Published Jan 12, 2013A large part of any live music experience is context specific. The music one may vigorously bounce to at a club or a festival may not necessarily be the same as one would get down to at home. With this in mind, the purely musical experience of this Lady Gaga show was not the main attraction. It was often hard to tell exactly what of the stadium-rock-meets-European-dance-music was being performed live, her band coming in and out of the mix while Gaga's backing track took the lead during her highly choreographed bits. However, pure music is not why one goes to a Lady Gaga show. Lady Gaga is a spectacle, a suspension of disbelief in an incredulous world.
After playing classical numbers like Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" and Beethoven's "Fifth" between acts, stagehands revealed a life-size medieval castle, covering the stage. In procession, Gaga took the stage shrouded, riding a black horse (made of people). Some of her band appeared on turrets, and as they transitioned from "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" to "Government Hooker," the band appeared on moveable castle wings, with guitar, bass, drums and synths peeking out of various windows. This foreshadowed the sensory overload that would follow, from Gaga's insane costume changes to the evolving use of the stony castle as a prop, transforming from Gaga's closet one minute to a slaughterhouse the next.
The most striking moment of this two-and-a-half-hour show was seeing Gaga give birth to herself. She started off by moaning atop a balloon belly with outstretched legs, and then emerged from giant zipper in the anatomical place, thus introducing "Born This Way" three songs in. There was no shortage of WTFs after that, many of them far from being family friendly.
Gaga swore like a sailor, had simulated oral sex on a desk, encouraged people to be hung over at work the next day, expressed disappointment that people smoking pot weren't sharing with her, and was mounted from behind by a back-up dancer after getting into a costume that realized the human-motorcycle cover of her latest album Born This Way. As she thanked people profusely for buying tickets, aware of their high cost, she blamed her cursing on being in New York for a few weeks, leaving her in need of time to polish her pop-star eloquence.
Though the show was wrapped in a perplexing story about an intergalactic government conspiracy, Operation: Kill the Bitch, there were many human moments peppered through the evening. Gaga split her pants during "Heavy Metal Lover" and then teased the tear as she discussed how many fucks she didn't give about what people say about her, challenging the crowd to have the bravery not to care. She sang "Happy Birthday" to one lucky girl, talked of her time as a struggling youth, working in bars and restaurants, and asked for the houselights to be turned on so she could see the crowd in a rant during which an audience member gave her a Tonka truck hand-painted with a "kindness" mural. She also mumbled "shit" after dropping the mic while attempting to call an audience member, whose mere answer would double a donation to a local charity to 10 grand.
Following the truck, Gaga performed "The Queen" at a piano covered in rusty spikes. Musically, this was a clear high point. It was nice to see Gaga rock out on an instrument, and since she wasn't dancing, her voice was laid bare in the mix, so one could fully appreciate her authentically superlative vocals.
As fun as the music was — not to mention Richard Jackson's stage-eating choreography — the love and enthusiasm of the crowd was the most explosive aspect of this gig. Backpacks full of swag were tossed onstage. People jumped and danced like maniacs all over the arena. They cried and screamed to Beatlemania proportions. It's clear that Lady Gaga is many things to many people, an after-school special one minute and seductive dominatrix the next, but ultimately, she is a positive and inspirational force in the universe.