Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s … Pink!
Or, if you will, P!nk. That’s the way the artist born Alecia Moore, who played a highly entertaining, action-packed, sold-out hometown show at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, stylizes her brand.
Appropriately enough, because there was little that Pink did in South Philadelphia that wasn’t worthy of an exclamation point. Or perhaps several !!!s.
The 38-year-old singer’s literal high-wire act began immediately after the curtain was pulled back at a moment when the multigenerational, mostly female crowd was already worked into a first-pumping frenzy by a DJ spinning Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.”
And here Pink was one more time, back in the venue that the Doylestown native first played in 2000, when she was a pop-R&B upstart opening for N’Sync on the boy band’s No Strings Attached tour.
This time there were lots of strings, or actually cables, attached to the enduring pop star as she initially appeared high above the stage atop a shimmery chandelier and proceeded to spin around several times in her shiny bodysuit before coming to earth in the Busby Berkeley-gone-berserk “Get the Party Started” opening number.
That was only the beginning of her can-she-top-this? aerial act. Can she? Yes. Later, she and one of her eight dancers — who were no more hard-bodied than Pink, who, shall we say, is rather ripped — were suspended in the air Cirque du Soleil-style three stories or so above the crowd.
When she wasn’t standing on her acrobat partner’s stomach, he was holding her by one foot while she, naturally, sang out on key while hanging upside down, never needing to gasp for breath.
Compared with the final trick of the Beautiful Trauma tour — named after Pink’s seventh studio album, which came out in November — that was safe-seeming stuff.
For her penultimate song, several costume changes later, Pink sang her self-sufficiency anthem “So What” (Sample lyric: “So what? I’m a rock star, and I don’t need you!”) while strapped into a harness that rapidly zipped her over and above the crowd on both ends of the building, like a silver surfer super heroine. It was carefully staged, but still looked plenty scary and legitimately physically dangerous. It made me a little nauseous just watching it.
All this may make it seem as if Pink’s show is all about spectacular staging and choreographed high jinks.
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And to be sure, along with covers of Nirvana and Gwen Stefani, there was plenty of that, the strangest instance being “Revenge,” her Beautiful Trauma duet with Eminem, whom she previous teamed with on the rapper’s 2010 song “Won’t Back Down.”
For “Revenge,” Pink, who at that point was wearing a green-and-yellow-checked robe, one of several grand-dame outfits she donned through the evening, was joined on stage by a giant inflatable, somewhat frightening-looking Marshall Mathers puppet, which she punched in the face and vanquished after being hoisted to his eye level. (Comparatively, her duet with Nate Ruess of the band Fun on the catchy “Just Give Me a Reason” was a simple affair, only requiring his image to be projected on two video screens.
Was there room for any humanity amid all this spectacle? Of course there was. Besides the hit songs — and she’s got a lot of them — the key to Pink’s popularity stretching over nearly two decades now, is the way she projects realness, a sense that she’s by no means a processed pop star (even though she regularly works with assembly-line hit makers like the Scandinavian songwriters Max Martin and Shellback).
That comes across in the exertion that goes into her stage show: Ladies and gentlemen, this woman does not require a stunt double. But during the well-paced, super-efficient, 1-hour-and-45-minute set in which she was backed by a five-woman, three-man band, a personal, intimate vibe also came through in the quiet nostalgia of ballads like “Barbies.”
And Pink really connected in her between-song interludes. There wasn’t a tremendous amount of Philly talk, though a minimalist approach works wonders these days when all a locally bred artist needs to say is “So … the Eagles,” to make a crowd go bonkers. The other sweet touch was shouting out her guidance counselor from junior high at Lenape Middle School, whom she praised as “the only adult who ever stuck up for me in school. I wish every dysfunctional a– kid like me would have somebody like that.”
The hit from Beautiful Trauma is “What About Us,” a rallying cry for the dispossessed that, as written, is extremely vague in its politics, all the better to be universally applicable to anyone who feels ignored or unappreciated. In the prerecorded intro, though, Pink got specific, speaking up about being a proud feminist, flexing a bicep in a Rosie the Riveter pose, and speaking over a montage that showed images of rallying #MeToo and gun-control activists.
More moving still was a story she recounted — also relayed during her MTV Video Music Awards Video Vanguard acceptance speech — that her 6-year-old daughter, Willow, recently told her: “I’m the ugliest girl I know. I look like a boy.” Action hero that she is, Pink explained that she responded by making a PowerPoint presentation that displayed images of androgynous rock stars like Michael Jackson, Annie Lennox, Prince, and David Bowie, “who carried on and waved their flag and inspired the rest of us.”
Our job, she explained to her daughter, “is not to change but to have other people change so they can see more kinds of beauty. And you, my darling girl, are beautiful.” With that, she threw herself into her 2010 hit “Raise Your Glass,” calling out to “all my underdogs,” and getting the party started all over again.