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MONSTERS, INC.

Lady Gaga brought her Born This Way Ball to Toyota Center January 31.

Lady Gaga knows what the people want, and she gives it to them. She knows that some people just come for the spectacle, so she brings along a giant gothic castle and a variety of strange props to go with it. She knows people want to hear the hits, so they're dished out regularly.

She knows that the little monsters want to hear the gospel of Gaga and so she preaches about being brave, being yourself, and not taking any shit anymore.

It's visually stimulating and emotionally stirring, a guaranteed formula for sending most of the crowd home happy. It's so good that it isn't until later, in the car ride home or right before they fall asleep, that they realize that much of the show didn't make a lick of sense.

Lady Gaga's "Born This Way Ball" ...
Picture Group
Lady Gaga's "Born This Way Ball" ...
...includes the singer transforming into a motorcycle.
Picture Group
...includes the singer transforming into a motorcycle.

Not that it needed to, of course.

Lady Gaga is not the world's best storyteller. This would not be a problem except that she loves to tell stories, from big epics about aliens and freedom to small personal vignettes about stargazing and perseverance.

She lucked out with her first large-scale tour/production, The Monster Ball. That story might have been silly, but it was basic and relatable: Gaga and her friends need to get through a city to get to the party, and along the way she fights a giant angler fish. This is something everyone can identify with; we all have to fight giant angler fish sometimes.

As for the current Born This Way Ball, it's the most bizarre self-help class you can imagine. This narrative begins with the Born Brave Bus outside the venue, and ends with Gaga kissing a random fan and telling him it was destiny; be yourself and the best things will happen.

What any of that has to do with the story line involving aliens and world domination and giant floating heads I'm still trying to work out. By the time she started playing an alien who happened to be playing Lady Gaga, I decided it was better just to zone out and enjoy the imagery.

Gaga was fed through a meat grinder. She gave birth to herself. She became some sort of half-motorcycle/half-human hybrid. They were all things that were visually interesting but perhaps intellectually vacant.

Now, here is a list of things that Lady Gaga excels at: writing excellent pop songs; wearing meat; singing and playing piano; merchandising; and interacting with her legion of devoted fans.

It's those moments of interaction that make her show shine. Sure, she does the same bits in every city, but she does them because they work and because Gaga genuinely cares about her fans.

Whether it's making a phone call to a random member of the audience or bringing someone up onstage to dance during "Scheiße," she knows how to create moments that make the crowd feel good and give some in the audience memories they won't forget.

I think there's a strong case to be made that Gaga could easily tour as the world's fanciest life coach. Maybe she could do two shows next time she comes to town: one where she comes out and talks to her monsters for an hour, building them up and getting them ready to face the world, and one where she destroys the stage with the power of her music.

It would be the best of both worlds.
_____________________

NIGHT LIFE

THE ALLEY KAT PURRS TO LIFE
In the Mink's old quarters, a new bar opens as a suaver sort of lounge.

MATTHEW KEEVER

'It doesn't smell like sewage anymore!"

Although a sign above the entrance still reads "The Mink," little inside this newly renovated drinkery feels quite the same. The layout is unchanged, but burgundy walls, low lighting and the soft sounds of jazz or blues now set the tone of The Alley Kat Bar and Lounge, the newest watering hole on "The Island" in Midtown.

The Alley Kat feels as though it has outgrown its awkward albeit charming teenage years, giving way to a fresh perspective on a well-liked nightspot that had deteriorated over time. The Mink used to have an allure all its own, but over the past few years it became seedier and dustier, and the restrooms became more of a risk than a convenience.

Nonetheless, many cried foul when news broke in September 2011 that The Mink had been sold. The new owners tried to branch out by booking different types of music, but struggled to find a new niche for the bar and announced their abdication in late August 2012.

Luckily, The Alley Kat has serious potential. It feels as if the Mink put on a suit and tie, kicked a few bad habits and is again reinventing itself while maintaining some familiar features that everyone loved in the first place.

"There's still some individuality that makes us unique," says new managing partner Kory Hinton. "The light frames when you walk in and the wooden bar are staples of the Mink...There are elements I would like to keep, but there are also [different] elements I'd like to incorporate."

Hinton hopes that keeping a few key elements of the Mink's former self will make the transition easier, but she also wants new business and is adding some panache. It's still a shotgun-style bar, one that could easily be overlooked as passersby drive down Main, but is now a suaver, fancier version of its former self.

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