Tuesday, December 15, 2009

a wallflower at the Monster Ball

Prior to seeing Lady Gaga's performance at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium a couple of hours ago, I'd been skeptical about her music and her persona. There wasn't much to distinguish (to these ears, anyway) her music from what little else I was hearing from the contemporary pop scene. And as glossy and alluring as her glamperve visual aesthetic was (and is), I felt like she was limiting herself as an artist by fixating on her celebrity as her favorite subject. Though I was unwilling to risk purchasing one of her albums, I curiously and eagerly snagged a ticket (at three times what a CD would have cost) to tonight's performance.

Having experienced the woman's work full-tilt, my main reservation about Lady Gaga hasn't changed. The distorted visions of celebrity and fractured self-portraiture is fascinating, but they lack the emotional heft of, say, Ziggy Stardust (the David Bowie influence on LG has been widely discussed). Though Ziggy was an alien, a stranger in a strange world, he resonated with fans who recognized their own alienation within him. I am utterly convinced that Lady Gaga does adore and love her fans, and that her charitable work on behalf of homeless queer youth is motivated by a strong desire to shed a light on the plight of kids she recognizes as her own people. I honestly believe that if she'd open up and show her audience in her music what she has in common with them, the result would be truly powerful and resonant. But at times her stageself's monologues about her fans seemed narcissistic, an endless commentary on her own celebrity, appreciating their love, but ultimately keeping them at a distance. It is strange to me that her fanbase (all at least a decade younger than your proprietor) who have come of age in the age of information are willing to give so much of themselves to someone who holds them at arm's length.


That said.

The Monster Ball is an irresistible spectacle, even to one for whom its message wasn't intended. One tale related from the stage spoke of a critic who'd pigeonholed the singer as a writer of dance music and nothing more. But the tale was redundant in the context of the concert, in which her substantial musical talents were displayed in abundance:

--After several electronic, dance-driven numbers, Gaga sat at a piano for the ballad "Speechless," and the film screens lifted at the climax to reveal a living, breathing band who helped her just nail it.

--A rock-driven middle section reached a pummeling climax with "The Fame," with Gaga taking the stage in a gold Monroe/Pharaoh getup and belting out a commanding and assured rock lead vocal.

--Finally, a downright operatic performance of "Paparazzi" (my favorite of her singles) closed the main set.

I remain unconvinced that Gaga has become (as at least one acquaintance has called her) "the female Bowie". Yet. But I remain positive that there's some truly great work ahead of her, and can not wait to hear her iterations of Tin Machine and/or 1.OUTSIDE. And when (not if)Lady Gaga creates something as powerful and timeless as "Heroes", your proprietor will be delighted, and utterly unsurprised.

(For the record, the centrifuge thing in the actual concert was bigger, spun in all directions, and was a very sexy piece of hardware, indeed.)

(Your proprietor thanks Andrea Wakely for finding the gold image above.)


  1. Thanks for the review. It's pretty much what I expected actually. She definitely seems to be a step above--in terms of originality and talent--whatever latest girly is being sold to the public. However, it seems that she's still trapped by some of the worst aspects of "pop girl" celebrity. It's a turn off to you and me, but we're old farts--as you mentioned we aren't really the audience. And yet she has an edginess that the others don't have, through her fashion sensibilities, her celebration of the underground and the underrepresented, and her Lower East Side street cred, that reminds of Madonna especially. She's a bit of puzzle and that's a promising sign for a pop star these days....

  2. That's what's so frustrating - she clearly relishes "the worst aspects of pop girl celebrity" and yet she seems too much an artist to really be satisfied by them for much longer.

    The Madonna comparison's pretty spot on, too - we probably have more Madonna-esque LG material to look forward to than Bowie. That said, a "Live To Tell"-style outing would be most welcome.

    And I truly think that an Eno-produced Gaga CD would be unstoppable. She needs collaborators, not button-pushers.

  3. I'm loving that you went to this! I was thinking about you last night and laughing.

  4. In the wake of the Kanye West co-tour disintegrating, she decided to put together a solo tour with emphasis on the stage show. Knowing that it'd be a theatrically-focused gig, I pretty much had to go. And by no means am I sorry I did.