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The Pepsi Center is actually an okay place to pass an evening, no matter what's going on inside, if you stick to the outer edges and avoid the actual event altogether. The club level has a couple of bars and a nice patio with a view of downtown. In the Denver Post fake newsroom/lounge, you can order a salad for $8.50 and watch TV. (A tip for the spirit-minded: The upper-level bars sell beer longer than the stands on the concourse, usually for thirty minutes past the end of an event.) On the ground level, the Coors Tap Room is often opened for parents who want to escort their children to concerts or sporting events but don't want to plunk down the money for a ticket.

I discovered all of this on Monday night while trying to find necessary, though momentary, refuge from the more puzzling aspects of the Britney Spears/O-Town show that was taking place on the center's stage. Reading a Xeroxed copy of the evening's agenda in the Ridgeline Bar -- where the staff was cranking Led Zeppelin IV in an attempt to block out the prepubescent screams that never stopped emanating from the venue's belly -- I learned that attendance was estimated at 15,000, that the show was scheduled to be over by 9:45 p.m., and that, because of her dedication to customer service, a woman named Suzanne has been named the Pepsi Center Employee of the Month for November. Overlooking the VIP parking lot, I also learned that Spears and her entourage travel in eleven luxury tour buses and that it takes an entire parking lot full of eighteen-wheelers to transport all of the laser beams, mirrored panels, speakers, monitors, headsets, T-shirts and costumes that are The Britney Show. Monday's concert marked Spears's first Colorado appearance since a stop at the Paramount in 1999: Her scheduled show at Red Rocks earlier this year was canceled because the stage wasn't big enough for her elaborate production. This time, more than 3/4 of the Pepsi Center's floor was used as a three-part stage made up of two large platforms and a snaky catwalk connecting them

The breezy halls of the Grand Atrium were a welcome respite from a distortion-laden, moderately pornographic set by openers O-Town, an act familiar to VHI viewers as the first product of the Making the Band series. A purposely multiethnic and unapologetically prefabricated vocal ensemble whose members, to my companion's great horror, aren't even as cute as the Backstreet Boys, O-Town often appeared as if it were having some sort of emotion-induced group seizure. The little girls loved it -- including one pre-adolescent named Casey who was called on stage and serenaded by a freaky-looking guy with nappy dreads -- but after watching most of O-Town's set, I felt like I needed to take a shower. There's just something inherently creepy about six or seven guys in their mid-twenties telling every ten-year-old in the crowd that they want to "...kiss her lips and her shoulders...all night...get in the insides and around all the corners." While Britney's audience members ranged from just barely upright to middle-aged, with a median that sits squarely in the preteen camp, the fans screaming for O-Town looked like they shared a collective bedtime of about 8:30.

When the set concluded at last, fans on the floor were treated to a thirty-minute intermission during which giant video screens played a loop of commercials (for Pepsi), videos (of Britney kindred spirits Aaron Carter, Destiny's Child and the aforementioned Boys) and movie previews: What better time to let the kids know about Crossroads, the wacky new road comedy that stars our heroine, B.S., than in the excitement-filled moments before she actually appeared before their eyes? For those who preferred to roam the corridors in search of commerce, there was plenty to choose from. For instance, a sleeveless tank featuring a pubic-bone-baring Britney in various states of ecstatic writhing was available for $50, while the long-sleeved variety went for $60; the tour program was a steal at $10. (The entertainment value of trying to guess which older men were buying Spears calendars for their children or for themselves: priceless.) Signs posted around the venue reminded us that because Britney was donating a portion of her proceeds to the Britney Spears Foundation, it was not only fun to spend money on merch, it was the socially responsible thing to do.

When Britney finally did arrive, my objective of trying to determine whether or not she actually has much talent was thwarted by the fact that she could never really be heard above the din of the keyboards, her presence always buried in a swirl of flashing strobes and choreography. Her stage show included a Madonna-esque ensemble of nubile and athletic dancers, all of whom moved with a lot more confidence than Spears herself, who is spunky but seems more like a step-class teacher than a dancer. She lip-synched through a lot of it -- out of respiratory necessity, one supposes, more than anything. Her coy new ballad, "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," was a performance highlight, as Brit actually calmed down and took a seat on a piano bench in order to sing it.

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Laura Bond
Contact: Laura Bond