Lady Gaga at the Xcel Energy Center, 8/30/10
August 30, 2010
Xcel Energy Center
Measure her in terms of her presence as a multi-platinum pop performer, and Lady Gaga is still in her infancy; it was only a short year and a half ago that she was performing at the Fine Line, a 700-capacity club. This time around she returned to play two consecutive sold-out shows at our state's largest arena, and it's no surprise that her schizophrenic, sprawling inaugural performance at the Xcel Center was a little hit-and-miss.
Nick Vlcek for City Pages
Never fear, though, Little Monsters--despite a few bumps in the road, by the end of the show Gaga had all 15,000-plus fans eating out of her outstretched paw.
The entire two-hour-and-10-minute performance was structured around a flimsy, often abandoned narrative that found our leading lady on a seemingly neverending quest to arrive at the Monster Ball, and the inexplicably intricate yet half-cooked storyline only served to slow the momentum to a near halt. First, Gaga and her companions discovered that their car had broken down (protip: keeping a keyboard under the hood instead of an engine might lead to unexpected transportation delays), then took a subway train to an unidentified "strange place," then somehow ended up in a decrepit forest in Central Park that looked like it was straight out of a Tim Burton movie.
For the first few songs Gaga was downright stiff, marching robotically down a jagged staircase and lumbering around the stage amid a swirl of gender-bending back-up dancers, relying heavily on the crowd's unrelenting cheers to give the show any kind of energy. But the audience never let up, decked out in Diet Coke can hair curlers and police tape holsters straight out of Gaga's "Telephone" video, and the pop star began to feed off her fans' adoration, loosening up and taking time between songs to stray away from her script and carry on surprisingly intimate conversations with her devoted Little Monsters.
"Did you sketch that yourself?" she asked one fan, motioning toward their hand-lettered sign. "You're very talented." Another fan beamed as Gaga asked if she had bleached her hair or if she had obtained her shock-pink locks using a spray, with Gaga praising the young woman for using a temporary spray instead of "ruining" her hair with bleach.
Nick Vlcek for City Pages
The wall between performer and audience member was torn to shreds once and for all during a "Telephone" lead-in bit that could have easily flopped or seemed cheesy. Gaga announced that one of her sponsors had agreed to donate $20,000 per show to a charity that benefited homeless GLBT youth, and that she was going to use her sponsor's cell phone to randomly dial a fan in the audience. (The phone company had been working the crowd all night asking for fans' numbers, and as far as I could tell it wasn't staged, as it took a moment for Gaga to find the winner in the crowd by listening for the shrieks of joy.) The winner, a young man who jokingly identified himself as "Alejandro," appeared positively dumbstruck as Gaga spoke directly to him, telling him that he and his friends would be moved closer to the stage and could come backstage after the show.
On paper it seems quite contrived, but at the show, as it was happening, you could feel the aching, quickened pulse of 14,999 Little Monsters simultaneously thinking I wish that had been me.
In fact, the most overwhelming aspect of the show wasn't Gaga's crazy-ass outfits or elaborate stage set-ups, it wasn't the fact that she was probably lip-syncing half of the set or that she was simultaneously better and worse than anyone expected her to be. No, the most overwhelming part of the Gaga Experience, the part that will likely stick with fans until she swoops back into town on her next arena tour, was that it was a powerful gathering of thousands upon thousands of people who are in love with the idea of Lady Gaga, and who want desperately to rally with her against prejudice and injustice and inequality, even if only for the length of one otherwise throwaway pop song.
Because the truth of the matter is that none of us have any idea who Lady Gaga actually is. Lady Gaga is a fake. She is a perfectly constructed pop paradigm, too new in her superstardom to have developed any real public drama, too guarded to let her flaws jut out from underneath her fashion-forward, flowing frocks and splattered-on fake blood.
None of us know who Stefani Germanotta really is, aside from a tireless human rights advocate and mostly mediocre pop songwriter with an uncanny and unparalleled knack for keeping America fascinated. And because we don't really know Stefani, Stefani could be anybody. Stefani could be nobody. Which means that none of us can be Lady Gaga, because Lady Gaga is all of us.
Fan photos by Ben Clark
SLIDESHOW: Lady Gaga performs
SLIDESHOW: Lady Gaga's little monsters
Critics' bias: My knee-jerk reaction to Gaga upon hearing "Just Dance" for the first time a couple of years ago was inexplicable hatred. Now, I adore her. Not quite sure how that happened.
The crowd: Dolled up young women, gay men in S&M getups, shocking amounts of people lacking pants.
Overheard in the crowd: Awestruck suburban dude in a polo shirt: "I've seen so many freaky people today!"
Random notebook dump: The plot ended up being worth it, at least for a little while, because in the end Gaga got to battle a giant Fame Monster (spoiler alert: she won). Also, duh, she played all the hits! Ended with a triple-whammy of "Poker Face," "Paparazzi," and "Bad Romance." And debuted a brand new song, listen to that here.
Glitter and Grease
Beautiful, Dirty, Rich
Boys Boys Boys
Living on the Radio (new)
You and I (new)
So Happy I Could Die
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.