Jessica Simpson : Madison, Wisconsin East Towne Mall

Bargain bin Britney gets all Tiffany-ed up at the mall...

In a pop-culture world in which the lines between entertainment and marketing have been rendered meaningless, it’s somehow fitting that pop princess Jessica Simpson’s first headlining tour eschews traditional venues in favor of that high church of suburban materialism, the mall. Dubbed “The Dreamchaser Tour” (because Simpson, you know, followed her dreams and stuff), Simpson’s teenybopperpalooza finds five hapless acts performing on a travelling stage book-ended by giant blow-ups of Simpson herself, her cold, dead racoon eyes peering down on the crowd like a cruel mall deity.

Each of the evenings’ acts functions as a haphazard proxy for an exponentially bigger act. Sassy opener Toya bumps and grinds like a one-woman Destiny’s Child, Youngstown and Plus One offer dispirited imitations of *NSYNC, prefab pop stars Eden’s Crush soft-pedal girl power for tweens too young to remember the Spice Girls, while Simpson headlines as a poor man’s Britney Spears.

But the acts aren’t just derivative of bigger pop stars: they’re depressingly inter-changeable as well. Each offers a tame set of watered-down R&B fortified with non-threatening hiphop attitude and topped off by crowd-pleasing banter asserting that Wisconsin is, in fact, “in da house”. It’s an environment that renders music thoroughly irrelevant, and indeed, Simpson’s set is distinguished not by its negligible artistic content, but rather by its retrograde variety-show format. Simpson dutifully belts out her hits, screeching notes high enough to send comatose dogs into epileptic fits during the ballads and grinding lasciviously in modified stripper-wear during the upbeat songs. But an equal amount of time is spent holding contests, engaging in lame skits, giving props to Jesus and admonishing the audience to follow their dreams.

That Simpson’s second-hand dreams bring her to a dumpy mall parking lot is fittingly ironic, but the crowd seems understandably too distracted by the show’s abundant bells and whistles to notice.

Nathan Rabin