With gigantic spectacle and tearful staged vulnerability, Lady Gaga overwhelmed a packed BankAtlantic Center on Tuesday night. “I still feel exactly the way you feel,” she told her thousands of screaming “Little Monster” fans. “For those of you who feel you’re not good enough, it’s in your power to build your own funky stage.”
Of course, not everyone has ten wildly elaborate costumes, seven sets, and four larger-than-giant-size movies at their disposal. Or can lie down “like Tinkerbell” and demand that the audience scream to bring her back to life.
But bringing larger-than-life fantasies alive, the kind that inspire hundreds of millions of youtube hits, is what Gaga does. Her message is liberation, self-expression, and fabulousness. The crowd was filled with people emulating her: gaggles of girls in elaborate imitations of Gaga’s video costumes, or in pink, blue, platinum, scarlet or blonde wigs; boys in tiny briefs and platform boots and crinolines; even middle-aged women in white plastic goggles and little girls in junior gaga gear. (Wonder how their parents explained codpiece wearing, crotch-grabbing dancers or the star demanding “Get your dicks out!”). “You have to fight for your individuality every day of your life,” Gaga told them. But really, her individuality was plenty for them.
Gaga’s show – which repeats Wednesday, April 13 at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena – is pop spectacle on an almost surreal scale. The sets start at spectacular and progress from there: a darkly cartoonish slumscape lit by neon signs; a piano inside the hood of a slime green car and another that lights up with flames; a forest of black spiky trees (for Monsters) and an enormous octopus-like creature with waving tentacles and luminous teeth (for The Fame Monster). Her costumes included a shiny red robe with shoulder pads some four feet wide, a transparent plastic minidress with nun’s wimple, a gleaming floor length black vinyl robe, a sparkling green poufy tutu, and a psychedelic silver construction with foot high platform spike heels, plus various black spiked, feathered, and shredded bikini-type outfits and a cone bra and panties shooting sparks.
In the two hour concert (which didn’t start till almost 10 p.m. – glam-metal rockers Semi-Precious Weapons opened), Gaga worked her way from lesser known songs, like Just Dance, Beautiful, Dirty, Rich, and Boys, Boys, Boys, to her huge hits. She did Telephone halfway through, Pokerface towards the end, and Bad Romance in the encore. Where Gaga’s videos can last five to seven minutes, here her songs were often abbreviated, with Gaga and her ten impressively fierce dancers doing just enough to establish the song and the image before ending. It made for a choppy show – constant bursts of energy, but rarely building musical or emotional momentum.
Gaga also stopped frequently to talk to the crowd, breathy, whispery, even tearful, urging them to be themselves, to triumph over low self-esteem, to aspire to “that inner sense of fame.” Even she was still reaching for her inner star. “When I wake up in the morning and feel I can’t quite be the superstar you want me to be,” she said. “I put on the leather jackets that you throw me.”
The audience did throw leather jackets – and an embroidered pillow, tiaras, Barbie dolls (soon decapitated), and more onstage. They danced, clawed the air, pumped and jumped on cue.
Gaga particularly championed her gay and lesbian (and bisexual and transgendered) fans, in songs like Boys (with her male dancers in white, genital-emphasizing costumes and furious hip-pumping), and in videos where she asked for donations to help homeless gay teenagers, donations she vowed to match. “Jesus, I’m confused,” she said, as a winged statue of Jesus flowed with blood, then sprouted flames. “People say you only love a certain kind of person. But I’m quite certain that Jesus loves everybody!”
Although she announced indignantly that she didn’t lipsynch, the production and sound were so thunderously dense that her voice was sometimes almost lost. That’s a pity. In a (relatively) quiet sequence, Gaga played piano and sang in a bluesy, gospel-and-emotion inflected howl, channeling Billy Joel, Carly Simon, Elton John, on a new song, the moving You and I. She has a marvelous voice – it would have been good to hear more of it.
She repeated Born This Way for the encore, this time in a high-powered dance version. It still sounded like Madonna’s Express Yourself, but it was also exuberant and infectious. Whether or not Gaga was born a star, she has certainly made herself one.