Review: Lady Gaga's Monster Ball

(image source)

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.

Gaga descends on TO

Full concert review coming tomorrow...

Tools of the trade

Amazing photos of a moving still life by Daniel Carlsten

Friday words

"Writing moves words from the sound world to the world of visual space, but print locks words into position in this space." - Walter Ong

Coffee type

Three of my favourite things - type, antiques and coffee - down at the St. Lawrence Antique Market

Grey is the new grey

Average colour of 26,000+ images from MOMA art collection.


Book review

Lettering & Type by Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals, 2009

Some inspiring highlights:
-words and letters are the engine of information exchange, the home for language and ideas
-typography = "mastering the art of arranging letters"
-with 2000 years of historical precedent, it takes desire & courage to tackle 26 of the world's most infamous and influential letters. The possibilities of representation have yet to be exhausted.
-on functionality: an 'A' that doesn't look like an 'A' ceases to exist
-systems make letters work; respect the system
-letters can never be neutral; neutrality itself conveys something more complex (ie. blandness, intellectuality, etc.) - always consider associations
-"lettering can convey layers of ideas that compel a reader to decode and interpret, and thus become more active in the viewing experience." -Nancy Harris Rouemy
-a typeface is a kit of parts that can be configured and reworked into countless forms on a moment's notice
-great typefaces apply a beautiful and powerful system to articulate a strong idea
-"A good typeface is well crafted and useful, and sets up into attractive looking words. It holds together as a complete system, where individual letters don't distract the reader. A good typeface doesn't make you wonder what you might do with it, or why it exists." -Christian Schwartz
-there are many different, legitimate ways to create good typefaces!

New music overload!

New albums by Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert

Keep it simple

Recent No Name product rebranding by the Loblaws family of companies returns to their 1978 roots:
Lovingly called "Helvetica Brand" in our household... I can't get enough!

Quote, unquote

"I feel even just in the music industry that there's very public misogynistic and homophobic behavior. When I hear one of the most famous rappers in the world say something homophobic on the radio, I want people to yell at him. I don't have to say who because they know who they are. It's not just hip-hop, it's everywhere. It's wrong. I'm not trying to create and generate more hatred in the world...I just want to generate awareness. It's always wrong to hate but it's never wrong to love."
-Lady Gaga interview with

Pure indulgence

Petite cappuccino and "opera cake"
Petite Thuet
1 King St. W., Toronto
(yes, this is my second time)

A is for Alligator!

Animal Alphabet by Mattias Mackler
(more Mattias goodness here)

Letterpress magic!

I had the privilege of attending the snap and tumble Letterpress Workshop yesterday!

I got to learn all the basics about typesetting and movable type.
From admiring and choosing metal (or woodcut) letters (source):
To setting the letters in their form with wooden "furniture" and adjustable quoins:
To mixing and applying the ink:
To distributing the ink, and finally, pressing!
Here are some of the finished results:
Many thanks to Tanya for sharing offering this workshop and sharing her vast knowledge of the printing press!

Truth is sadder than fiction

There's this woman always on Yonge Street
She's probably in her 40s
She has brown hair
She's less than 5 feet tall
She has a plastic cup full of pens that she sells for 25 cents each

The other day I saw her - she always has this permanent, reluctant smile
and I said, "She probably puts on a brave face to keep from crying"

Today, I saw her walking up Yonge Street

My heart sunk to my stomach
it was terrible
I can barely write about it
I didn't know what to do - I couldn't exactly approach her - it is Toronto, after all
it looked like she had lost everything
(she had her cup of pens, that was somehow reassuring)

It was like hopelessness, emptiness, with a little bit of fear, and the added intensity of not wanting it to show
as I passed her, I saw her take one of those deep, tearful inhales of the crisp Toronto air
like when you're crying and you can't get enough in your lungs

It was awful.


I don't normally like to get preachy or sentimental, but this sad moment stood out as a reality check moment.

Be thankful, everyday, for what you have. Because there's always someone who has it worse than you.

Have a great weekend.


BREAKING: Water on the moon!

NASA confirms they have uncovered "significant" amount of water on the surface of the moon

A is for Alphabet

Lovely typographic print by Beauchamping

Gaga domination continues

Stills from Lady Gaga's new video "Bad Romance", directed by Francis Lawrence
(featuring wacky crowns from MVA's, a polar bear skin trained jacket, and new crazy armadillo shoes by Alexander McQueen)

One fine bean

1416 Dundas St. W., Toronto
(Thanks Steph!)

Happy day!

Christmas came early this year...

Weekend reads

Must-have type & design books from Princeton Architectural Press

(stay tuned for reviews...)

The Bard, rebranded

I was recently tasked with rebranding The Shakespeare Company in Calgary.

Original logo:

Some process work:

And, the 2 final variations of the new logo:

Happy Halloween!

From the Church Street Halloween party!
(images via)