The Time the Night Got Owned: Nicki Minaj, Jessie and the Toy Boys, and Nervo (Oh, and Britney Spears, Too) in Seattle (Concert Review)

Last week, I had the spectacular good fortune of seeing the Femme Fatale TourBritney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Jessie and the Toy Boys, and Nervo — live and in concert at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington.

Now, if you’re reading this in the first place, you’re probably the type of reader who has already read many of the reviews of the Femme Fatale Tour, from the cynical and unflattering (The Hollywood Reporter) to the glowing and rhapsodic (everyone else in the music journalism community, who are not stupid and wrong). It must be said, first and foremost, that this blog already has an authority on all things Britney Spears. His name is Bradley Stern. And as devoted as I am to the Holy Spearit, I am not the one who ends most of my posts with the text “2011: YEAR OF THE SPEARS,” nor am I the one who created a website that has a section titled “DAILY B” to provide updates with Britney’s latest and greatest performances, promotional photos, and weaves. After giving the matter a great deal of thought, I realized that I must recuse myself from the discussion of Britney in this review. When Bradley himself attends the Femme Fatale Tour as it makes its way eastward, I have every confidence that he will provide readers with the ardently detailed review they so sorely deserve.

But that’s his job. Not mine.

So I’m going to talk about the other stuff that happened, primarily the evening’s most unnecessary and irrelevant details, but also how dope the opening acts were. After all, it should come as no surprise that an artist like Britney Fucking Spears would surround herself with some pretty top-notch talent.

I was visiting Seattle from New York on a business trip last week, which happened to coincide with the Femme Fatale Tour passing through Tacoma, a rather grim port city about an hour south of Seattle (where, ironically, I’d also seen Britney two years earlier on the Circus Tour). Due to its central Washington location — and following the grunge explosion of the ‘90s, Washington State has basically become a very large, lushly forested meth lab — my fellow concertgoers at the Britney show represented an unfortunate cross-section of American life, from which I, as a result of living in Manhattan (and being a big elitist asshole), am normally insulated. Tanning salon employees in platform flip-flops, already drunk on white wine spritzers, clutched BlackBerrys bejeweled with Swarovski crystals, while suburban mall gays in tank tops judged each other with their eyes from across the arena. (I am told that locals call Tacoma “Tacompton” due to its high crime rate and gang violence, although I can’t claim this with any certainty.)

My high school BFF Kelly and I, fortunately, looked flawless, I in my favorite lemon yellow summerweight cashmere sweater and her in a stunning glittery black Betsey Johnson dress with a voluminous crinoline petticoat that attracted compliments all night. In the limo on the way down from Seattle to Tacoma, giddy with excitement, we had taken about 60 self-portraits on my iPhone, trying to find the perfect pre-Brit pic to tweet that would simultaneously express both “VOGUE” and “WERQ.” In so doing, I’d worn down the battery to the dreaded less-than-20% mark, such that my phone was perilously close to dying throughout the show and I was unable to snap a single picture. Obviously, the night was off to a great start.

We arrived at the Tacoma Dome (really, don’t ask) just in time to find our second-row (!!!!!!!!) seats and catch the first opening act, Australian DJ duo Nervo, who are arguably the cutest thing/s I have ever seen. Previously, twin sisters Miriam “Mim” Nervo and Olivia “Liv” Nervo were best known to me as the songwriting geniuses behind hits like David Guetta and Kelly Rowland’s “When Love Takes Over,” Rachel Stevens’ “Negotiate With Love,” and some of Ke$ha’s finest work, including “Boots and Boys” and the legendary “(Fuck Him) He’s a DJ.”

If I was a Nervo neophyte before, their act was enough to turn me into a full-blown superfan. The girls’ two house singles (both of which feature Ollie James on vocals), “Irresistible” and “This Kind of Love,” provided the tone for an electrifying dance set that included “Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel the Love),” the Kylie Minogue single that the Nervo sisters penned and later remixed. (In case you were wondering, the girls did indeed put their hands up when they felt the love that night.) This was big, euphoric house music of the highest order, evoking a poppers-soaked sunrise in Ibiza. (What a shame to open my eyes and find that I was, in fact, still in Tacoma.)

Next up was a MuuMuse fave, rising dance-pop outfit Jessie and the Toy Boys. I had the privilege of interviewing frontwoman Jessie Malakouti several months ago — which was easily the most fun I’ve ever had in an interview — as well as seeing her perform on a tiny stage at Industry in Hell’s Kitchen, so it was a particular thrill to watch her play an arena packed with thousands (even if the attitude of the crowd was approximately as enthusiastic as a Forever 21 staff meeting, which, actually, fairly accurately describes the crowd’s style, too).

But their apathy wasn’t the product of Jessie’s performance, which was anything but lackluster; she’s one of those rarities who was just born to be a pop star. So many artists start out spunky but the mundane glamour of celebrity quickly begins to dull their dazzle and turn them complacent; Jessie still has the drive and ferocity to pour her heart and soul into these performances, and it really does make all the difference.

