Lady Gaga (USA)

Lady Gaga, Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne, 28th June 2012)

Lady Gaga, Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne, 28th June 2012)

With a crowd dress code treading the line between Carnivale and the Gay Mardi Gras, I rocked up in my jeans and T-shirt to watch Lady Gaga’s 2nd Melbourne show on her Born This Way Ball tour.Her songs are everywhere, her face is everywhere, her image is painstakingly manipulated – albeit by herself – and as an irregular punter at pop gigs, it’s hard to know what to expect. Being bored though does not seem to be a possibility as the curtain drops to reveal something akin to Castle Grayskull.

Atop a large unicorn, and led by a string of dancers, Gaga moodily enters the arena and traverses the semicircular catwalk. The song is Highway Unicorn, but it’s somewhat lost behind her veiled face and the confusion and awe that the crowd are dealing with. It’s a spectacular entrance, but it dies out quickly and there’s a strangely subdued response from the crowd.

For her next grand entrance, the unicorn is traded for a giant 3 metre inflatable vagina, through which our hostess emerges, dressed in a large condom, to perform her anthem Born This WayMadonna’s Express Yourself never sounded so good and whilst it’s clear that pre-recorded vocals make up a fair portion of the show, the visuals are spectacular and the writhing dancers (also dressed in latex) do their part. The production is slick, the staging incredible but to this point the crowd engagement is non-existent.

Her religious irony follows, Black Jesus and Bloody Mary give way to the night’s highlight – Bad Romance. To this point the show is a balancing act, torn between concert and theatre, perhaps more Rocky Horror Show than Ziggy Stardust, but suddenly the music is at the forefront of the performance. To this point its raison d’être had seemingly been to provide a soundtrack to the visuals. The crowd – some of whom had slept overnight on the Rod Laver Arena footbridge in an attempt to be the first monster through the gate – were up and about after a lacklustre start.

Judas and Fashion of His Love lead into her Australian number 1 Just Dance. What looms as a potential highpoint of the show on paper is a disappointment, sounding flat and a shadow of its radio self. In fact, it’s somewhat symptomatic of the whole show, style and visuals steal the show whilst the songs play almost incidental roles in the background – a real life music video, crafted, choreographed and scheduled to within an inch of its life.

Thankfully things are about to take a turn for the better as Gaga emerges at the apex of the catwalk to perform Telephone. Her next entrance to the stage is a memorable one. Lying horizontally atop a motorbike for Heavy Metal Lover, she circles the crowd in the monster pit (joined part way through to be taken from behind by a leather clad biker who is actually female), before parking the bike off to stage right to perform Bad Kids.

Finally it’s time for the part of the show that’s different each night. Sitting herself down on the steps in front of the madness of the Monster Pit, Lady Gaga is showered with flowers, gifts, underwear, a denim jacket and an inflatable kangaroo. She wears the jacket, and momentarily contemplates performing an ‘indecent act’ on the kangaroo before presumably reconsidering. She chats to the crowd and suddenly all the ‘I’m an alien who’s invaded the Planet G.O.A.T’ bullshit from the first hour is swept away.

Returning to the motorbike which now has a piano mounted on the handlebars, she introduces a new song – Princess Die – which she performs solo. She can sing this girl, and whilst to this point there has been a huge reliance on pre-recorded overdubs, Gaga shows that she can actually belt out a tune. That said, the lyrics are terrible, the rhymes at a primary school level, and it’s going to take a bit more than some spit and polish to transform it into a chart success. Surely nothing a bizarre costume, some heavy production and a softcore porn video won’t be able to fix…

The flamenco acoustic guitar of Americano leads into arguably her biggest hit, Poker Face, though sadly – as Just Dance had done early – it falls short of the mark. Paparazzi’s opening strains are performed by our narrator for the night – a floating head inside a neon crystal of course – before Castle Grayskull opens up for the night’s first finale, Scheiße.

What’s peculiar about Gaga-as-a-concert is that for a show so slick in production value, it’s hideously disjointed, the gaps between songs (clearly allowing for costume changes) kill any energy that’s built up and the screams and applause of the crowd invariably die out within seconds of a song finishing. During the obligatory ‘cheer for an encore’ the chants slowly grow, but with everybody seemingly aware of an encore being locked in anyway, it’s somewhat subdued.

Return though she does, pumping out The Edge of Glory from atop the spectacular castle. Moving staircases bring her to ground before she closes out the evening with Marry The Night. It’s an end to a show that, like the rest of evening, never really achieves lift off. It’s visually stunning, the performance solid, her voice when used to its fullest impressive, the costumes amazing, and the band and dancers bring their top form.

For all the window dressing brilliance of the Born This Way Ball however, it lacks soul, authenticity, cohesion and flow.

But I was right. It was certainly never boring.

Footnote: Apparently, Lady Gaga has developed a sudden shyness when it comes to media photographing her on this current tour – strange in itself for someone who is so dependent on image. So these shots are taken without media accreditation and without my usual camera gear. I suppose it has put a temporary stop to her stealing the rights to a photographer’s work via her rights-grabbing photo releases

These photos are not for sale. 




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