Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013
Better than: 120 minutes inside the average butcher shop.
The problem with being Lady Gaga is that no matter how pointy your shoes, how unwieldy your concert narratives, how sincere your calls for gay rights, or how vulgar your staging and outfits become, you are expected to supply ever more pointy, unwieldy, gay-friendly vulgarity. To provide a more shocking sensation than you did last time, regardless of the infinitesimal amount of Genuine Controversy that a competent white female Top 40 pop star can summon in 2013, gay rights support or no. And at some point, the burden of replicating that initial shock -- of continuing to be pointy, unwieldy, vulgar Lady Gaga -- becomes both extremely difficult, and a massive distraction from the actual music.
Last night in San Jose, Lady Gaga played the last Bay Area concert of her Born This Way Ball tour, still supporting that 2011 album where she wore a motorcycle on the cover. Later this year, she will presumably go back into the coffin/cocoon/inflatable vagina she calls home before remerging, trimmed in the trappings of Artpop, the new album she's scheduled to release in 2013.
And let us all hope that whatever sort of massively staged, semi-coherent narrative Gaga and Co. construct for the Artpop tour, it doesn't try to out-ridiculous what occurred last night. Because jeez: A three-story castle dominated the stage, with walls opening and closing that concealed cells for her actual musicians. (Yes she employes actual musicians, and they're good). A catwalk extended out into the audience, where Lady Gaga made her first appearance riding a "horse," escorted by a contingent of flag-wielding troops. During costume changes, a disembodied Gaga head fluttered around inside a neon cage, desperately trying to stitch the highlights of The Fame Monster and Born This Way into passable narrative. (Something like: an alien is born (this way), educated by the concert, and set off to become Earth's pop star?)
Lady Gaga appeared to be both the owner and the occupant of a massive inflatable womb -- complete with a zipper-vagina, which she quickly exited, revealing a dress that looked like nothing so much as an upside-down condom. Later, apropos of nothing, she appeared in a dapper pink suit with matching keytar, flitting around a castle "bedroom" that included a rotating closet rack of pointy outerwear and a black-and-white poster of Madonna. Oh and what else? Some lovely ladies, Gaga included, got stuffed into massive meatgrinders. The actual beefcake of her male backup dancers did a nice dance for the ladies on the catwalk, crotches a-bulgin'. And Gaga donned her rolling motorcycle for "Heavy Metal Lover," lying prostrate, face-as-headlight, while a lady backup dancer got on and rode her around the stage.
In between the costume changes and the dancing, the Mother Monster strolled around her catwalk, looking every bit 5-foot-1 in huge heels. She incited chants about how no one should give a fuck, about how we were all born this way. (Which is why half the crowd came dressed exactly like Lady Gaga, right?) She made a telephone call to a lucky fan, reminded us that she "used to come out here all the time and play the gay clubs," and explained that she's "now just the highest paid stripper in the world." It almost seemed like an apology for the absurdity. Like she'd distracted us so thoroughly that she had to remind us that she can be quite charming.
So, we wondered, when Lady Gaga sent her dancers away and sat down at her piano to truly sing and play a couple songs -- and lingered more than she had to: Is she tired of this? Of the costumes and the rickety concert plotlines and the stupid rolling motorcycle? Is she aching for a less mediated relationship with her fans?
Who's to know. But Gaga doesn't seem dumb. She must understand that her clothes can only get so pointy, her concert plots only so contrived, her stages only so massive, before the entire spectacle turns into self-parody. Gaga's brand of shock -- paper-thin and borrowed largely from others -- wears off far more quickly than she can reinvent it. Here's hoping that, with album three, she tries to leave a more lasting, less pointy impression.
Piano woman: The best part of the show? Gaga seated at the piano, playing her countryish ballad, "You and I." Or any part where she actually sang. Give us more of that!
Boomy, muddy, all those bad "-ys": Less than ideal sound from our perspective at HP last night, where the bass was all but inaudible.
No seriously: What if Lady Gaga did a total 180 and performed unadorned in a T-shirt and jeans? Or even in like a regular-person dress. That would be controversial.