Jessie began her set with my personal favorite, “We Own the Night,” a glittering ode to the ephemerality of youth that’s like a higher-octane reswizzling of Britney’s “Anticipating.” (I’m not going to say it made me misty, but I’m not going to say it didn’t, either.) Next up was the deliciously crass “Money Makes the Girl Go Round,” perhaps the strongest new track from her recently released Show Me Your Tan Lines EP. Having now graduated to real live Toy Boys rather than the mannequins who once backed her, the two poker-faced gays who worked it out in support of Jessie rocked grinding, sexual choreography. Like Britney, Jessie can go from sweet to sleazy in a heartbeat, but most importantly, she looked like she was genuinely having fun.

Jessie signed off with a rendition of her gritty dubstep-inspired single “Push It,” in which she wisely spat her own Ke$ha-style rhymes in lieu of Yelawolf’s verse (Jessie, no shade to Yelawolf, but can you please release a solo version, too? Thanks) and executed some of her finest dance moves yet. (I should mention that I spent most of this elbowing Kelly and screaming “OH MY GOD ISN’T SHE AMAZING?”) And with that, Jessie took her Toyboys and made way for Nicki Minaj.

Nicki always struck me as a curiously inspired choice to accompany Britney on tour, so I was excited to see her, but Kelly and I were briefly derailed by some ticketing drama as Nicki kicked off her set. (Our extraordinarily expensive second-row seats were in front of the main stage but actually behind the stage extension, which had made it difficult to see some of the opening acts; as we migrated across the floor, trying to get an angle from which to actually view the performers, we were told to sit down by a string of increasingly dour and unsmiling Tacoma Dome security guards; eventually, the Ticketmaster rep came slithering over to dispense a lot of contrite platitudes as we argued through “Roman’s Revenge” and “Did It On ‘Em.” Ultimately, we reached an impasse, and after some tears were shed — I’m not going to say whether they were Kelly’s or mine — we indignantly returned to our original seats. “I feel like a princess who’s walked into the wrong fairytale,” Kelly moaned, and in her defense, she did look quite regal.)

Unsurprisingly, Nicki was a dynamo on stage, and the crowd lapped it up. Accompanied by a posse of video vixens wearing black bondage-inspired garb, the Harajuku Barbie’s theatricality shone as she whipped through the various smashes on which she’d featured — Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up,” Luda’s “My Chick Bad,” and Rihanna’s “Raining Men.” While Nervo and Jessie’s performances had been relatively spare, the accompanying lights and visuals on Nicki’s set were dazzling — memorably, during “Fly,” she emerged in an elaborate white gown while her dancers twirled iridescent gossamer hoops.

To me, it was remarkable the extent to which she takes her cues from drag queens and drag culture as a whole; even the way she strutted across the stage in her lime green patent leather booties without saying a word elicited shrieks of glee from the audience. She never stuck with one song long enough for the audience to get bored; the whole set was a mega-medley, a patchwork pastiche of her brief career’s greatest moments.

But the highlight of Nicki’s set was the closer, fan favorite and bonus-track-turned-smash-single “Super Bass.” The Ester Dean-assisted uptempo is as pop as Nicki’s ever gone, so it’s fitting that it was the best number of her set for a Britney crowd, bright and a little bratty.

I’d spoken with Jessie in New York about coming backstage to say hello before or after the concert, which I knew was a long shot given the high profile (and security) of the event, but after the show was over, Kelly and I crept around to the side of the Tacoma Dome, where one of the tour managers pulled us into a cordoned-off parking lot full of long, dark-windowed buses. We climbed up onto one of the buses, where the opening acts were winding down after an evening of hard work.

Jessie was curled up on a banquette wearing an orange jumpsuit, sneakers, and a Louis Vuitton monogram scarf — to which I exclaimed, “YOUR OUTFIT IS GIVING ME LIFE RIGHT NOW!” — while the Nervo girls sat on either side of the bus with identical MacBooks on their laps, typing merrily away. Jessie, as always, was witty and charming, while Mim and Liv were lovely and friendly as can be, gushing over how gorgeous Kelly’s dress was. (No wonder they’re in such high demand as songwriters right now; in addition to being super-talented, they’re genuinely just a blast to be around.)

Kelly and I sat for awhile and shot the shit with the Femme Fatale girls — a slightly surreal experience for both of us. Mim and Liv were deliberating over new promo pictures they’d just received, while Jessie and I discussed the omnipresent epidemic of “haters” (a subject about which, as my regular readers know, I have a great deal to say), and the five of us took some super-exclusive Polaroids for Jessie’s tour scrapbook. (Jessie gave me one to take home, but it’s not a great look for either of us; I look sort of greasy and unkempt, and her face looks like it’s melting. If you really want to see it, you can tweet me about it.)

But by midnight, all of us — myself and Kelly included — were tuckered out, so we said our goodbyes and jumped off the bus. As we headed up to where the Towncar was waiting to whisk us back to our real lives, our famous friends behind us, Kelly in her princess dress, it kinda felt like the perfect happy ending to our Femme Fatale fairytale.

Nicki Minaj, Jessie and the Toy Boys and Nervo are all touring with Britney during this summer’s Femme Fatale tour.

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