Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball concert: The Hollywood News Review
By Anthony D’Alessandro
HollywoodNews.com: Costumes show their teeth over sets in Lady Gaga’s lean and mean return to Los Angeles. Four out of five stars (****)
As stock markets tank and unemployment lines grow during recessionary times, there’s nothing more surreal, or wonderful, than ducking into Lady Gaga’s “Monster Ball” concert, a show that heralds the return of Glam-Rock. Wednesday marked the first of two shows in the City of Angels; her most recent spin here since December.
With her sleek body, cabaret vocals, Michael Jackson moves and a string of avant-garde costumes that look like they fell off the fashion runway in the Talking Heads’ movie “True Stories,” Lady Gaga easily seduces and is well worth going into debt for on your credit card. Her Highness knows times are tough, so when she thanks her audience for coming, it’s with a complete sense of sincerity.
The Lady doth pull out an endless number of metallic and table cloth-like Burkas as well as bathing suits from a lost Busby Berkleley number on acid. Even so, “Monsters Ball” is quite streamlined in its overall production design next to the pre-recession A/V excess flaunted by Madonna in her 2006 “Confession” and 2008 “Sticky & Sweet” Tours as well as Christina Aguilera’s “Back to Basics” – shows which changed up sets with each and every song, employing a number of complex props and screens. Gaga economically uses fewer sets for as many as four songs.
It is here that this Monster of Fame is quite tame: For all her controversy, Lady Gaga isn’t as shocking live as one might think. If you’re looking for a bubble gum version of G.G. Allin, who is probably the Duke of transgressive punk acts, self-humiliation and just all-out gross tricks; her Highness’ ability to drop jaws isn’t that far from her pop sisters’ — Madonna, Aguilera, Brittney Spears and Gwen Stefani—onstage indulgences for Andrew Lloyd Weber and Cirque du Soliel stage glamour. A silver Jesus statue bleeding and aflame during “Alejandro” is as dicey as it gets and is mundane in the wake of Madonna’s Catholic protests. In fact, the video interstitials during “Monster’s Ball” — which include Lady Gaga in a blood soaked Marilyn Monroe dress and her smoking her face into a skull– are more haunting than the S&M dancers parading around.
Set a guitar on fire? Throw a faux tantrum and break her spherical ball outfit during “Bad Romance”? With dollars being tight, Lady Gaga wouldn’t think of wasting such cash at each tour stop on such outrageous acts. She’d prefer to give the extra production dollars to her Re*Generation homeless youth charity, which tub-thumps during the show.
But what Lady Gaga lacks in S&M bondage on stage, she makes up for in hysterical, dictator-like egotistical proclamations, i.e. “The Monster Ball will set you free!” “All the freaks are outside and I locked the doors!” screams Lady Gaga – and the crowd hollers back in ecstasy. She is in love with herself and her quick ascent into showbiz: The audience gets to hear about how William Morris took a chance “on a little girl with a filthy mouth.” At one point, blood on her lacquered black bathing suit, Gaga pulls a dying Tinker Bell scenario, encouraging the audience to scream her back to life. All of this goes done quite fine and remains a welcomed part of the evening, just like her see-through, hipped plastic dress.
The curtain rose to find Gaga in a fixed position on a disco-set of stairs, consumed in a large-shoulder purple jacket and leopard bathing suit, dealing out the lyrics to “Dance in the Dark.” Without making a move for quite some time, Gaga roused the Staples Center crowd. With nods to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” the “Monster Ball” follows Gaga and her friends as they make their way to the fanciful title party. The setting appears to be a New York ghetto where Gaga’s friends Rolls Royce breaks down. Eventually they wind up in a jagged forest, reminiscent of a Tim Burton sketch and end their journey at a white disco-lit stage for “Bad Romance.”
Highlights include the tribal rain dance of studded leather dancers in “Telephone” as well as “So Happy I Could Die” in which Gaga’s wears a white-music box, ballet-like dress with wings and breast parts which move in tandem with the song’s melancholy rhythm.
Overall, Gaga plays her “Fame Monster” cannon straight up, without any alternative takes or remixes, i.e. “Poker Face” sounds like it’s right off the album and we unfortunately aren’t treated to the slow, piano version of the track.
It’s the quieter moments of the show, when Gaga settles upon her baby grand, where “Monsters Ball” shines. Chords literally on fire (it’s a special effect component of the piano, unfortunately she doesn’t burn a piano every night), Gaga treats us to “Speechless” which she played at the Grammys, but also to her new track “You and I” – reminiscent of an early Billy Joel soulful ballad in its tone and lyrics.
And it’s in her ability to repurpose pop art, like Andy Warhol, that makes Lady Gaga brilliant. Her songs sound similar to other artists, but they’re dressed in a whole new costume, both audio wise and visually, giving her ownership. If Warhol were alive, he certainly would want to be at the “Monsters Ball,” and in turn, ensure that Gaga is at his Factory.
The penultimate moment in the show is when Lady Gaga finally encounters the “Fame Monster.” Pink Floyd might have had an inflated pig as their mascot, but Lady Gaga has a mutated Angler Fish-Octopus. He makes an appearance during “Paparazzi” in which he attacks her Highness with his legs at the Monsters Ball. It’s so crazy, you shake your head, but at the same time, it was a helluva great road trip.
Virgin Mobile presents the Monster Ball Tour. Reviewed at the Staples Center, August 11. Opener: Semi Precious Weapons. Ticket prices: $52-$182.
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