The relationship between Lady Gaga and her Little Monsters is not only rare but achingly genuine.
She goes out of her way to make her fans feel special in a way that someone of her stature really doesn’t need to, yet no matter how big the venues get, she hasn’t lost her ability to share her gratitude with the people who turned her into an arena-sellout superstar.
At Tuesday’s extravaganza at Philips Arena – the second date of what is officially dubbed “artRave: The ARTPOP Ball Tour,” but we’ll just refer to it as the Lady Gaga concert – the self-defined misfit with the mega voice had those Little Monsters firmly in her grasp for nearly two hours.
Of course there were wild costumes spackled with sequins. Angel wings and clam shell bras. G-strings and neon pink girlie skirts. Powder blue tentacles that could have been swiped from the “Return of the Jedi” costume room. Wigs that ranged from platinum bobs to “Wicked” green panels with bangs to Amy Winehouse-ish bouffants.
And for fans of the commercially unspectacular “Artpop” album, her third studio effort released last fall, nearly every song was presented in grandiose fashion (in fact, “Dope” seemed to be the only song not played from the album).
But amid the endless puffs of confetti spurted into the gleeful crowd (pity the poor guy who was charged with blowing the stuff off Gaga’s numerous catwalks throughout the show) and the horde of dancers hoofing it around the laser-focused singer, came that thing that makes Gaga different: her heart.
Yes, that sounds extremely goopy. But talk to the sweet young man from South Carolina who shakily held up a scribbled sign that read, “Can I sit with you?” and see how he feels today. Gaga spotted it just as she slid behind a keyboard stationed at the end of one of two Lucite catwalks that poked more than halfway across the arena floor and invited him to share her keyboard bench.
“I wanted to create a show that was a celebration of all of the wonderful things you’ve created over the past seven years,” she told the roaring crowd, then edged into the gorgeous, slow-burn piano version of “Born This Way” while her new onstage friend giddily filmed it with his phone.
Halfway through the stripped song – the absolute high point of a show filled with plenty of eye candy, including Gaga changing costumes onstage and being momentarily topless – she asked the audience to put away their phones for a few minutes and “be in the room” with her.
Amazingly, most obliged.
Later in the set, a breathless Gaga sprawled on a chaise lounge for a moment, where she was promptly pelted with gifts from fans. She opened a note attached to a stuffed unicorn and read it aloud to the crowd. Of course the fan who wrote it gushed about the importance of Mother Monster, but the sentiment wasn’t lost on Gaga, who promptly sought the person out and ordered her people to provide him and his friends with backstage passes.
Say what you will about her kookiness, but these interactions never rang false.
It was, however, a jarring segue from the fan note-reading to the harsh “Sexxx Dreams,” but hey, not EVERY second of this show is planned.
While Gaga was backed by a taut five-piece band sporting the all-white motif of the stage, which housed some members in what looked like hutches of sugar cubes, she seemed to share her live vocals with pre-recorded tracks on several songs.
She reached for her lower range on parts of “Donatella” and paid homage to her roots on the still-fizzy “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” her first hits from waaay back in 2008. But it was frequently apparent that she was singing with her own voice.
Gaga works hard for your money – something she attributed to the real meaning of “Applause” (when she receives it, it means she’s doing her job well) – and spent plenty of time sharing dance steps with her troupe on “Paparazzi” and cavorting with six bikini-clad female dancers of all shades and shapes on “Alejandro” (aka, her “La Isla Bonita”).
But the inclusion of most of her past hits, such as the slam-bang “Bad Romance” (“Put your paws up!”) and “Telephone,” with their heady choruses and undeniable hooks, only spotlighted the weaknesses in so many of “Artpop”’s songs, such as the frosty title track and “Fashion,” which contains a glimmer of old-school disco but never takes shape.
That, however, isn’t a flaw with the show, but an indication of Gaga’s questionable artistic decisions with her latest material. She’s a terrific songwriter and, as evidenced during Tuesday’s performance of “Born This Way,” a powerhouse singer who can belt with the biggest queens of pop.
Let’s also not forget that she’s hit all of these peaks and tumbled down valleys so many times already at the age of … 28.
“We’ve grown up together,” she told her worshipful fans. And she isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Setlist from Philips Arena show:
- Cake Like Lady Gaga
- Just Dance
- Poker Face
- Do What U Want
- Born This Way
- Jewels N' Drugs
- Sexxx Dreams
- Mary Jane Holland
- Bad Romance