Pink isn’t easily contained on a normal concert stage, regardless of its size. She hungers to be airborne, kicking and bouncing and twisting high into the air on bungee cord and cable, or tossed and spun from one dance partner to another, as she was last night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. On the third stop of her 2013 tour, she flew as much as anyone from The Avengers.
The singer’s two-hour performance was as dazzlingly physical as it was musical, beginning with the danceable pop of "True Love" while she was lifted high above the arena floor upside-down by a trio of male dancers. Madonna and her pop pretenders have always delivered dependably energetic shows, sweating out endless dance routines, but this was more Cirque du Soleil than the usual concert choreography. "I haven’t worked this hard since I worked at Pizza Hut," Pink joked after one dance number, but more challenging stunts were still ahead.
"Who is a good dancer in here? Who is a terrible dancer?" the singer asked, raising her hand. She soon had the crowd and her full troupe of male and female dancers in motion to a playful "Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely)," with its indecisive romantic refrain of "Go away, come back!"
On Pink's right wrist is a fresh tattoo reading "true love," echoing the theme of her new album, The Truth About Love. The words flashed in big lights above the stage, and the star returned to the message throughout the night, singing with humor, pain, rage and attitude. She began "How Come You’re Not Here" by joking, "My husband loves this one," and was depicted on a big heart-shaped screen as an 8-bit cartoon character from an Eighties videogame, wielding a knife in the kitchen, tumbling down chasms and challenged by various hurdles and villains. More painful was "Family Portrait," sung from a child’s perspective of a troubled home and "growin' up in World War III."
It was a grown-up, sophisticated show, and Pink was relaxed and chatty between songs. She arrived beneath a wedge of platinum blonde hair and wore a series of bare-midriff tops that showed just how fit and ripped she’s become since giving birth to a daughter less than two years ago. At one point in the show, she joked that she had been informed that she’d played Staples Center once before, but had a dislocated shoulder then: "I took a Percocet, so I’m not sure I was here."
At the center of Pink's seven-person band was guitarist Justin Derrico, who cracked open a big rock riff for "Walk of Shame" and a series of fiery solos that allowed the singer to exit for multiple costume changes during the night. Later, he picked out the dreamy melody of Chris Isaak’s "Wicked Game" as Pink stood like a torch singer behind the microphone. Onstage was a carpet of fog as male dancers in glittery bondage gear lifted, tilted and spun her once more.
There was a stripper pole for her dancers, and a silhouette of lap dancing on the big screen, during the new album’s rocking, unapologetically sex-hungry "Slut Like You." There was also an occasional appearance by a crazed emcee who was part-ringmaster, part Beetlejuice, as he taunted the crowd with intentionally bad jokes and sexual innuendo. For an acoustic take on the forceful lament "Who Knew" (from 2006’s I’m Not Dead), Pink and Derrico gathered around a pair of stools on the catwalk deeper into the crowd . Pink got schmaltzier on the new album’s love duet "Just Give Me a Reason," with a recorded image of Nate Ruess of Fun. up on the big screen as the crowd swayed and swooned.
By the time Pink was soaring gracefully through the air on cables stretched across the arena to perform "So What," the singer had demonstrated an epic workout of vocals, stagecraft and stunt-work without missing a note. The night’s best special effect was Pink herself.
Earlier, tour support act the Hives filled up the same big arena with churning garage rock riffs during a bruising eight-song set, kicking off with the one-minute call to action "Come On!" from last year’s Lex Hives album. Dressed in crisp black-and-white tuxes and top hats (soon shed or soaked with sweat to various degrees), the Swedish rock quintet delivered a quick sampling of songs from their last dozen years.
New material ("Take Back the Toys," "Go Right Ahead") kept pace with their signature punk-fueled rockers such as "Hate to Say I Told You So," as frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist kicked the air and teased their audience of Pink fans, many experiencing the Hives whirlwind for the first time.
Bringing the hyperactive openers on the road was an interesting challenge from Pink to her listeners, maybe not so different from Madonna taking the little-known Beastie Boys on her Virgin Tour in 1985. By the end of their 45-minute set, Almqvist was certain the band had won each one of them over to "the international rock & roll sensation the Hives," declaring ecstatically: "I love all you people, you know why? Because you love us!"
This article originally appeared on Rolling Stone: Pink Dazzles Staples Center Crowd With Stagecraft and Attitude