The place smelled like cotton candy, exploded with a kaleidoscope of colors and reverberated with loud sounds.

No, the State Fair didn't open early. Record-setting pop tart Katy Perry, 26, brought her California Dreams 2011 Tour to sold-out Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night. She is the first artist ever to stay in Billboard's top 10 for 52 consecutive weeks, the second artist to score five No. 1 singles off one album (Michael Jackson was the other) and the umpteenth artist to upset parents because her shtick goes a little too far for young girls who love her songs.

What might have been a teenage dream for many of the 14,638 people also was a bit of a parent's nightmare. Call it the Katy Perry-dox: she's sweet but salacious, nice but naughty, perky but prurient. She's cotton candy and cupcake bras, blue hair and blue words, fireworks and flirt. She served up frothy electro pop with addicting sugariness but also took a bite out of a faux marijuana-laced brownie, got fresh with a male fan whom she invited onstage and uttered words not printable in this paper. Of course, all this was delivered with a wink by a 26-year-old woman who seems like a cartoon character.

For much of her awkwardly paced, unnecessarily elongated two-hour concert, Perry adopted this innocent, bug-eyed little girl persona. It just made her show seem more ephemeral and shallow than it really was.

The conceit was sort of "Wizard of Oz" set in Candyland, the board game -- the story of a lonely girl who works in a butcher shop and wants to find her way to Candyfornia.

If this sounds a little like Lady Gaga's Monster Ball Tour of 2010, it was -- with less creativity, less vocal power, less dynamic choreography. Perry had her bells and whistles -- from floating on a cloud of cotton candy over the crowd to shooting mock whipped cream at the audience to doing seven costume changes during "Hot N Cold" (in a bit borrowed from "Quick Change," a popular NBA halftime act). But too often the flash felt like distractions from the fact that Perry is not a major arena talent. She's not much of a dancer, and her singing often felt more like a chirpy cheerleader than a pop star with conviction.

She was the cheerleader who wanted to be liked by all the kids in school -- the cool kids, the jocks, the ne'er-do-wells, the outsiders. As the night wore on, she became increasingly engaged with the crowd. Chatty Katy talked about how food poisoning had forced her to postpone her St. Paul show in July (she told a gross story about the food effects) and she teared up (artificially) before singing Rebecca Black's "Friday" during a throwaway segment called "Katy-oke," featuring acoustic covers of Rihanna, Willow Smith and Jay-Z.

Despite the trumped-up story line, the show ultimately felt like a series of salutes to Perry's priceless videos that have made her a global megastar with the most nominations for Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards. Her home stretch run Tuesday of her hits included "Last Friday Night" and "Firework" sandwiched around Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." It was undeniable, effervescent fun.

But, in the end, Perry's California Dreams show still felt like a teen's first night at the State Fair without parents, when you ate too many sweets, went on too many dizzying rides and flirted too much -- but liked it.

Set list: startribune.com/artcetera.