Vector Arena, Auckland
Saturday, March 13 & Sunday, March 14
Lady Gaga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Gemanotta) has big ideas. And that is what you need if you are going to succeed as an enduring pop act. She's now well placed to take over from Madonna and Kylie.
The Monster Ball Tour is an often absurd and frequently exhilarating concert experience. Filled with dancers that look like they bunked off a day on the set of Glee to go watch this old movie The Warriors that someone told them about; filled with a giant scaffold stage-set that replicates a New York back lot, filled with ambition and pomposity, The Monster Ball Tour is, apparently, "a pop electro opera"; it is also everything a huge pop show should be - filled with songs the fans love, that play as soundtracks to set pieces.
Opening with Dance in the Dark, Gaga silhouetted and striking various stop-motion poses, the audience still had no idea what was behind the curtain. When it finally opened we were forced into the world of Gaga. A baffling mix of New York art-school trash and deconstructed outfits that reference cyber-punk, David Bowie's Glass Spider Tour, Michael Jackson's Thriller video/short-film and a car park out back of where they set the film Centre Stage.
I don't care about any of the songs in this performance - and I don't have to. I'm sure I'm not alone - but it's impossible to fight the thrill of aspects of this show; of a car being on stage, the bonnet opened to reveal a keyboard; of a giant sea monster being manipulated by puppeteers; of a baby grand piano played while on fire; of a stage that swallows Gaga up then raises her on a pedestal.
There are half a dozen costume changes and several set pieces need time for restaging, so the curtain closes after three or four songs to play a video while the sets are swapped. Every time the curtain reopens it is something new - another reason for the fans to shriek.
During Brown Eyes and Speechless, Gaga at piano in bra and knickers talking about how much she loves drinking, it became apparent that as clever as this artist might be - for deconstructing the myth of pop, for subverting mainstream pop style while living it - she is also very stupid. And it's likely there are as many puppeteers (or more) behind Gaga as there are behind the giant monster head that graces her stage near the end of the concert.
Call me old-fashioned, but pop stars do have some obligations. And as Gaga spoke "the truth" and instructed the audience to "never listen to anyone but themselves", to get their "cocks out" and to go out and drink loads of alcohol with their matters, I felt sorry for the parents of young children in the audience. I felt sorry for the teachers that have to deal with these silly, stroppy little adolescents. I felt sorry for future employers of highly strung know-it-all brats.
I'm not about to say that this all comes from Lady Gaga - she is after all just playing a role. But she knows who is buying her music - she has some awareness there. And sure, the audience spanned a huge age range, and sure, loads of older people (presumably) have bought her albums. But there were plenty of the young and impressionable - under 18 - lapping up every instruction.
Gaga fans go gaga for her - she knows this and manipulates it. So that is good - when it comes to putting on an amazing show that relies on some form of participation and suspension of disbelief. But not so good when we're hearing Gaga, in her faux-soft voice saying "do you think I'm sexy?" Fake blood all over her in a one-piece leotard. "Because," she goes on to impossibly suggest, "I find all of you sexy."
There was also the ridiculous, "I'm like Tinkerbell. I'll die if you don't clap." Shut up and play your piano!
Well, play the piano she did. And she can definitely sing, and there's a live band creating the music. I'm still not won over by the songs, but this sort of show is less about impressing people with the music and more about recreating a sensual experience to match the music videos, to play out like the daydreams of the most devoted fans. And she writes a better pop song than most, in this day and age.
And this is where you cannot fault Lady Gaga and her Monster Ball Show.
There's a daft construct but a deft construction - the show is flawless in so many ways but it rides on how utterly absurd it all is.
And with Kylie Minogue off the boil, with Michael Jackson dead and with Madonna being just plain gross - a 50-year-old rotisserie chicken in a leotard still trying to be provocative - Lady Gaga's timing is exquisite. She has a clan of fans - a real cult. She's working hard to deliver on that, to subvert the pop song.
She just needs to decide whether her target market is flamboyant gay people that love the kitsch element and applaud the stage show, or the tweens that have, indirectly, via mummy and daddy's hard-earned cash, made her a star.
As she goes further on this mad trip it is irresponsible to try to serve both masters. It is after all the fans (in both, erm, camps) that made this monster.
So, I loved almost every minute of the two-hour show. And when I did get bored (occasionally) a new set piece arrived; the gears changed. Things happened. I'm pleased I saw a current pop star on top of her game.
Did you go to either show? Did you love it? Or were you disappointed? Or would you never go and see something like Lady Gaga? Is she the real deal or a total fraud? Or, is she somehow a bit of both?
Are you gaga for Gaga? Or does she make you ga-gag?
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