Lady Gaga Toyota Center July 25, 2010
For Lady Gaga's show last night at Toyota Center, the first of a two-night sold-out stand in Houston, she managed to meld blood, sacrilege, fire, pain, heavy metal, love, and the power of music into one mass of light and sound.
From a pop standpoint, Aftermath has always been a fan of Gaga. Big stupid hooks, weird-ass music videos, shades of icons living, dead or waning, and an almost punk attitude towards her industry. Seeing Gaga live is a whole different experience that watching a YouTube clip or downloading and burning a disc can't deliver.
Live, Gaga is a multidimensional force of nature. To lump her in with the Britneys and Christinas of the world is like lumping in Radiohead in with Nickelback because they both play what is generally designated as rock music. Same city with different zip codes.
Over the course of last night's show we tasted bits of Marilyn Manson, Prince, Peaches, Klaus Nomi, Carole King and Bjork. But these weren't even outright plagiaries. The ever-present Madonna comparisons are boring and extremely lazy, by the way. It's the equivalent of sticking an antique hearing horn up to your ear.
It's very much a generational thing we have seen, with the older Madonna fans pitting themselves versus new-school Gaga kids in a laughable fight for supremacy. Spectacle is spectacle, through and through. Madonna used to offer that, and now Gaga does it for a whole new set of ears.
If anyone should be getting pissed at Gaga, it's Peaches and Manson fans. She's most definitely lifted more from them than she ever has from Madonna. But if you stopped listening to pop music in 1991, those two artists mean nothing to you.
None of this takes anything away from what Madonna did and still does (slightly), but you have to understand that both women are dealing with entirely different pop-culture headspaces making their achievements almost impossible to compare now. Listening to people get almost violently ill when they talk about what they think Gaga is stealing from Madonna is hilarious.
It's pop music, people. Shut up and dance.
The night began at 9 p.m., with Gaga singing obscured by a gigantic curtain, her figure merely a shadow projected about 20 feet high. Appropriately, it was for "Dance in the Dark," and she soon came out from behind the curtain flanked by a gaggle of dancers behind her.
The stage set-up had her band in metal cubicles and a bombed-out car surrounded by racy signs advertising all manner of sins. Her dancers stalked the stage with her like a glittery gang. Our concert-mate described it is a demented, spooky version of West Side Story.
Every single Goth bone in our bodies was freaking out almost from song one. Blood, nuns and smoke all made "LoveGame" massive. You cannot discount the overt Goth and industrial elements to a Gaga show, which for us is a major selling point. The Disco Stick made its appearance during "LoveGame," and she wielded the glowing phallus like a scepter. She had a Good Witch thing going on.
She doesn't preach happiness and sunshine, and doesn't shy away from the grotesque. Instead she tempers it with self-confidence and the power of proactive thinking: Sisters are doing it for themselves albeit covered in blood and diamonds.
Midway through the show, Gaga stopped being Gaga and became Stefani Germanotta again, sitting in front of a piano and pounding out ballads. It was her without a net or a gang of dancers behind her to distract you from miscues. Well, she was still Gaga, because not many people play pianos that are also on fire whilst wearing leather underwear.
Gaga came forth with two piano-driven songs, the family portrait "Speechless" and the brand-new "You & I," the latter of which shows a whole new path coming in her next phase. It's her voice laid bare without any pyro or lights to get in the way. Vulnerable. For those two songs we could have been in some supper club or coffeehouse, throwing dollars in her tip jar instead of an arena with 20,000 pairs screaming lungs.
She does possess a bluesy mama howl that gets lost in the digital bath all her songs are dipped into in the studio. Take away the make-up, what passes for clothes, and the deviant disco, and Gaga could have just easily been a torqued-up Norah Jones. She has an honest and soulful wail, and knows how to use it to great effect.
"Monster" opened with an insane amount of Siouxsie and the Banshees-style synth before turning into the Prince-worthy headbanger it is. It very much swings like the Purple One's "When Doves Cry," with the huge snare cracks and the slangy sexual lyrics. Dig if you will that.
For "Teeth," the show turned into pornographic gospel, with Gaga using the rough-sex jam to writhe on the floor covered in fake blood while decrying hatred in the world in the name of Jesus Christ. It was very much one of those Lizard King/Manson moments when you aren't sure if the unhinging is real or just for effect.
Things got the most cataclysmic during "Alejandro," with even more blood, this time from a fountain topped by the son of God that shot fire out the back of its wings. Going into the show last night we didn't think we would be doing our metal-face, let alone trying to describe Gaga bathing in the blood from the fountain. We also didn't think things would take a GWAR turn when she fought multi-legged "fame monster" onstage.
The triple threat of "Poker Face," "Paparazzi" and "Bad Romance" closed out the night. Each song smacked hard like heavy metal onto everyone. The danceability is still there, but she seems to now be playing with more stomp and snap the older those hit songs get. Her next album could very well be her Black Album if it's not Generation Y's own Tapestry.
Gaga baits conventions with the best of them, and preaches a strong pro-personal-freedom stance. Music is supposed to move you, liberate you and call you to action. She's just taking it all those to levels that are apparently needed right now in this world. She's controlled chaos at a time of extreme uncertainty. It doesn't hurt that the songs are some of the catchiest things in the past decade.
More interesting to us isn't what's going on with Gaga now; it's what is to come.
Personal Bias: We never met a spectacle we didn't like or get off on.
The Crowd: A rainbow coalition of all sorts. Glammy gay boys, Gaga lookalikes of varying success, younger smoochy couples, party girls in lingerie, and somehow, former Houston Oiler defensive tackle Ray Childress. He was about two rows in front of us watching the show with his wife and some female friends. We also heard Roger Clemens was hanging around somewhere too.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I want a disco ball gag too, Mom!"
Random Notebook Dump: She's got this white angel witch outfit on. It moves on its own by remote control or something. I AM NOT ON DRUGS, I SWEAR.
Dance in the Dark Glitter and Grease Just Dance Beautiful, Dirty, Rich Vanity The Fame LoveGame Boys Boys Boys Money Honey Telephone Speechless You and I So Happy I Could Die Monster Teeth Alejandro Poker Face Paparazzi
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.