Halfway through her brief 50-minute set Monday at Hollywood's Hotel Café, Katy Perry apologized for her subdued stage presence -- "I'm really sick right now," she wheezed -- and told the capacity crowd that she hoped they'd be at the Wiltern on Jan. 31 for the local date of her first headlining tour.
"There will be so many amazing things to see," Perry promised.
"Amazing" had the night off Monday -- this was a young woman singing songs about young love backed by five young men providing standard folk-club accompaniment. But "somewhat fascinating" was hard at work.
Before "I Kissed a Girl" thrust her into the ditsy pop-tart role that she spent 2008 performing with no shortage of enthusiasm, Perry was a regular on the Hotel Cafe's earnest singer-songwriter circuit, and watching her adjust the larger-than-life size of her current persona to the cozier dimensions of her earlier one offered proof that Perry is a more serious talent than her many detractors claim.
For starters, her singing was terrific, sore throat and sniffles aside. Perry's album "One of the Boys" features the handiwork of several A-list pop producers, studio magicians capable of making the most unremarkable voice sound like that of a star.
Yet Perry's instrument required no sweetening Monday, particularly in ballads such as "I'm Still Breathing" and "I Think I'm Ready," both of which ached with an old-soul weariness at odds with the bright-eyed joie de vivre of "I Kissed a Girl" and Perry's other radio smash, "Hot N Cold."
The singer introduced "Thinking of You," her new single, with a rambling monologue -- R. Kelly-style "real talk," she called it -- about the ethical quandaries related to a fresh breakup. (According to media reports, Perry recently split from her boyfriend, Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy.)
The setup gave her performance the emotional injection she intended, but it also suggested that a year of public life (with its broad-daylight obfuscation) has taken its toll on someone used to airing her dirty laundry on smaller stages.
Amid the "amazing things" at the Wiltern later this month, will Perry's fans have the patience for a reading from her diary?