply not true. If you have an issue, please contact me directly at aswensson@citypages.com so I can resolve it for you.

Britney fan
Britney fan

I know your a Spears fan not saying she did bad but Niki had better props

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