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Britney's Back!

SAN DIEGO – Most fans who held coveted tickets to Britney Spears’ first show in three years entered the House of Blues on Tuesday with the simplest of hopes – that the recently rehabbed pop star would be there with them. They heard all the rumors. They woke up to erroneous claims by gossip Web sites and local media that the not-so-secret show – billed as the M+M’s – was off. Even when Britney’s tour bus arrived at the venue, there was still the chance that she might pull the plug at the last minute, as she did at an L.A. club last week. Warnings from venue staff that the show might only last a few minutes didn’t help bolster confidence, either.

Would she sing live or lip-synch, debut new material or stick with the old? None of that was of much concern. All that mattered to the diehards was their chance to see the enigmatic superstar in the flesh. Not much to ask, especially for those who paid upward of $200 for scalped tickets online.

At around 10 p.m. – three hours after doors opened – their hopes were realized. Lip-synching to a backing track of “… Baby One More Time,” Spears took the stage in a long brown wig, silver beaded bra, pleated white miniskirt and white boots. Her body newly toned and her smile beaming, she looked every bit like a woman who had emerged from her quarter-life crisis stronger than yesterday.

Flanked by four blond dancers clad in lingerie-like getups, Britney and her girls adopted a performance style that conjured the Pussycat Dolls, slinking their way through the 13-minute set with a naughty, free-spirited attitude. It was as though Britney had invited 900 friends to her dirty little dance party, and too bad for you if you couldn’t roll with the fun.

Two minutes of “… Baby One More Time” segued into an equally shortened version of “I’m a Slave 4 U.” The dancers left Britney alone to kick off “Breathe on Me” with some sultry chair dancing before re-emerging to pluck a male fan from the audience for some onstage seduction.

When the dancers were done with him, the stage went dark for a quick costume change. Britney returned in a hot pink bra, white fur coat and jean skirt for “Do Somethin’.” The set concluded with “Toxic,” which featured Britney flaunting her tightened abs with a Shakira-style shake. Bidding farewell, Britney spoke her only words all night. “Thank you very much. These are my dancers,” she said before blowing a few kisses into the crowd.

In the way of stage-banter, it left much to be desired. But it wasn’t like anyone was really expecting her to talk about her time in rehab, drastic hairstyles or split with K-Fed . It may have been enough that she said anything at all.

“After everything she’s been through lately, I think we all had low expectations, and she way exceeded them,” Weston Louis Arlich, 24, said. “She came out looking amazing and happy, and she was just electric.”

At the height of Britney’s troubles just two short months ago, some thought it was crazy to think she could come back . But after this successful reconnection with her fans, it may be crazier to think that she can’t.

Tuesday’s show was the first of four dates at House of Blues venues. Other shows are scheduled for Anaheim, California; West Hollywood, California; and Las Vegas.

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