Review: Lady Gaga's Monster Ball

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I saw Lady Gaga in concert last night. To say it was "amazing" would be too simple, and as you probably know, Lady Gaga is anything but simple.
This is what you need to know.
The concert was held at the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto. The sidewalks were abuzz with tween girls screaming in unison, drag queens waving their disco sticks, and obnoxious scalpers trying to make a buck. Like the rest of the ticket holders, we joined the long queue that lined the perimeter of the building, waiting to get in (there must have been a couple thousand people in front of us and another thousand behind us). Eventually, the doors opened, and we squeezed our way through the entrance.
The first (of two) opening acts was Semi Precious Weapons, a glam-rock band from New York City, who rocked the house with their bombastic style (the first lyric of the night being "I can't pay my rent, but I'm f*cking gorgeous"). The second act was the American rapper Kid Cudi, who shouted his way through [what are apparently very popular] rap songs in front of a massive video screen. Sadly, the screen was far more entertaining.
After two hours waiting with baited breath, Gaga finally appeared.
The stage was essentially a futuristic, minimalist shadow box created with light panels. Two large video screens were suspended on either side of the stage about six feet off the ground, angled into a dramatic forced perspective. There was a third screen at the apex of the stage, and then a "ceiling" piece completed the box. This was all literally "framed" by a large white border, creating a theatrical proscenium (appropriate, considering she has called this show a "pop-electro opera"). Gaga started the show behind a projection of a green and black gridwork on a scrim (think: "The Matrix"), which seemed to align with her concept for the show:
"I begin as a cell and I grow and change throughout the show, [...] And it's also done in what now is becoming my aesthetic, which is, you know, it's part pop, part performance art, part fashion installation — so all of those things are present [...] It's a story, it's me battling all my monsters along the way."
The concert was loud, bright and satisfying, with (no doubt) all of the best and latest lighting and sound equipment. The screens were especially impressive during set and costume changes when Gaga showcased bizarre montages of her doing what can only be described as "fashion experiments" (these would have seemed weird had I not been to art school).
For the next two and a half hours, Gaga soared through all of the most infectious tracks from The Fame and new The Fame Monster album (which had only come out four days prior). She smartly weaved together her singles into theatrical "acts":
  • she started the show in her dancing shoes with "Dance in the Dark", "Just Dance", and "LoveGame";
  • she took a sinister (and naughty) look at love and sex with "Alejandro", "Monster", "So Happy I Could Die", "Teeth" and a touching acoustic performance of "Speechless". While the grand piano was out, she played around with "Poker Face" and the Kid Cudi mashup "Make Her Say";
  • then it was on to fame and fortune: "Fashion", "The Fame", "Money Honey" and "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich";
  • after that, it was all about the boys: "Boys Boys Boys", "Paper Gangsta" and the full "Poker Face".
Then, the sets lost their thematic cohesion:
  • she performed the epic "Paparazzi" (sadly, she under-impressed me with Rapunzel-themed staging);
  • she bookended the show appropriately with "Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)";
  • and then she pleased us all with "Bad Romance" as the big finale. This was amazing. A-mazing.
She had over a dozen costume changes throughout the show, from an skeletal Alien-movie-inspired ensemble, to a huge furry-black-monster outfit, to an exaggerated 90's "power suit" with shoulder pads extending up and behind her head at least a foot or two. The costumes were good, but nothing as shocking or avant garde as some of her media events and televised performances.
If I had to be a grump and pick out the things that irked me, they would be threefold:
  • Gaga seemed a little bit over-generous with the love towards her fans and to Canada, to the point than made it a little disingenuous. But whatever...
  • I was really hoping to hear "Speakerphone", but apparently she can't perform the duet without Beyonce...? C'mon.
  • I wonder if perhaps this should have been an 18+ concert because of the "unwholesome language" (ie. "Do you like my show? Well if you don't, get the f*ck out of here!") and the overt sexuality (ie. a [impressive] simulation of double penetration with two male dancers). We really should think of the children. (Wait...who am I kidding?)
Gaga certainly achieved her objective last night. It was truly a fascinating hybrid of fashion and music and performance art that can only be described as gaga. Ms. Stefani Germanotta has successfully created an alter ego that allows her to be an outspoken critic of fame, money and the music industry, while simultaneously profitting from it. While I may not be able to wrap my head around this ethical conundrum, I will continue to obediently consume and devour her music in this bizarre and delicious sub/dom relationship I have with Gaga.
The final footage projected after the curtain call was of Lady Gaga getting a new tattoo on her shoulder. I believe she left a similar impression with her fans last night: she is here for good.