Ed. Note: Since Ms. Gaga is playing two nights in Houston but reviewer tickets were only available for the first one, Rocks Off figured we'd double up on Sunday reviews.
Lady Gaga Toyota Center July 25, 2010
Aftermath fell in love with Lady Gaga last December, when she appeared on Barbara Walters' annual Most Fascinating People special. Before the show, we viewed the artist as just a singer with a funky sense of fashion and a couple of catchy if mindless radio hits under her belt. After the interview, in which she said "The truth is that every bit of me is devoted to love and art," we came to understand this: It's easy to dismiss Lady Gaga as derivative, but to do so undermines her stated mission. It's not about the music. It's about the message.
(Note: the interview is absolutely worth watching here, if only for the part where Walters asks her about the "bluffin' with my muffin" line.)
Never was that more clear than Sunday night, when Gaga's second world tour took her on an imaginary journey from the slums of New York, complete with a burnt-out taxicab, to the Monster's Ball, "a place where you can be anything and anyone you want to be." When Gaga paused between songs to utter that line, we suddenly understood the inspiration behind the concert.
Lady Gaga is Dorothy, a simple girl with a dream surrounded by a motley crew of friends and supporters, struggling to make it to the Wonderful Land of Oz. The metaphor was made blatantly obvious during "So Happy I Could Die," when she emerged from backstage in an animatronic dress reminiscent of Glenda the Good Witch.
The thing about Gaga that resonates so much with Aftermath is that she is 100% willing to allow herself to be emotionally vulnerable, and she wants to convince everyone else that that's okay too.
From talking about her parents and their mutual struggle to understand each other (she calls her father, who paid her rent and living expenses for a year so she could quit college and pursue music, her favorite drunk asshole) to reminiscing about "watching some stupid fucking bitch on stage and wishing that I was there instead," beneath the Alexander McQueen and platinum hair Lady Gaga is always completely naked on stage.
"I didn't used to be brave," she said. "But you have made me brave. Tonight I want you to free yourself. I want you to let go of all your insecurities. I want you to forget everybody who made you feel bad for being who you are."
One friend recently referred to Gaga as Madonna 2.0. Another friend charitably put it this way: "She doesn't hide her influences." It's worth nothing that Lady Gaga is only 24 years old. Madonna was
well into her second decade of fame nearly 30 before she reached her "Express Yourself" phase.
And unlike Madonna, Gaga can actually sing and play. She may be contrived, but she has also managed to take the artists that inspired her and meld them into a conglomeration that has inspired its own menagerie of imitators and lookalikes. And it works. When Lady Gaga tells you to put your monster paws up, you put your monster paws up.
But the inspiration flows both ways. While Gaga is imploring her fans to set themselves free, she's also looking toward them for guidance. Before performing new song "You & I" she talked about writing music on the road. "I look out and imagine you singing the new lyrics. I can't write music without you. I can't even imagine my life before you."
Second to her message of individuality and creativity, Gaga is also using her fame as a platform to support gay rights, especially through tour sponsor Virgin Mobile's Homeless Youth Initiative. In a prerecorded message before the show, Gaga solicited text donations for RE*Generation, saying that more than one in five homeless youths identify as GLBT.
Just before performing "Telephone," Gaga called a young girl in the crowd who had texted a pledge and invited her backstage after the show. As the girl broke down in tears, Gaga said, "People used to tell me I'd never fill an arena talking about gay rights. Fuuuuck off! When you go home tonight, remember, you helped save a kid's life whose parents threw them out because they didn't understand they were born that way."
Like Dorothy's journey, Gaga's quest for stardom and creative liberation has hit numerous roadblocks, represented on stage by the broken down taxi, the end of the subway line, a tornado, and finally, a gigantic and terrifying Fame Monster. But in the end, she still arrived at the Monster's Ball.
Personal Bias: Limited. We don't even own a Gaga album.
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The Crowd: A girl behind us had 3-foot silver spiked cones on her shoulders. We were glad we weren't sitting next to her.
Overheard in the Crowd: "OMG! We're, like, 30 feet away from her!"
Random Notebook Dump: Gaga, on her dad missing her mom, who tours with her. "What I realized is that these drunk assholes ain't nothin' without us women."