On October 23, the We Can Survive concert at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl ended with a bang — literally. After all, Katy Perry singing “Firework” without a little pyro ain’t how she rolls — and this show was all about Perry’s prerogative.
The all-female bill was as wide-ranging into all corners of pop as Perry’s latest effort, Prism, out this week. So not only was the benefit concert Perry’s creation, it also served as a celebration of all things Prism and lady power. Thrown by Radio.com and our L.A. station AMP Radio 97.1, We Can Survive raised funds for the Young Survival Coalition, an organization supporting young women battling breast cancer.
Given the cause, there was a certain emotional energy in the air, as each artist – Ellie Goulding, Sara Bareilles, Kacey Musgraves, Tegan and Sara, Bonnie McKee and Perry — ran through brief back-to-back sets. Perry’s Prism ballads — from “Unconditionally” to “By the Grace of God” — worked well in this context, but it wouldn’t be a Katy show without big pop hits. Her ability to switch so effortlessly between not only tempos but distinct moods is perhaps Perry’s biggest asset; she’s a million different women in the course of one night, yet when she opens her mouth to address the crowd, there’s a distinct personality behind those relatable hits.
Perry opened her hour-long set with a hard-rocking take on “I Kissed a Girl” to remind folks how far she’s come. Her so-’90s-it’s-practically-a-period-piece performance of “Walking on Air” — a la her sharply choreographed SNL showing last week — went straight into a combined “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls,” including modified lyrics about “sand in her creepers” to reflect her current style. Still, the real show-stopping moment was literally the moment right before the show stopped. Female empowerment cranked to 11, all the performers shared a stage and alternated vocals for “Roar,” some more ferociously than others. Still, none of them seemed out of place singing the anthem — another testament to Perry, McKee and co. having the ability to offer up songs with universal appeal.
Perry also made a surprise appearance at the very start of the show (“the early birds get to see a different outfit,” she cracked, wearing a form-fitting black vest and matching pants), coming out onstage to introduce the evening’s very first performer, her longtime collaborator Bonnie McKee. Calling her “my best friend in the world,” Perry talked about how McKee helped her pen such hits as “California Gurls” and “Roar” before turning the stage over to the crimson-haired singer, whose high-energy dance-pop dutifully warmed the capacity crowd for the marquee acts to follow.
With a visceral performance, Ellie Goulding ratcheted up the energy before Perry took the stage. The UK trendsetter got the crowd on its feet with the dance-floor pulse of “I Need Your Love,” “Burn” (during which she strummed power chords on an electric guitar) and her debut hit, “Lights.”
Before that, Sara Bareilles brought a handful of songs from throughout her career to the stage, from “Love Song” to “King of Everything” and a few songs off her new album, The Blessed Unrest. Between swearing like a sailor and pinching herself over playing the Bowl, Bareilles took a moment to share a survivor story near to her own heart. In one of the show’s more tear-jerking moments, she dedicated her song “Gravity” to a friend who’d recently beat breast cancer. Her recent gay anthem, “Brave,” ended the set in an equally “aww”-worthy moment: “Be exactly who you are,” she preached, “there’s love waiting for you.”
Preceding Bareilles, Tegan and Sara brought their alt-pop stylings to the proceeding. As usual, the sisters’ wry banter was entertaining as their music, engaging the eager crowd with their quick wit and comedic timing. ”Closer” got the crowd bopping along in familiarity, showing that the duo’s newfound penchant for pop melodies and danceable beats is serving them well.
Before that, Kacey Musgraves delivered an impressive and well-paced set of easy swinging country tunes with a pop twist. With echoes of southern rock like the Allman Brothers in some of her band’s extended arrangements, the emerging Texan singer-songwriter introduced a flair for reggae with her song “Step Off,” which segued nicely into a breezy cover of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ classic “Three Little Birds.” She ended her set with “Follow Your Arrow,” the third single from 2013′s Same Trailer Different Park, making a point to point out the song’s references to same-sex marriage and smoking marijuana with the disclaimer, “well, we are in California!” wheaux