Pink, National Indoor Arena, Birmingham <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

"This is dedicated to a country motherfucker who can't even spell the word," yells a bleach-blonde Pink, as images of Bush and Blair, post-Katrina New Orleans and Iraq flash up on screens.

It surely shows how much trouble the US President is in when a previously apolitical pop-star pens a torch-song protest: "How can you say 'no child is left behind'/ We're not dumb and we're not blind/ They're all sitting in your cells/ While you pave the road to hell."

But her new song "Dear Mr President" gets the biggest cheers when she sings: "What kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?"

When this tough, tattooed girl from Philadelphia emerged seven years ago with the R&B-garage anthem "There You Go", given a flamenco makeover here, Pink's main currency was teenagers. Now, after dabbling with S&M imagery and punk-pop, she's obviously an icon for lesbians.

It seems also that the producers of her I'm Not Dead tour have taken note of Madonna's latest extravaganza. There's no cross or crown of thorns, but Pink emerges following a quasi-mystical choral intro, with her dancers cast as bedraggled peasants on the road to Damascus, or perhaps Bethlehem. She strips down to leopard-print bra and pants and writhes in a hammock for the new erotic song "Fingers", and there's a bizarre video sequence (Madge did it much more coherently) leading up to her hit "Stupid Girls", in which she appears in an orange wig and ridiculous shades, while her dancers totter about in heels.

With tickets a fraction of the cost of Madonna's, it's not surprising the show isn't as slick, but it's far too fragmented. Pink places great stress on how down-with-the-people she is, but the closest she gets to her audience is on the third song, "Just Like a Pill", when she crawls over to the front row.

"How the hell is everyone?" she bellows. "Thank you for coming to play with me. We're gonna have fun!" You sense she'd like to connect more, but she's too busy keeping up with the choreographic schedule. She's best at great belting choruses and torch songs such as "Family Portrait", about her parents' break-up, and "Who Knew".

Huge red digits count down to the encore, but the performers sadly miss their cue. And perhaps "Get the Party Started" would have been better at the beginning. While Pink never falters in her performance, she just isn't given a chance to bare her soul.

Further UK tour dates, 5 November-4 December ( www.pinkspage.com)

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