There was good reason for Britney Spears to do something extra-special on Thursday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
After all, the Charlotte concert was the 39th and final show of the U.S.-Canada part of her "Femme Fatale" tour, which heads for Europe next month.
Instead, the buxom, blonde pop star stuck to the same script she's run through in city after city this summer, zipping through an 86-minute, 19-song set that featured an unsurprisingly large dose of lip-synching but a shockingly small amount of real interaction with the near-capacity crowd.
Correct me if I'm wrong, those who were there, but here's what I recorded as the sum total of her between-song banter:
After "Up n' Down," a "bonus track" off her "Femme Fatale" album: "What's up, Charlotte?" (Crowd goes wild.)
After "Big Fat Bass," also off "Femme Fatale": "What's up, Charlotte?" (Woo-hoo, fans yell in unison.)
After her 2001 hit "I'm a Slave 4 U": "Are you guys ready for some more?" (More screaming.)
After 2008's "Womanizer": "Thank you so much, Charlotte!" (You're welcome.)
And after her current smash hit, "Till the World Ends": "Good night, everyone!"
If you were hoping for any kind of a heart-to-heart chat, or maybe a cute anecdote about something she saw or did earlier in the day - well, this wasn't that kind of show. If you came for a spectacle, though, you got it in spades from Ms. Spears.
Yes, this was a Show with a capital "S." It had a storyline, in this case centering on both Spears (as a femme fatale/secret agent) and a lone-nut adversary. It had multiple costumes, ranging from a white trench coat and a satin fedora to a black sparkly bodysuit. It had a swing that lifts Britney 25 feet above the stage. Ninjas. Motorcycles. A pink convertible. A stripper pole. Fireworks. And so on.
What it didn't have, unfortunately, was much personality. Her songs sounded reasonably good, perhaps because they were pre-recorded tracks, but her dancing seemed a bit ... lazy? I don't know, maybe lazy is a little harsh. I mean, she did just perform more than three dozen shows in roughly two months' time. She works hard for her money, by almost any measure.
But there's no question her moves lacked sharpness, and that much of her routine simply involves walking around the stage in step with the music or wildly gesturing or posing with her arms and hands. The 29-year-old also is maybe not in the best shape of her life. She remains a beautiful young woman with a body most women would kill for. Still, I heard whispering about whether midriff-baring tops do Spears any favors right now.
In fairness, it seemed like most of her fans walked away happy on Thursday night. (The crowd, by the way, was at least three-quarters female, probably more.) Britney's set had a good mix of old and new, and she even sneaked in a well-received cover of Rihanna's "S&M."
Far and away the number of the night? The upbeat current hit "I Wanna Go."
It worked precisely because of her direct connection with the audience: She smiled broadly as she tossed a T-shirt into the crowd during the first verse; her backup dancers then hauled four fans onto the stage to bounce to the beat with Brit, then four more, then three more. It really, truly looked like the star was having fun, and it was infectious - pretty much everyone in attendance was pumping their fists and/or jumping up and down like it was their job. For three minutes, there was pandemonium in the building.
If Spears had managed to light that kind of fire in people for 19 songs instead of one, I assure you this would have been the concert of the year.