US Airways Center
July 31, 2010
There's no doubt that Lady Gaga's sold-out Phoenix show was the most hotly- anticipated concert on a lackluster summer schedule that's been hard hit by the Great Recession and the Soundstrike.
Actually, tickets to The Monster Ball Tour sold out months ago (sell-outs are usually a last-minute thing in Phoenix) no doubt helped by glowing reviews from other cities and big buzz emitting from what seems like every medium of mass and interpersonal communication..
Just how gaga did the Valley go?
Here's one metric: 40,000 people "liked" a photo she posted of herself hanging in AZ on Facebook. If you use Facebook for another decade you'd have to average nearly 11 'likes' everyday to equal that. Despite what Gaga told us -- the themes of the night were gay rights, SB 1070 sucking and (y)our ability be anything the heart desires -- chances are no one reading this has such a fanbase.
Oh, by the way, where was that Arizona photo taken? Funny you should ask.
Let's call that Exhibit B. Gaga is an unstoppable force in media (she got New Times big music feature this week although, as I said, the show was sold out) but here's a better barometer: Arizona Republic music critic Larry Rodgers, a stodgy ol' rockist if there ever was one, was forced to affix his byline to a gossip piece which breathlessly reported: "Lady Gaga was spotted driving a golf cart on the grounds of the Boulders [resort in Cave Creek] with a male companion Friday afternoon. She also was seen entering one of two tour buses parked on the Boulders property. Lady Gaga could be attending a Scottsdale party after her concert."
So, you might be wondering, did LaGa live up to the hype?
From the first song, "Dance In The Dark," which was "performed" as a purple silhouette before the curtain came up, it was clear theatricality would not take a back seat to showmanship. Gaga played through hits like "Alejandro," "Telephone" and "Love Game" while slipping into and out of a dizzying array of costumes. She was, at turns, a cellophane angel, Tinkerbell, a vampire, and what appeared to be a wedding cake.
Just how over the top was it? Well, when she sat down for a quiet number, "Speechless," a tornado-shaped fireball swirled on her piano as she played. It was an interesting visual effect, sure, but also a troubling sign that everything Gaga does needs to be flashy. It was, I think, probably a bit of a diversion so the crowd wouldn't notice that her voice, when not aided by playback, has been ravaged by the nearly 1,000 shows she's played in the past three years, 100 on this tour already.*
Speaking to the crowd with profanity-laced bursts of fury, her husky Italian voice seemed hoarse. And she did a lot of speaking -- about gay rights, mostly, but also about Arizona's crazy immigration law, SB 1070, and about how the audience should feel free to be themselves. The most enlivening part of the show for me wasn't the Daisy Duke cut of nearly every outfit she slipped on, but the way she called out the idiots behind The Soundstrike, recounting calls she got from "some big cock stars" who wanted her to cancel her Arizona date:
"You really think us dumb fucking pop stars are going to collapse the state economy? I'll tell you what we have to do do about SB 1070: We have to be active. I will not cancel my show I will scream and I will yell," she said.
It was a repeat of what she'd said by Facebook earlier that evening:
"The Monsterball is by nature a protest: A youth church experience to speak out and celebrate against all forms of discrimination + prejudice. Tonight we will continue to actively protest social and political injustices in Arizona. We will sing, we will stand up, + we will be heard."
For that, you can't help but salute Gaga. Even if you're not into the fashion or the spectacle -- to me her look, sound and Fame-obsessive philosophy seem to be the grand finale of an era of Reality TV-type pop music that's quickly coming to a close -- you have to admire her utilization of the platform she's built from the humble materials of thundering bass, skeezy synth and the now played-out Autotune effect. No, Gaga can't sing like Mariah or Xtina, but she can certainly dress and rant like Madonna. That's something we, as a society, probably need more.
I'm a little ashamed to admit a poster on The Dirty could cause me to think long and hard about something, but one did last week: "Nik, I have a very important question for you, I'm 1 year older than Lady GaGa and I was wondering if I'm going to have to deal with her for the rest of my life, is she the next Madonna?" a guy asked.
Nik Ritchie says "YES" and I sure hope he's right. It'll be interesting to see what Gaga can do next. Madonna, you may remember, took a decade off touring following her Sex book and the over-the-top Girlie Show tour. Gaga's next project has to be her Bedtime Stories -- she can play piano and writes some fantastic songs, so she's not tied to the sound she's used so far -- which should be very, very interesting.
*About those 100 shows... I hate to bring this up, but Phoenix really got screwed on Gaga's tour schedule. Rather than get the first date of the joint Kanye/Gaga "Fame Kills Tour" (unfortunately canceled days after Kanye's outburst about Tayor Swift which, by the way, he was totally right about, but which made him commercially nonviable for the near future) Phoenix got bumped back to the second leg. So, yeah, Monster Ball has already played around the country once, draining some of the excitement. From Phoenix it's all downhill: Next up are backwater towns (Kansas City, Tacoma, Hartford, Pittsburgh) and repeats (LA, Vegas, Chicago). Instead of seeing two truly interesting and important openers (Kid Cudi and Jason Derülo) we got Semi Precious Weapons. Totally lame.
Personal Bias: Politically sympathetic.
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The Crowd: Lots of gay men and the women who love them. Oddly, I did not see a single child -- appropriate but rare in this day and age -- so I guess last weekend's Bieber show probably exhausted a lot of allowances.
Overheard in the crowd: I was too busy looking to listen. Ladies, if you're over 40 it's probably not appropriate to get dressed up as Lady Gaga and go to the show. All in good fun, I know, but, seriously, it's weird.
Random Notebook Dump: "Put your paws up = weird but funny. Show your teeth not nearly good enough for time it gets in show... just move on. Gyroscope for Bad Romance is pretty cool."
Setlist: Is here.