"The Monster Ball Tour" Starring Lady Gaga
With Semi Precious Weapons
BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
Tuesday, April 12
Check out a slide show from the concert here.
Better than: Any number of lip-syncing rich girls who call themselves pop stars.
Give it to Lady Gaga for her work ethic, her artistry, or her activism, but perhaps it's her interludes as a self-help guru that make her concerts so uplifting in the end. On more occasions than might seem possible during a carefully orchestrated musical spectacle, the singer broke into speeches telling the audience to love themselves -- and to love her with their claws out while they were at it. Neither task seemed insurmountable during this eye-popping night of musical theater and flaming piano freakouts.
Although a fervid BankAtlantic Center crowd didn't witness Lady Gaga toppling off of her piano like she did on Friday in Houston, there were countless moments that she picked herself up off the floor -- literally and emotionally. The challenges of doing so were made more intense by the constantly moving trapdoors and platforms that made up the ever-evolving stage. Any moment she wasn't singing, she was leading her team of chiseled backup dancers or screaming "My name is LADY GAGA!" or waving a disco stick or cherishing the treasures the Little Monsters up front tossed onstage. Among them was a Little Mermaid doll, to which she remarked, "I've always had an affinity for Ariel" and decided not to dismember it.
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Much of the show's lighting and staging cues are carefully timed. Indeed, you can't exactly switch when the giant sea monster with tentacles drops onto the stage -- keeping in mind the stage hands and the overall story structure of "The Monster Ball," a four-act progression from a neon-filled back alley, the subway, an enchanted forest with spiky trees and a fire-filled fountain, and the ball itself at the end. But Gaga does allow new material to color a few breaks in the set's rigid armor. And the stripped-down moments she spends behind a piano -- it does emit a tornado of flames, though -- prove to be just as enrapturing as the huge dance numbers.
"I can't stop writing," she confessed during her time behind the burning piano that surely makes Elton John proud. In addition to a quiet version of her newest hit, "Born This Way," she dedicated a new track called "You and I" to E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons. This rose into a climax for the evening with her able backing band (even a harpist!) turning it into a Guns 'N Roses-level power ballad. Ironic that her lead guitarist sort of looked like Ted Nugent, AKA the most right-wing rocker on the planet, in his "Cat Scratch Fever" days.
Not that the staged stuff wasn't filled to the brim with intrigue. With projected videos of Gaga glamorously puffing cigs and smearing blood on herself on a giant white curtain to allow for stage changes, there was a different look to the proceedings for virtually every song. She played a twisted string bass/MPC hybrid during "The Fame," wielded some sort of pyramid-shaped keytar for "Money Honey," and played naughty nurse on the F train for "Love Game."
About the only thing that really connected Gaga to her opening act, Semi Precious Weapons, was the lack of pants. Singer Justin Tranter pointed out that his group's performances with the night's headliner trace back five years -- but this band lacks the full package to enrapture a stadium-sized crowd. Although there was plenty of pomp and glam posturing, the songs did not get far past the fabulousness of an open bar.
Semi Precious Weapons
Lady Gaga's final two acts are where all of the previous insanity suddenly looks calm, though. Between the blood-smearing, Black Swan horror of "Monster," the writhing in smoke with a backup dancer straddling her for "Teeth," the dance opera with a flaming, bloody fountain of "Alejandro," the sparks flying from her chest and crotch during "Paparazzi," and the "Bad Romance" gyroscope stunt featuring our star in an angular shards-of-glass ensemble, it's impossible to choose the night's defining moment. After returning to "Born This Way" for the closer, the still-bloody, still-heeled, still standing star could take several well-deserved bows with her troupe. A tiny part of her is still somewhere on that floor, but the rest of Lady Gaga danced in the eyes of her thousands of marveling Little Monsters as they filed out.
Personal bias: Seeing this tour happen with Kanye West on it would have been uncontainable.
Overheard: "I want to decorate my living room like that," regarding the enchanted forest set in act 3.
The crowd: Gay couples from Wilton Manors, girls with that blue lightning bolt coming out of their eye, women with mullets, more than a couple of denim vests with rhinestones, 8-year-olds with their hair dyed pink, green tutus, the bubble costume, some guy who actually bought Lady Gaga's Polaroid sunglasses, and this fellow:
By the way: Gaga's nightly phone call to a fan reached a Wilton Manors fella named Gary in a pink shirt. He was overjoyed to point out her past in the local gay community, notably Bill's Filling Station. And she invited him to meet up for a postshow drink.
City, Act 1:
Dance in the Dark
Glitter and Grease
Beautiful, Dirty, Rich
Subway, Act 2:
Boys Boys Boys
Born This Way (solo piano)
You and I (new song)
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Forest, Act 3:
-Little Monster Film-
Monster Ball, Act 4:
Born This Way (full band)