Lady Gaga: Born This Way Ball
Lady Gaga finally landed her spaceship of planned weirdness at the Staples Center in Los Angeles this past Martin Luther King Day weekend with her third concert tour, "The Born This Way Ball."
Supporting her 2011 album, "Born This Way," the tour itself is a curiosity. The album was released in May of 2011, yet her tour didn’t begin until almost a year later in April 2012. Also the tour began in Seoul Korea and didn’t hit the states until recently on Jan. 14, 2013 in Tacoma, Washington. That’s a long time to wait for a tour based on a "new" album that, by now, is far from new.
Someone actually asked me what she was touring to support and, like myself, thought this tour had already made the North American round. I was under the impression that this was its second swing around the states. Not so. Lady Gaga being an obsessive workaholic is perpetually on tour, so when her sophomore album was released she was still touring her second version of "The Monster Ball Tour" which was dedicated mostly to her first CD.
The problem with all of this, is that the tour feels a bit stale and confused. The "new" songs aren’t new anymore, and the CD isn’t in the public consciousness. There are no current singles and in fact, Gaga herself has been fairly low profile.
It’s not that her fans will care much. And that’s the thing with this tour: it’s all for her super fans, of which there are many. Granted, it’s really all gay guys and their gal-pal besties, so in a way, it has a circuit party atmosphere. This is all fine since Gaga will repeatedly tell her audience to embrace who they are, love who they want to, and feel free to say "f* you" to the establishment.
The tour itself is a Gothic Rock Opera with the main set piece of the tour a massive castle that makes up her entire stage. Pieces of it rotate allowing it to open and close depending on the performed songs. The only video screens (a common staple of a pop star’s staging) are the ones that simply project the action so those that are too far away can see their idol up close.
Similar to Madonna’s latest tour, there is a Monster pit with a CatWalk surrounding it allowing Gaga and her onstage minions to roam into the audience. Most of the action stays on the main stage, however, either performed in front of the castle or somewhere inside or on it.
She began the evening outfitted in a dark costume that completely hid her features (to the point where it could have been anyone up there) while riding a mechanical horse. She was led along the catwalk as she sang a dark version of "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" After, one of the recurring set pieces emerged -- a disembodied head that floats above the stage that tells of an escaped alien Gaga that wants to birth a new world order, or something like that. To be honest, it’s all a bunch of nonsense that sounds deep and important, but in essence it’s a bit absurd.
But that’s just one of the ways the tour uses interludes to allow Gaga to change into her fourteen different outfits, all designed by Italian fashion houses Versace, Moschino, and Armani. There’s a meat dress, an inflatable crotch and legs that, when unzipped, birth Gaga herself, as well as a number of couture ensembles that resemble H.R. Giger’s aliens or ’60s high-fashion. In fact, there are times where Gaga looks like an invader from the ’80s with her long pink wigs and studded leather pants and jacket, when other times she looks as though she should be on a Paris runway.
Working through her last album’s more accessible songs like "Black Jesus," "Born this Way," and "Judas," once Gaga has announced something about taking over the world via G.O.A.T. (don’t ask) things have gone off the deep end, thematically. It opens with this aforementioned castle, which is a marvel, for sure, but the gothic theme gets lost once her lighter hits are performed, many of which occur on the castle itself. So is the castle a place of darkness and experimentation? Or is it just a way to house her wardrobe?
Both become key moments, so it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. Once she settles into her first album’s hits like "Bad Romance," "Just Dance," and "Telephone" the energy picks up and the crowd goes wild. This is where Gaga becomes more accessible and many times stops to talk to the audience. Mainly she expresses her desire to live in a world where everyone can be who they want to be, a theme repeated so often she either really wants it to stick or she doesn’t have much else to say.
This is strange, because in interviews, Gaga has a lot to say and says it very intelligently. Here, there’s a lot of prods for the audience to say "f*** it" to those that don’t accept them. For her core audience, this isn’t such a bad message, but it gets old in repetition.
Gaga is her best when she simply lets her chops open wide and displays her gorgeous voice. Sitting down at a piano for "The Queen" (dedicated to her "God parents" Elton John and husband David) and a country version of "You and I" she separates herself from other female pop stars by really being able to sing live and sing live well.
For most of the two and a half hours she dances and sings without lip-syncing. Sure, there is always a little backup help and that’s to be expected when the energy is so high. The rest of the time, she is belting her dark little heart out and does so phenomenally.
I’ll admit, this tour isn’t 100 percent effective. The set, while monstrously impressive, grows old after a while, and the lack of video screens during costume changes is problematic. What happens is Gaga leaves the stage before a song is over to change into a new get-up.
On stage we catch glimpses of her band continuing to play while buried deep in the castle and some lights flash over the audience. Because of this, the songs end in a lackluster way and lose energy. The entire evening felt a little like a Madonna tour from the mid-’90s ("The Girly Show" comes to mind.)
There’s a lot of singing and dancing, but the production seems limited and modest. As a result, the evening felt a little like an old castle: musty. Between the songs that aren’t that relevant right now because the album is almost two years old and a tour design that isn’t very elaborate despite the huge castle, there was something missing this time around.
The thing is that fans will enjoy it regardless. Sure, they might hope for a more "Monster Ball" feeling next time around, but just to be in the presence of their Mother Monster will be enough. For those casual fans of the talented entertainer, it might be more of a quirky curiosity then major event.
Let’s hope when Gaga releases her new collection of songs called "ArtPop," that she tours in a more timely way so everything feels a bit fresher.
"Lady Gaga: Born This Way Ball" played Jan. 20-21 at the Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles. The tour continues in the United States through Mar. 20. For info on upcoming events at The Staples Center, visit www.StaplesCenter.com. For info about upcoming dates for the tour, visit www.LiveNation.com or www.LadyGaga.com.