Five years ago, Britney Spears took a gamble with a Las Vegas residency. Once thought to be a realm best occupied by vocal dynamos like Frank Sinatra or Celine Dion, Spears’ roll the dice as a pop princess in the desert paid f handsomely, with 248 shows netting rave reviews and $137.7 million. And even though the residency is over, this chapter her life isn’t quite closed — she's taking a tweaked version Piece Me on the road in 2018, and this weekend (July 19-21) it touches down at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, NJ — which, despite being 2,5000 miles from Vegas, is the closest tour stop aesthetically to where Piece Me began.
Bringing Piece Me back to a casino/hotel town seems to suit Britney; on Friday (July 20) night, the pop icon looked invested, comfortable and even happy throughout the nearly 30-song set, trading smiles with her backup dancers and miming goy faces at various moments (like when she fakes passing out from exhaustion at the end “Piece Me”). Despite having endured a 102-degree fever just days ago, the 36-year-old pro didn’t show signs sluggishness — there were ponytails twirls and awe-inspiring hair flips aplenty, so much that you wished there were a drag queen side stage to provide an emphatic tongue pop after each one.
Spears took the stage wearing a top hat and coat; both were promptly discarded, with the hat sailing into the audience and the shawl shrugged f to flaunt her toned physique — which, as anyone who follows her on the ‘Gram knows, is toned like she’s prepping for the Olympics. Opening with “Work Bitch” and “Womanizer,” the show’s charming, campy choreography is (aside from her plethora pop hits) its strongest suit. When Britney settles into a throne made muscly male dancers or struts across a line dancers’ shoulders in “Womanizer,” the fan response is deafening. It’s clear the Piece Me Tour is akin to the Pope administering mass in the Vatican — the moment she commences dancing and the electro beats start pumping, she’s already won. Everyone in attendance was completely enraptured, screaming out praise (“Icon!” “I love you!” “Legend!” “Skinny legend!”) and gleefully cheering the start each song (and why not? The vast majority are stone-cold pop classics, too numerous to mention here, or low-key genre gems like Blackout’s “Break the Ice” and In the Zone’s “Touch My Hand”).
The change-ups from her Vegas setlist are unlikely to cause major fan quibbles — nostalgic Crossroads memories aside, does anyone really need to hear her “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” cover in person (especially considering her mic is mostly overpowered by the pre-recorded singing track) or her nice-but-slight Iggy Azalea team-up “Pretty Girls”? Plus, some the setlist selections are happily left field. Take “Do Somethin’” — while it’s hard to call a single that had a music video a deep cut, that song peaked at No. 100 on the Billboard Hot 100 and only appears on the tail-end her 2004 hits comp Greatest Hits: My Prerogative. As such, it’s an t-forgotten entry in her catalog, and it’s continued presence on the Piece Me setlist is a welcome reminder that her nearly two-decade discography has more than its fair share overlooked delights.
The fan-favorite moments from Vegas are still present, from the eerie, lullaby-esque intro to “Toxic” to the old-timey kitsch the “Circus” costumes (the bristly mustache on one backup dancer in particular exudes Sandow the Strongman realness). Yes, she still brings one member the audience on stage for “Freakshow,” during which she straps them into a harness and whips them while they crawl around on all fours; at her Borgata Friday night show, Spears brought up Steven, who she lavished with compliments that had the rest the audience aching with jealousy (“You have beautiful eyes!” “Doesn’t he look like the prince from Tangled?”).
Toward the end the show, there’s a cute moment in “(You Drive Me) Crazy” when — as a nod to “The Stop! Remix” from the 1999 teen romcom Drive Me Crazy — Britney shouts out “Stop!” and the music comes to a grinding halt. “Ready for one more?” she asks. The rhetorical question is met with a roar affirmation, and the crowd is rewarded with an energetic, confetti-filled “Till the World Ends” that includes a concert-wide sing-along to the “woah-oh-oh-oh”s and a brief reprise “Work Bitch.”
When Spears left the stage on Friday night, the lights were quick to come up — for a show this tightly plotted, there ain’t gonna be no impromptu encore no matter how turnt the crowd gets. But even without the audience clapping and screaming for more, the electric love for Britney Spears after the show wrapped was palpable. After all, it’s 2018 and Britney Spears — the greatest survivor in 21st century pop music — is still on her game, seemingly satisfied, present and comfortable in her skin and legacy. And for fans who’ve spent the better part their lives gunning for her success, seeing her in person is nothing short a pilgrimage to nourish the pop lover’s soul.