According to the singer Pink, she had in fact played Staples Center once before her Saturday night headline gig there. But she didn’t quite remember doing so.
“I’d hurt myself and the doctors said I couldn’t do any tricks, but instead I just took a Percocet,” the singer born Alecia Moore told the Staples audience. “So I don’t really remember being there.”
Self-medicating to dull the pain from a wound? Mocking a career setback with an endearing punchline about her knack for blacking out? This was definitely a Pink show.
Moore has saved herself a seat at the bad kids’ table in the pop music school cafeteria, lobbing spitballs and smoking in the bathroom over the course of six albums of rowdy, electrified pop-punk. But she’s also an unusually tender singer and writer, documenting her addictions and screwups with a specificity that most peers on radio wouldn’t touch.
At her sold-out Saturday show, her set reminded the crowd that her best asset in performing -- more than her aerialist talents or Joplin-esque power-rasp voice, is her self-awareness.
Last year, Moore released “The Truth About Love,” a record that paired up-tempo electronics and rock guitars -- a formula that peers such as Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson have used to great success. But Pink is both more fun and more angsty in that setting than either of them, and her live show had a big range of material and moods to cover.
Saturday’s gig was built around a dating-game-show conceit where Pink was a contestant; it was kind of a thin premise for an artist with so many other talents. The first person onstage was a wacky-sinister vaudeville host doing stand-up shtick for 10 minutes, which was 10 more minutes we could have spent watching Pink careen over the stage on bungee cords on her ode to drunk confidence, “Raise Your Glass.”
Though Pink started as a late ‘90s R&B; singer, Saturday’s set showed how nicely she’s slipped into her contemporary sound, with recent singles such as “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” “Are We All We Are” and “Walk of Shame” sounding like Def Leppard and Dr. Luke signing a mutually assured-Top-40-destruction pact, with Pink at the helm making everything self-deprecating and uplifting at once.
Young women rebounding from sexual misadventures (we hear there might be a popular HBO show on this topic?) was one of the night’s big themes. Few other singers could make a song called “Slut Like You” feel like a badge of honor (though an S&M-gagged; stage scene for her song “Try” distracted from that song’s grunge-y howl of rejection).
Pink remains perhaps the most gifted and imaginative physical performer in pop right now. Her aerials make terrestrial-bound dancing feel, if not trivial, than certainly a little too safe. She spent a good half of Saturday’s show lashed to gyroscopes, hanging from ribbons or being tossed by the scruff of her neck into piles of dancers. That gave songs such as “Sober” a physical poetry that most other pop artists assign to their backup dancers.
It’s spectacle, yes, but it felt emotionally convincing -- even more than the stark, serious middle portion of the program. Her song “Family Portrait” is undeniably meaningful for her, but the actual family portraits projected onstage had a foreboding that outdid the song, whose domestic-dysfunction themes have been done better by Eminem and even Rihanna in recent years.
By the night’s end, however, she was back aloft over the Staples center floor for “So What,” perhaps her most defining song to date. The verses are funny and riffy about her habit of drunken brawls, especially on the occasions that her husband, Carey Hart, is out of the picture.
The chorus, however, has an unimpeachably accurate rebuttal (“So what, I’m still a rock star”) that’s also loaded with defensiveness and pain. That’s when Pink seemed most herself -- 50 feet above the arena floor, tied to the ceiling by wires, finally able to sail above and see it all. No Percocet needed.