Concert review: Katy Perry at the Schottenstein Center

Andy Downing

Columbus was initially slated to host the kick-off of Katy Perry's “Witness: The Tour.” Following “unavoidable production delays,” however, dates were postponed and reshuffled, resulting in the fourth show of the tour taking place at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday.

Based on the high-concept stage sets on display, the reasoning holds water.

Delays could have been caused by anything from the Saturn-shaped platform that lifted Perry from the stage and ushered her through a solar system of planets strung from the rafters during “Thinking of You” to the light-up, cube-shaped columns that moved up and down and temporarily transformed the stage into a Q*bert board on “Dark Horse.”

Now a week into the tour, Perry, who was backed here by a five-piece band, two singers and a cadre of dancers, was still feeling her way forward, at times struggling with pacing during a series of unrehearsed bits.

In one, she placed an unscripted phone call to her mother on a novelty phone — Perry's love of outsized items is rivaled only by prop comics — who in turn subjected the audience to a groan-worthy joke: “Where is the city of Engagement, Ohio? Between Dayton and Marion.” In another, Perry introduced “Swish Swish” by randomly pulling a dad from the audience for an overlong basketball shooting contest that tested both the pair's accuracy and the audience's patience. (Though, to be fair, the bit might have been better than the actual lyrics to the diss track, which found Perry unleashing a string of insults that would get her laughed out of most elementary school cafeterias.)

Despite a smaller arena crowd — a large section of the upper level was draped off with black curtaining — the evening started strong, with Perry, wearing a red, sequined dress and sporting dark sunglasses, emerging from a giant, eyeball-shaped screen to deliver the title track off her most recent album, Witness. “Roulette” followed, building on a massive chorus about as subtle as Las Vegas neon, with Perry flanked by dancers who climbed in and over a pair of giant dice in dress inspired by “Alice in Wonderland's" Queen of Hearts.

Wardrobe changes were frequent. When Perry belted, “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes” on “Hot N Cold,” she could have easily been talking about her backup dancers, who, at different points in the evening, emerged wearing geometric costumes that suggested atomic elements and wilder, more feathery fare that made them appear as though they'd sprung forth from the unspoiled, pre-Thneed landscape of Dr. Seuss' “The Lorax.” On “Chained to the Rhythm,” a pliant, funk-informed hip-shaker, the lot of them looked as if they could have wandered over from a Residents video, each wearing a television-shaped mask emblazoned with a single, unblinking eyeball.

Hot and cold also could have described the show itself, which fell off markedly once Perry eased into a surprisingly flat series of Witness tracks, including a dour “Deja Vu”; the Mike Will Made It-produced “Tsunami,” which hit more like still water; as well as the monochromatic Teenage Dream track “E.T.,” which felt dour in spite of the fantastical visuals that found Perry dodging Venus flytraps and trippy, insectoid creatures.

The wink-nudge “Bon Appetit” paired sexually suggestive lyrics (“Hope you got some room for the world's best cherry pie”) with surreal visuals (dancers “seasoning” Perry with salt and pepper shakers), but the muted, electro-tinged beat felt like an afterthought. Even the pixelated “Hey Hey Hey,” which opened with Perry decked out like a “TRON” extra and astride a yellow motorcycle, felt weirdly low-energy in spite of the colorful scenery, which also included laser beams that combed the crowd like brain scanners.

Far better were “Part of Me,” which built on thumping drums and digital blips that made the track sound like 16-Bit Bar + Arcade at peak business hours, and a booming “Power" that Perry introduced as though she were beginning a new career as a life coach.

“Anything you need is already inside of you,” she said before launching into the song, which essentially centers on the theme of reclaiming one's time — a desire likely shared by at least some in attendance as the up-and-down evening drew to a close.