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October 20, 2017

Katy Perry and the magic of the moment

It ain't easy pulling off the improv in the big halls, but some stars really embrace it

There is nothing like a surprise. That’s particularly true during an age in which the public knows almost everything instantly thanks to technology.

When it comes to music, it’s typically straightforward when it comes to the large venues. Bigger concerts tend to be more predictable. Massive productions often prohibit recording artists from living in the moment. But there are exceptions such as Katy Perry, who performed last week at the Wells Fargo Center.

Perry’s “Witness” tour is a high-tech, mega production. Perry featured oversized items, such as a phone, lips and television screens. Dancers in catsuits and Perry sporting a halter top with the words “Hot N’ Cold” flashing were part of the endless eye candy. 

However, what separates Perry from her rival, Taylor Swift, is that it’s not all about the perky pop star, and she has no problem delivering improv onstage.

Perry pulled a 10-year old girl up next to her, who revealed that she dreams of becoming a pop star. Perry called her mother, who was riffing from her home in California. Perry challenged a dad to play basketball against her. She tanked (like that’s never been done before at the Wells Fargo Center) to the delight of the father’s family.

It’s difficult pulling off the impromptu in the big halls. 

“It isn’t easy,” E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren told PhillyVoice. “But it’s something that is what we deal with and we love it.”

Lofgren’s boss, Bruce Springsteen, is known for calling audibles for the E Street Band during shows. 

“We just have to follow and go with it,” Lofgren said. “It keeps you on your toes. The great thing is that at any show, we have a set list and we may follow it, or sometimes it just goes out the window. We just go out and make some magic in whatever city we're in.”

During a concert in Austin in 2012, Springsteen had the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” on the set list. At the start of the song, Springsteen surprised the audience by introducing Animals frontman Eric Burdon.

The Boss also shocked his bandmates. 

“We had no idea that Eric Burdon was going to sing with us,” Lofgren said. 

“All we knew was that the song was on the playlist. But Bruce made magic happen. You just don’t see many people  – especially the more well-known artists playing the big halls – surprising people today.”

Perry has been surprising her fans for years. When her “Prismatic” tour stopped in Philadelphia two years ago, Perry told fans after pizza and cheesesteaks were delivered to the stage that she wanted to run up the art museum steps like Rocky. About an hour after her show at the Wells Fargo Center, Perry jogged up the steps in a pepperoni pizza onesie.

“It’s cool to keep people guessing and have fun onstage,” Goo Goo Dolls vocalist-bassist Robbie Takac said. 

“Anytime someone can pull that off, it’s amazing. That’s particularly so if you’re playing the big venues. It’s a huge risk because what if something goes wrong? But when it goes right, the recording artist and the fans will certainly remember that for a long time.”