Britney Spears at Staples Center -- Concert Review

Britney Spears' Circus rolled into town Thursday night and lived up to its name: The tour is a three-ring visual extravaganza featuring acrobats, jugglers, magicians, stilt walkers, a dozen dancers, costume changes and special effects that bordered on sensory overload.

Yet the one thing missing from the 90 minutes of eye candy was some sense of who ringmaster really is. Sure, the sordid details of Spears' life have been played out in front of the paparazzi's cameras, but during the first show of a two-night stand at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Spears failed to give the crowd a glimpse of her true identity -- no matter how revealing her outfits were.

Given her recent personal dramas and how her every move is scrutinized, some are watching this tour for a potential train wreck. Sure enough, reports from the road thus far have included a wardrobe malfunction in Tampa, which might have gone unnoticed had Spears not pointed it out twice. At a recent Northern California date, she wrongly greeted Sacramento instead of San Jose. There was a 30-minute delay due to smoky conditions in Vancouver and an unsubstantiated report of a fallout with her "lip-synch coordinator."

There were no such gaffes Thursday as Spears stuck to the script and hardly addressed the crowd. In fact, it was hard to tell when she actually was singing because the bulk of the show seemingly featured prerecorded backing tracks.

The performer did make allusions to her troubles but only in the most superficial terms. She opened with "Circus," the namesake of the tour and the title track from her latest chart-topping album, during which she donned a ringmaster outfit and noted, "All eyes on me/In the center of the ring" over robotic electronic grooves. Spears performed her holler-back at the paparazzi, "Piece of Me," inside a gold cage on wheels as headlines were projected on the circular screen above the stage.

The artist that raised the ire of parents from the beginning in her scandalous schoolgirl outfit also continues to use shock-and-awe tactics. Her latest, "If U Seek Amy" -- a double-entendre homonym for a spelled-out act that no parent in their right mind wants their child to walk around singing -- was included in the set, much to the delight of her young fans. But other than that, there was nothing more shocking than her old televised kiss with Madonna, which reappeared in a video montage.

The show, however, did have a few pleasant surprises. During the segue into the "Freakshow" segment, Spears employed a live band to perform a Marilyn Manson-style version of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." Openers the Pussycat Dolls performed their version of A.R. Rahman's Oscar-winning "Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire," Spears and her dancers bested it with a lavish, Bollywood-inspired take of "Me Against the Music."

In the end, Britney and company delivered an entertaining spectacle, but one couldn't help but wish that she would strip it all down and show a little more of herself.

Venue: Staples Center, Los Angeles (Thursday, April 16)

Set list:
Piece of Me
Ooh Ooh Baby
Hot as Ice
If U Seek Amy
Me Against the Music
Get Naked
Breathe on Me
Touch My Hand
Do Something
... Baby One More Time