Lady Gaga Dresses Up and Has a Ball at MSG: Concert Review

Lady Gaga NYC - P 2014
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Lady Gaga NYC - P 2014

Subtlety is in short supply in this outrageous but oddly affecting arena spectacle

The pop diva brings her lavish "artRave: The ARTPOP Ball Tour" to Madison Square Garden

“You can be whoever you want tonight,” Lady Gaga told her "Little Monsters" minutes into her show at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night. Judging from the wildly risqué outfits of many -- both male and female -- what they really wanted was to be her.

True to its awkward title -- artRave: The ARTPOP Ball Tour — the 28-year-old star’s current outing leans heavily on her ARTPOP album which met with disappointing reviews and sales. The 23-song, nearly two- hour set featured every song from the release save one, “Dope,” as if the performer were attempting by sheer force of will to lift it into hit status.

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The propulsive evening featured the lavish arena spectacle for which she’s become famous and a dazzling array of wigs and costumes that could one day well wind up in in a Metropolitan Museum of Art fashion exhibit. The show did, however, periodically slow down as Gaga took time to bond with her adoring multitudes. ” She cooed over the many gifts and notes thrown to her, and invited so many fans backstage after the show that it made one wonder if she would have enough security to handle them all.

“I know, I’m a singer, I’ll start singing again,” she promised after one lengthy break.

From her first appearance in a gold-sequined body suit with a giant orb attached to her chest, the singer delivered an array of arresting images, not the least of which was when two dressers changed her onstage, removing her wig along with most of her clothing and leaving her briefly topless, wearing only a torn fishnet stocking. Cell phone cameras have never gotten such a workout. Other startling outfits included a tentacle-laden creation that made her look like a mythical sea creature and a skimpy bikini-like confection with a clamshell top that would make Bette Midler chuckle.

The equally outrageous set design included a white stage that looked like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude; clear Lucite runways that reached into the middle of a dance floor; and a piano hidden under giant stalagmites. Most performers save the obligatory burst of confetti for the end of the show, but not Gaga. She sang so many songs amid swirls of colored paper that the evening took on the air of a ticker tape parade, albeit a progressive one: Cannabis leaf-shaped paper filled the air during -- what else -- “Mary Jane Holland.”

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Performing with a crunching five-piece band and a dozen constantly gyrating dancers, Gaga unveiled powerful vocals throughout, most notably in a stirring encore rendition of “Gypsy” and a slowed-down, ballad version of the hit “Born This Way.” The latter was introduced with a lengthy ode to self-empowerment that clearly resonated with her teenage fans. “Thanks for raising hell with me all these years,” she announced to wild cheers.

Such new songs as “G.U.Y.,” “MANiCURE,” “Sexxx Dreams” and “Swine” were delivered in galvanizing form that surpassed the recorded versions, while past hits like “Just Dance,” “Poker Face,” “Bad Romance,” “Alejandro” and “Paparazzi” made the expected impressions. Rapper T.I. briefly showed up to reprise his contribution to the new song “Jewels N’ Drugs,” although the appearance felt pro forma.  

Unlike Madonna, who engages in similar, but decidedly chillier, over-the-top theatrics, Gaga invests her spectacles with an undeniable sweetness and heart. At one point, shorn onstage of her wig and most of her clothes, she seemed positively vulnerable, an endearing reminder of the little girl underneath all the outrageous pop diva trappings.

Set List

Cake Like Lady Gaga
Just Dance
Poker Face
Do What U Want
Born This Way
Jewels N’ Drugs (with T.I.)
Sexxx Dreams
Mary Jane Holland
Bad Romance