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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

June 30, 2011 at 11:50 AM

Concert review: Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj at the Tacoma Dome 06/29/11

Posted by Andrew Matson

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Photo by me

Dipping out of the golden sunlight into the darkened Tacoma Dome for the Britney Spears/Nicki Minaj concert Wednesday evening was like stepping into a movie theater with your family. One of those movies where — oops! — the film got a little too sexy.

Moms accompanying their young daughters maybe weren't expecting to attend an S&M rave, with a bondage-clad dance squad and explicit sexual lyrics from former teen idol Spears. Other fans knew the deal — Spears' music is dirty fun.

There were women coolly smoking cigarettes in the men's bathroom, for instance, checking out guys as they walked in — while a red-faced security guard shouted. And men in tiny T-shirts drank white wine, huddled on the smooth concrete ringing the bleachers, yelling Spears' catchphrase at each other: "It's Britney, bitch!"

Sadly, these fans displayed more life than Spears, who lip-synced many of her lyrics and danced tenuously, as if she were afraid of getting injured. Constantly in mechanized transit, she sank into the floor on a platform, rose up out of it, flew over thousands of people on a swing attached to the ceiling and rode in a pink car on the stage runway. This is stuff any pop megastar would do, but she did it with noticeably little physical effort, especially compared to her gymnast dancers, who were part of the compensation plan to make Spears' hour-plus set entertaining, along with purple fireworks and rocket-launched plumes of smoke.

The opening song "Hold It Against Me" — a veiled innuendo wrapped in aggressive dance music — set the pace: hot and heavy. By the end of the show it was fatiguing, from the stage spectacle to the song selection, one bass-pumping track after another, crushing the Tacoma Dome's speakers.

In the event's big-budget spirit, an actual movie played on a huge screen between songs — an international spy thriller in which Spears rifled through passports and ID cards in a hotel room, choosing her next identity. This symbolically hammered home the point that with Spears — whose new album "Femme Fatale" is musically excellent, mostly due to her producers — packaging is paramount.

The crowd — two-thirds of the house was full — seemed to be having a great time and will probably disagree, but Spears was outperformed by opener Nicki Minaj in a major way. In a skintight suit with a cage built into it, sending an off-limits signal, Minaj communicated bug-eyed facial expressions from the front of the stage to the back of the arena, acting out scenes in which she fought a monster that was maybe the devil, rapping like a champion.

Minaj had the best verses on last year's two most popular hip-hop albums — Kanye West's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" and Drake's "Thank Me Later" — and witnessing her stomp through them with no lip-syncing or vocal doubling was a thrill. Her set was also more dynamic than Spears', blending up-tempo dance numbers with melancholy crunk and the floating R&B of "Fly," a song co-written by Tacoma musician Clemm Rishad.

"I win, thrive, soar, higher, higher, higher, more fire," Minaj rapped.

She was correct.

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Nicki Minaj fighting, winning; photo by me

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