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Britney Spears grows up in San Diego

San Diego, March 2, 2004

By Rick Bell

SAN DIEGO - The crowd seemed a little older, a little wiser this time around - just like the young woman on stage most of them had grown up with.

Early in the opening night of Britney Spears' Onyx Hotel World Tour, she admitted as much to the sold-out San Diego Sports Arena.

"I've been through a lot lately," said Spears, a bit breathless and already sweaty in her skintight shiny black one-piece catsuit that revealed plenty of cleavage. "I've learned life is precious. ... It's been a long time since I've been on stage; it's good to be back."

And with a "let's kick it," Spears was off again to the roar of a largely college-age crowd. Sure, there were parents with youngsters, but unlike past Spears tours, they were in the minority this time out.

Leaning heavily on her new "In the Zone" album, Spears' incredibly ambitious 90-minute show was as much a maturation of a young performer into a truly magnetic entertainer. Seldom did the pace of her 16-song set lag, keeping the 13,000 or so fans on their feet the entire time. Even on Spears' ballads she was in fine voice - well, as fine as Spears' paper-thin vocals can get.

The show loosely follows Spears through the mystical Onyx Hotel, with a rotund jester as the guide. Spears rode in on an oversized metallic cart to open with "Toxic" and set off on a high-energy dance number, flames shooting all around the stage as her long, blonde, extension-filled tresses whipped in all directions. Accompanied by eight dynamic dancers, two backup singers and a tight, pulsing six-piece band, she then launched into "Overprotected," "Boys" and "Showdown."

The scene then shifted to the hotel lounge where entertainer Spears, now dressed in a sexy pink and black bustier outfit sang older hits "Baby One More Time" and "Oops I Did It Again" in a jazzy, almost big band sound, which was a bit of a disappointment. She's too young to be tired of playing her signature songs in their original form.

Yet, as the scene next shifted to a garden, Spears, this time in a colorful cotton dress, sat down at the piano - perhaps something of a diss to ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, who also spends time behind the keyboards in concert playing some of his favorites. Spears didn't last long behind the ivories, however, rising midway through the song to finish her ballad and upcoming single, "Everytime."

Wearing the same dress, she danced through "The Hook Up" and "Slave 4 U." To this point, the show was a mild PG-13 - until she entered the "Onyx Zone" (an obvious takeoff on Rod Serling and the "Twilight Zone").

First Spears was hoisted on a swing wearing a powder blue formal with a 30-foot train dangling as Cirque du Soleil-artists performed on either side of her as she innocently sang "Shadow." Enthralling, certainly; then it got racy. Steamy. Downright smutty. You could almost hear the moms sweat as silhouetted dancers performed nasty bedroom moves while two others writhed on beds. Spears took off her bathrobe to reveal her diamond body suit like she wears in the "Toxic" video and stepped into a clear, glitter-filled bathtub - all to the quite appropriate "Touch of My Hand."

A quick change, and she was a little more clothed - a pink bra and boy short lingerie and she was dancing and singing "Breathe on Me."

The crowd at this point was whipped into a lusty frenzy as she donned a silken bathrobe to sing "Outrageous," occasionally shaking her butt at the audience.

After one more change into funky hot pink leotard cutout thing with baggy jeans and pink shoes, Spears put on the hip-hop with "Boom Boom."

She left the stage breathless, red in the face, sweating like mad, her hair matted to her head, but smiling. And the crowd stayed on its feet for her encore, "Me Against the Music," her final costume change into a fire engine red suit, bustier and hat. She was obviously gassed by this point, but she danced on.

As did her fans. Who now seemed more like Brit's pals - a little more grown up, certainly more worldly and happy just to hang out and party with their old friend for a couple hours.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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