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Lady Gaga Brings Human Warmth and Empathy To St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center

Lady Gaga Brings Human Warmth and Empathy To St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center

The Xcel Center played host Tuesday night to Lady Gaga’s artRAVE / artPOP Ball.  It was her third trip to Minneapolis, but my first opportunity to see her.  The boyfriend had mentioned wanting to see her around the holidays, so I snagged a pair of tickets and slipped them in his Xmas stocking. 

We arrived two hours before the concert’s stated start, so had time to enjoy a gnosh and a beer (yes, I drank a beer!) at Cosetta’s – a great Italian deli where the people watching, on this particular night, was extraordinary – and there’s a reason for that.

It’s due to all the Little Monsters, diehard fans, who whirl about the edges of the circus that is Lady Gaga.  Some of these club kids are as entertaining as the performer herself and add much to her concerts’ atmosphere – while impacting the performance as well (more on that later).

Being a creature of the theater, I always show up at least fifteen minutes before show time, which works for theater, but not concerts on this scale.  There were two opening acts, both of which out stayed their welcome.

The first was an anime hologram of a tiny blue-haired female sprite who sang Japanese pop songs which reveled in aping touches of American hair metal/arena rock.  She was flanked by two human female dancers hidden behind scrims upon which various graphics were projected.  I found it intriguing for about five minutes, after which it became something of an annoyance. 

Twenty minutes later, a DJ who reminded me of Mayim Bialik (both the boyfriend and I initially thought that it was Gaga in disguise), appeared and treated the crowd to some old school trance music.  She was entertaining enough – cute, but, again, interesting and well-done as it was, I had little tolerance for her onslaught of sound.  I think you have to be ‘on’ something in order to truly enjoy that kind of music, and the slight buzz that my single beer had provided wasn’t cutting it.

After she disappeared, we waited for what seemed like an eternity for the lady herself to appear.  At one point, I actually asked the boyfriend if he wanted to leave, as I was not happy and he seemed to be equally perturbed.  For some reason, my nerves were on edge.  But he, wanted to stick it out. 

I’m glad we did. 

The lady was worth the wait.

She was sexy and sweet, coy and transparent.  She sashayed and prowled about the stage like a fashion empress.  But above all else... she was human. 

She magically appeared on stage looking like a dime store tinseled angel, instantly taking command of both the music and the crowd.  I was impressed – turns out, the woman can really sing. 

Now, the local critic from the Star and Tribune claims that she was lip syncing most of the night, but I’m thinking that was not possible.  Sure, as the show neared the end, she would appear to allow the backing track/vocals to carry the occasional phrase, but throughout the evening, her vocals were mixed way up front and seemed far too throat-driven and fallible to be anything but live. 

She opened with several tracks from her latest CD, the unfairly derided ‘artPOP’ – which is hardly the ‘flop’ the media has painted it.  Sure, it hasn’t sold anywhere near as much as its predecessor, 2011’s massive ‘Born This Way’, but then ‘artPOP’ would seem to be a much more selfish, insular collection – lacking BTW’s broader appeal – in other words, something strictly for her Little Monsters. 

The rest of the evening played out in three modes: songs from ‘artPOP’, greatest hits, and what I would like to term ‘Lady Gaga plays Dr. Phil’.

The ‘artPop’ songs and hits went down easy.  Lady G belted, rasped and soared her way through the lot, with her voice shining particularly well on the newer, more R&B influenced songs.  It was only during some of the hits and the last quarter of the show that she began to hold back a little.  The hits seemed to suffer, but only because her vocal technique and range has improved so dramatically and many of them hit a mid-range where her she is no longer at her most powerful.  Overall, I was impressed.

The costumes and staging, which included a colorful octopus dress and giant inflatable alien-looking flowers, were top notch, while the fleet of dancers that accompanied her, wearing a barrage of equally impressive frocks, paraded, pranced and worked it hard for the money. 

The choreography was fun – not as precise as Madonna’s army, nor were the routines as athletic, acrobatic, or complex.  Gaga’s dancers seemed much more human – as in, real and flawed.  Those occasional imperfections actually work in the lady’s favor; their secret appeal lying in how mortal they are, as in, it could be you up there! 

This ordinariness extended itself to their bodies.  Madonna’s minions were all muscle gods and goddesses or acrobatic super twinks, while Lady G’s appeared much more diverse and average-looking  – dancer’s bodies, to be sure - but there existed less uniformity and a wider range of age.  This is an example of the frequent amateurish nature of much of Lady Gaga’s visual output, a calculated strategy on her part guaranteed to make her crew seem relatable.       

This empathy extends itself directly to her fan base.  Enter, Dr. Phil.

Not once, but twice she cooled the show down long enough to relate a fan’s personal story. The first was about her friend, Emma, a fan Gaga met last year, here in Minnesota.  Seems Emma has spent her entire life in a wheel chair, but has a better attitude than ninety-nine percent of the people Lady G has ever met.  The fact that Emma was right there, on camera, on those big jumbo-tron screens, helped create an intimacy that is rare in a venue the size of the Xcel Center. 

When a fan happened to throw a teddy bear with a note attached onstage, Gaga, again, stopped the show and read the entire note detailing the abusive relationship that the fan’s sister had endured for years until she heard Gaga’s song ‘The Queen’ and found the strength to leave.  The fan, again, on the big screens, tears streaming down his face, was then invited backstage; another touching gesture and an example of how Lady G is one smart cookie. 

She already knows the value of creating lifetime fans, ones that will buy tickets (she acknowledged this and thanked those present repeatedly) and less than well received CDs – a lesson Madonna has clearly forgotten.

Yes, such moments can come across as calculated, but only the most hardened cynic would term these gestures as anything other than genuine.  

It all made for a long evening, one that tested my patience for sure, but sticking around turned out to be well worth it.  Gaga delivered the goods – not only for her Little Monsters, but the more casual fans as well.  It was touching, it was fun… and it was incredibly human.


a{GAY}tekeeper{iam} said...

glad you enjoyed yourself

Stan said...

I've only seen her on her HBO special when she was at Madison Square Garden "Monster Tour" and I thought it was extraordinary. I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

whkattk said...

When she played here the first time I was reluctant to go but gave in. She impressed the hell out me - and that's not easy to do. When it comes to performing, I can be pretty jaded. This woman is wildly talented and extremely business savvy.

BlkJack said...

People call me crazy, but I just can't get into large venue like this. While I love her music, I would come completely unglued in an arena with hundreds if not thousands of screaming fans. I definitely love her over Madge.