Monster Ball Tour, with Semi-Precious Weapons
7.28.10 | Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
Before last night's show, I wasn't a fan of Lady Gaga. I liked her, mind you. I enjoyed her bizarro-world take on pop, her outlandish videos, the way she she combined all of that and her weirdo persona into a constant piece of performance art, and I even thought she had a couple of genuinely decent tunes. But a fan? That would have been pushing it. Now, I'm a fan. If you'll forgive the indulgence, let me just say: I'm gaga for Gaga.
I'll go ahead and spoil the rest of this review so you rock snobs and haters can jump ahead and leave me a comment telling me what a giant fucking douchebag I am: Last night's show was, simply put, one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life. Period. Full stop.
Now, as a concert, it was merely very good -- if you can qualify "very good" with "merely." Turns out, apart from all the foofara and what not, Lady Gaga is quite a performer in a strictly musical sense. Not world-class, blow-you-away, "holy shit that was the most awesome thing ever" performer -- not yet, anyway.
But she can sing, she can shout, she can goddamn well work a crowd and she even played some fine piano. I'm sure some of it was canned, but from what I could tell (and admittedly, it's hard to tell these days), she was actually pulling most of the singing and piano-ing off live. And doing a fine job of it.
She played all the hits, everything you'd expect: "Poker Face," "Telephone," "Alejandro," "Just Dance" and a killer encore of "Bad Romance." Had it been just the music, just the concert, I would have had a fine time, certainly. But the concert was just the beginning -- I said this one of the best shows I've ever seen.
Shall we start with the crazy projections? The weird little narrative structure that ran through the show? The unbelievably elaborate costumes? The choreographed dance numbers? The audience participation? Ooh, I know -- let's start with the flaming piano.
Let's start with the flaming piano... See more photos of Lady Gaga at the Pepsi Center.
Let me simply say, I am congenitally unable to not love anyone who plays a piano that shoots a fifteen-foot high column of flame in the air. It's just in my DNA to love that. Probably something to do with my redneck past, growing up in a place where monster truck rallies were the biggest events to come through town. Anyway, somewhere in the middle of the show she sat down at a piano to play "Speechless," which happens to be one of my favorite Gaga tunes.
It's a kind of showtune-y, torchy tearjerker, apparently about her relationship with her dad (or at least dedicated thus on this evening). Anyway, she sits down at the piano, and as she starts playing, it burst into flames along the lid. I smile, thinking to myself "Nice." Then a giant column of fire erupts from the middle of the piano, and at that moment, I think I made that jump from, "Yeah, she's pretty cool" to "Holy fuck, I love Lady Gaga."
How to ruin a perfectly good piano in two simple steps. See more photos of Lady Gaga at the Pepsi Center.
Like I said, probably something to do with my childhood history with monster truck rallies.
Anyway, that's an apt metaphor for the show. Everything she did all night, no matter how stupendous and clever, seemed to be followed by something even more incredible moments later. Her costumes were off the fucking chain -- one moment she's some kind of cross between the Imperial Guard from Empire Strikes Back and the Spanish Inquisition outfits from the infamous Monty Python skit, the next she's in an incredible faerie thing with mechanized headgear and giant wings. Oh, and a lot of the time, she was mostly naked, and, forgive me for saying so, but holy fuck: Lady Gaga is smoking hot.
Then there's the stage dressing -- it started off as a skid row set up with trashy neon signs reading stuff like "Hot Ass" (Hotel Hass, with some broken letters) and "Drugs." By the end of the night, there's an angel fountain that spouts blood and shoots fire (yes! MORE FIRE!). Hydraulic platforms lifted her into the air, some kind of pneumatic cannon shot dancers aloft from time to time, and near the end, she confronted a giant angler-fish demon thing. Are you feeling me? This was some crazy, awesome shit.
She made clever use of a drop-down screen and some freakish projections to change up the sets and costumes. And goddamn, the woman is not afraid to go for the gross out. As an avid horror fan, I was thrilled by the grotesque sequence that saw her eating a human heart, and I even quite enjoyed the sequence that preceded it, that featured an attractive woman vomiting neon-green goop all over her -- I'm sure some thought it went too far, but I can't say I saw anyone leave. I also enjoyed the fake blood she was covered in near the end of the night -- I'm kinda sick that way.
Then there was the message -- she spent a lot of time telling us how awesome we were. How we gave her the power, how we should love ourselves as much as we love her, how we should love ourselves more. And she really hammered home the pro-LGBT message. It wasn't implied -- it was shouted: LGBT is okay, they're born that way, and fuck anyone that doesn't like it. It didn't come off preachy or annoying, surprisingly. It was genuinely inspirational.
Give to me your leather. Take from me, my face. See more photos of Lady Gaga at the Pepsi Center.
A word about the crowd is in order, too. They were great, they were surprisingly eclectic, and they were super into Lady Gaga (seriously, when she asked the crowd to scream, scream they did, and it literally hurt my ears. Thank god for ear plugs). A lot of them were costumed -- I don't usually see that many costumes except at Halloween. Corsets, half-naked girls, funny hair colors, lightning bolt eye-makeup, clowns, and pretty much everything else under the sun.
I was kind of surprised at how many fifteen- to seventeen-year-old girls were there (mostly with their parents, it seemed -- hope you enjoyed that, folks!). It's quite a jump from Miley Cyrus (that most were presumably listening to a couple years ago as a tween) to the avant-garde pop and ambiguous, androgynous and polymorphously perverse sexuality of Lady Gaga.
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There were also lots of people you'd never expect to see there -- I saw a lot of bros, for example. Yes, bros love Lady Gaga, too. And it wouldn't be fair to fail to mention the crowd you might expect, the large, enthusiastic following from the LGBT community -- those are her people, and they love her. Rightfully so.
I've seen amazing shows from every corner of the music world -- off the hook indie rockers, delirious jam band experiences, mind-warping noise outfits, elegant chamber pop ensembles, delirium-inducing DJ sets -- this was right up there with the best of them. I honestly can't imagine being there and not having a good time. The haters are going to hate, but they can fuck off: Lady Gaga is the real deal and after last night I'm proud to count myself among her diehard fans.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: If you'd told me a year ago I'd be writing this review today, I'd have either laughed in your face, or punched you. Random Detail: How can I pick just one? Okay, one of my acquaintances who was there was literally terrified by a clown that walked by us after the show. Can't blame her. Clowns are fucking scary. By the Way: The openers Semi-Precious Weapons were a decent glam-garage outfit that had one pretty great tune called "Statues of Ourselves." Sorry to give you short shrift in the review, guys, but I already had way too much to say about Gaga. Come do a club date, and I will give you a proper review.