At Rogers Arena on Saturday, August 9
Lady Gaga's artRave tour was less about the art and more about the rave: think a candy-coloured, hallucinogenic trip through the looking glass.
It's doubtful that mattered to the adoring little monsters that turned out in LED-flashing rainbow dreadlocks, squid and unicorn headdresses, and stratospheric platforms, not to mention all the white-wigged Gaga lookalikes. (Props, by the way, to the one with a full beard.)
With the show starting an hour late, a packed house waited while cheering in vain at a giant, closed pink-sparkly curtain, possibly nervous that the woman otherwise known as Stefani Germanotta was ill again. After postponing her show here last May due to bronchitis, she needed treatment for altitude sickness a couple of nights ago in Denver.
But when Gaga finally arrived, she served up her trademark outsize spectacle, complete with inflatable-tentacle costumes, a giant, clawed silver hand that raised her to the rafters, and a white-igloo set that looked like Tatooine after a snowstorm. The singer strutted a neon-lined Plexiglas catwalk that zigged-and-zagged through the space, ran up and down stairs and platforms, and rolled out a piano that rose in the centre of the venue amid icelike shards.
The show was heavy on songs from her less-than-critically-lauded new Artpop album, but Gaga was able to dress them up in unabashedly garish new eye candy. The opening "Artpop" found the diva rising out of a trap door wearing giant golden wings and a sequinned bodysuit with a big, shiny blue ball jutting out of her chest like some all-seeing eye. "Venus" featured her small army of dancers in Dr. Seuss headdresses, with giant, alien flowers sprouting up around them and the Gagster prancing about in a mile-high blonde mane, flower-encrusted thong, and rhinestone shell bra.
It would be hard to call the show conceptual, narrative, or thematic the way that Monster Ball was. Instead, random psychedelic images and sensations came at you like the storms of fluttering tissue stars, hearts, and dollar signs that blasted intermittently out from confetti cannons around the room.
The few big hits that made their way into the show stood out, only serving to highlight how much catchier and danceable her past writing has been. She broke out the swim-toy tentacle bustle and headdress for a medley of "Poker Face" and "Telephone". The night reached its zenith with "Bad Romance", an explosion of dancers in neon-plastic sci-fi raingear, with Gagaloo in Harajuku pigtails and petticoats. It would have been a more fitting finale than the somewhat anticlimactic "Gypsy", the show's sole encore.
But what continues to amaze is that Gaga is able, amid all this style--and plastic--to find moments of real substance. Past the midway point, she sat down at the piano, alone, to belt out a searing, soul-sister rendition of the now gay anthem "Born This Way", as well as her candid yet simple adios to drinking and depression, "Dope". Heads up, haters: girl can sing and play a keyboard. At various other points she proudly donned the hand-embellished clothing and raver masks flung at her from her fans, and read out a letter tossed to her from a lesbian in the crowd who said Gaga was integral to her coming out. (That earned said sister a promised meet-up backstage.)
A scan of the audience spoke to Gaga's authentic appeal: you'd be hard-pressed to find a more diverse crowd, in gender, age, and ethnicity. In just a single row at the arena, there was a preschooler with a cougar mom, a granny with a cane, boy toys in PVC short-shorts, and a gaggle of Japanese exchange students wearing the flashing wing-shaped bunny ears being sold at the merch table.
You can call Gaga's work commercial, gaudy, overproduced, or excessive, but the good Lady knows how to connect with her fans in an authentic way--as hard as it might be to take someone wearing inflatable calamari seriously.