Ooh Live Gagaga
Lady Gaga's "Monster" show is a perfect mix of theater, dance, sex, scandal,horror & parental dysfunction
That Lady Gaga has drawn from the showmanship blueprint Madonna created 20 years ago on the historic "Blonde Ambition" tour (which started here in Houston) is not much of a stretch. It's also a little too simplified. To get the right mix of theater, dance, sex, scandal, horror and parental dysfunction all balanced for "The Monster Ball" Tour, Gaga has also borrowed a few performance tricks from some unlikely sources.
Sunday night at the Toyota Center, Lady Gaga's worldwide road show was unfurled in front of a jam-packed and highly anticipatory crowd making Houston — for this night and the encore performance on Monday night — the center of the pop universe.
There is no longer any denying it. Lady Gaga has turned herself into something bigger than the latest pretty pop singer to grab the reins from Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. In the two years since her first album, The Fame, came out she has completely vaulted past them into a rare air once reserved for Michael Jackson and, yes, Madonna.
Where most concerts are a nice date out or a chance to sing your favorite tunes as a duet with the originator, Gaga's "Monster Ball" felt bigger. It's as if those in attendance will be telling "Where were you?" stories about Gaga's first trip to Houston as if it were a defining moment, like the first astronaut walk on the moon or President Barack Obama's inauguration.
Gaga fans came hoping for a life-changing event and, for two hours,19 songs and an endless array of wardrobe changes (I lost track around eight), she tried to oblige them.
She appeared for first tune "Dance in the Dark," from her latest album, The Fame Monster, as a silhouette of hair, shoulder pads and her trademark long, shapely legs behind a violet curtain. Halfway through the song the curtain came down and Gaga and a small army of dancers were on a set resembling Times Square circa 1976. Neon signs offering tattoos, gold teeth and a variety of other street indulgences loomed over a smoking neon green junker of a car.
This was a grimy, elaborate, New York City street musical. By the time Gaga revved the bass loop of debut single (and first No. 1 hit), "Just Dance," one half-expected the cast of Stomp to come crashing through the choreography with garbage-can-lid percussion or the cast of Rent to appear choraling.
Aside from the multi-level stage and the androgynous dance crew, Gaga had a couple of other characters that became prime players through the night. The most prominent was her wardrobe, which seems to range from complex abstract art to simple stripper pole chic without much of a middle ground.
The red curtain (complete with hanging rod across her shoulders) worn for "The Fame" was upstaged only by a very stylish leather dominatrix outfit (with matching mask) for the naughty "Money Honey." The Orbit dress contraption has gotten a lot of attention, but it's got nothin' on a furry get-up that made Gaga briefly look like a hot version of Sesame's Street's Snuffleupagus.
The white gown, with headdress that opened and closed around her skull like peacock feathers for the fairy tale "So Happy I Could Die," was true runway show-stopper. I'm no fashion writer, but I would imagine there is some buzz around that ensemble.
The show's other prime character is Gaga's unapologetic bravado. Continual references to "my fans" or the "little monsters" in the audience started to take on a bit of a megamaniacal and patronizing creepiness. Even when reaching for humility, talking about her good works within the LGBT community felt a little self-serving or a talking point to set-up her ultimate high-energy, disco gay club anthem, "Boys, Boys Boys."
This need for validation became understandable when Gaga got to the the best —and most disturbing — part of the night: her mid-show piano solo. Straddling the bench as if it were a horse (with the "money shot" facing the crowd, no less) she tinkled through a series of broken-hearted ballads — "Speechless," and "You and I" — that showcased her musical gifts and a raging case of unrequited daddy issues.
This soft interlude was the heart of the show and showed her vulnerability. She quickly raised her defenses, however.
Wearing nothing but a sparkling bikini and a puddle of fake blood around her neck and cleavage, Gaga offered a bit of macabre theater for the gnashing "Monster" and "Teeth." Somewhere Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper were smiling at her nods to their ghoulish past work.
The dark mood was the perfect pit to raise the megahit finale from. Beginning with the exotic sway of lost love, "Alejandro," the show ended with a dance floor club mix of "Poker Face," "Paparazzi" and "Bad Romance," that left the crowd a bit winded from the unexpected dance workout.
So where were you on the Sunday night when Lady Gaga first played Houston? If you weren't at the Toyota Center you have another chance on Monday night.
If you can't make it then, just be patient. Ms. Gaga and "The Monster Ball" Tour return to the Toyota Center on April 8, 2011. Tickets are already on sale.