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Lady Gaga at Xcel Energy Center, 2/6/13

Lady Gaga's hair was even greener than this Wednesday night
Lady Gaga's hair was even greener than this Wednesday night
Picture Group

Lady Gaga
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Even before she was famous, Lady Gaga's career was a pop commentary on being famous. Now that The Fame is more a given than just an album title, the effect of the stardom she created has taken its toll, though not necessarily to the detriment of her art. There was no 800-lb gorilla in the room during her performance at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday, but there was a ten-ton castle. Even for the few middle schoolers in the crowd, it was no stretch that this gnarly fortress -- not built for My Little Pony or a Taylor Swift "Love Story" -- represented the walls Gaga has built up around herself.

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Lady Gaga at Xcel Energy Center, 2/6/13
Photos by Picture Group

Having witnessed Gaga smearing blood all over herself two years ago prior to the release of Born This Way, it was not surprising that there would be a masochistic element to her stagecraft. But as the night progressed, one of the key visual elements of much of her set pieces turned out that she spent extended periods of time in the structure's inner sanctum -- some for costume changes, sure -- and also others onstage with some sort of barrier between herself and the fans. Be it a turret of her Castle Gagaskull, a railing, a glass enclosure, a majestic meat grinder (yep!), a glowing cocoon, or a series of grotesque, alien masks covering her emotion-laden countenance, she had to fight through each of these layers to be the plain-spoken performer again: "This is not a fucking show, this is me."

As the night developed, the stage thematics pulled from the goth castle, which opened up to reveal Gaga's live band tucked into its compartments, and her muscular dancers poured out of its gates on command. Compared to the Madonna show at the venue in November, everything moved in lock-step and there was no need for any tiring video montages. From the floating head, to the dark horse (made out of her dancers) she rode in on, to the motorcycle she became, everything was live-action.  

Lady Gaga at Xcel Energy Center, 2/6/13
Lady Gaga at Xcel Energy Center, 2/6/13
Photos by Picture Group

"I wish I gave a shit that you have work tomorrow," she shouted midway through the set. "I want you to have a nice Lady Gaga hangover in the morning." And judging by the response from the Monsters enclosed in her wraparound catwalk by the stage and those filling the rest of the Xcel, there were plenty who wanted to leave it all out there.

Unfortunately, the first highlight of the night -- Gaga emerging from the castle with giant inflatable legs, a pregnant belly the size of a Dodge Ram, and a zipper where her lady parts would  -- comes sans photography. This, of course, was for "Born This Way," and proved to be the first of two performances of the song, and of dozens of invocations. While Gaga never seemed to be vocally out of her depth, some of the dance-oriented pieces with heavy backing vocals overwhelmed her singing.

 

Coupled with her many escapes to backstage, it often felt through the early portion of the set that the exclamations of "This is not a funeral, St. Paul!" and "Get your pussies off the floor and jump!" would be the extent of interaction -- but this is a Gaga show. And so there were motivational monologues ("Who is Lady Gaga? I am You") about her transition to stardom, her increasing age ("I'm gonna be 27 in a month"), etc.

As expected, her most connected moments came once she sat in a gaudy kimono behind her spiked and barnacled piano and let loose her voice. Opening with a story about her departed grandfather and his tireless work ethic, Gaga showed unmistakable emotion and pain. Her voice broke amid "The Edge of Glory," one of her collaborations with the departed E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, and it was rapturous. After continuing the family history with a nod to Bruce Springsteen tucked in there, she followed with her return to "Born This Way," stripped bare, and then rose to the triumphant "You & I," which she introduced as a country song. It was at this point in the night that she seemed most at ease, draping herself in an American flag, head-banging herself out of a bandana.

The rest of the way proved a mix of her Latin-inspired numbers, as well as her meat-inspired set design. First, she donned a meat dress for a feisty "Americano," then squeezed her way through the grinder for "Poker Face," and then ended up reclining on a couch that appeared to be made out of enough steak to feed the NFL during "Alejandro." It was hard-fought fun compared to the dark exteriors of the early material of the set, but the grimness had not completely lifted.

"Paparazzi" is arguably a top three Gaga song, both for its arrangement and subject matter, and as she delivered it from a turret in a giant black SWAT helmet waving a scepter/flashlight from one of her turrets, it brought back the cold reality of the set's early going. As big as she has become, Lady Gaga knows that the adoring fan right next to her puts up their own barriers in return when they raise their cell phone to take a picture.

Lady Gaga at Xcel Energy Center, 2/6/13
Photos by Picture Group

And so, after the set-closing "Scheibe," which prompted the tossing of gifts on the front steps of her castle, she absconded once again to her dark lair to conjure up the strength for one more moment of real talk for the rest of us. She emerged to perform "Marry the Night" for the encore and brought seven fans onstage who looked like extras from a music video. Visibly moved, they followed her around the stage and catwalk and sang along, held her mic for her, and appeared remarkably comfortable being inches from their idol. Only blowing up the castle at the conclusion would've been a better metaphor for her final, and most-open moment.

Lady Gaga at Xcel Energy Center, 2/6/13


Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: It's hard to top the last Lady Gaga performance I witnessed two years ago. The flaming piano she played will be burned into my mind forever.

Overheard: "I call bullshit!" from some angry boyfriend of a crowd-goer when Gaga made her Virgin Mobile-sponsored call to a fan who was undeniably beside herself, and shaking with glee.

The Crowd: Fewer screeching teens than you might think, and more claw-bearing Monsters who looked to be at least in their college years, if not mid-20s.

Set List

New VO Intro
Highway Unicorn
MG: Escape
Government Hooker
Born This Way
Black Jesus
Bloody Mary
MG: Manifesto 1
Bad Romance
Judas
Fashion of His Love
Just Dance
Love Game
Telephone
Hair
Electric Chapel
MG: Manifesto 2
Heavy Metal Lover
Bad Kids
The Edge of Glory
You & I
Born This Way (acoustic)
Americano
Poker Face
Paparazzi
Scheibe

Encore
Marry the Night


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