Lady Gaga, Brisbane 2012 - Live review
Who's saying what
Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Wednesday 13 June 2012
It used to be whether or not people "got" GaGa, but these days it’s perhaps whether GaGa gets her people. When The Fame was released in late 2008 it proved a powder keg, crashing into the charts and then blazing its way across mainstream consciousness throughout the following year. But the album’s great strength – its duality as both a piece of and commentary on popular culture – was of little interest to most listeners. They were too busy having a great time to stop and think about what it was all supposed to mean.
So GaGa retooled for last year’s Born This Way, making it an album dedicated to her fans. The ‘Little Monsters’ as she calls them – the liquorice allsorts of kids and queers, freaks and geeks, misfits and outcasts – who elevated her to her priestly position in the first place. Listening to that record you don’t doubt the sincerity, but standing here in the Brisbane Entertainment Centre tonight you begin to question the precision. After sitting through the umpteenth lecture of humdrum platitudes such as, “I am your hope, you are my dreams” and, “I want you to think about the most exciting freedom you’ve ever felt”, it all begins to feel a little Tony Robbins in stilettos.
Not that things kick off that way. The Entertainment Centre’s staid interior is packed tight with Little Monsters, and as such there’s plenty of pre-gig diversion: look there at the hyper-coloured wigs, the sequined hats, over there at that dude in heels and the girl with no pants on. Androgynous muscle-types, mothers, children, babies: they’re all here. I spot a gent in tights and laugh, only to notice that he himself is laughing at a girl with drink cans in her hair. It’s ridiculous, and entertaining. The buzz in the air is infectious, even if you soon feel like you’re at a party where you’re the only one not on drugs.
This rag-tag collection of punters makes for brilliant company at a concert. I’m initially concerned about the journalists’ row being a little removed from the mayhem, but such fears are put to rest when the lights go out, the curtains drop, and Lady GaGa rides out on a horse. A girl behind me totally loses her shit: “It’s a horse. It’s a frickin’ horse! Yargggghhh!” Actually, the horse turns out to be some sort of mechanical creation, its movement guided by a couple of stage hands under its belly. But as far as entrances go you couldn’t ask for anything bigger or better. GaGa says nothing but belts out (a little confusingly perhaps) an abridged version of ‘Highway Unicorn’.
The schtum shtick is kept intact for ‘Government Hooker’, GaGa dancing off to the side of the stage in a full-body costume before lolling about the desk of some space accountant type. I’m not sure what’s better: the 10-year-old in front of me gyrating and mouthing the lyrics, “Put your hands on me / John F. Kennedy” or her mother’s look of abject horror when GaGa lies back and spreads her legs bang in the bean counter’s face.
It’s not until a blazing rendition of ‘Born This Way’ that the New Yorker finally speaks, and even then it’s just for a brief moment before she and her dancers burst forth from some sort of giant vagina. Indeed, the first half of tonight’s show is simply unstoppable as the singer, her dancers and musicians clamber about their four storey castle-like set, changing costumes and marching out ‘Black Jesus + Amen Fashion’, ‘Bloody Mary’, ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Judas’, and ‘Fashion of His Love’. It's an irresistible momentum. So much so that by the time GaGa and her accomplices catapult themselves into a multi-levelled take on ‘Just Dance’, it’s hard for the crowd not to fall for the sentiment.
But that’s perhaps the show’s peak. After appearing at the front of the loop that branches out into the Entertainment Centre’s floor and bashing through an abridged take on ‘Lovegame’, Lady GaGa indulges in her first bit of audience interaction for the night: a one-on-one with a young girl who quickly becomes overwhelmed. It’s a sweet moment, but perhaps a bad sign of things to come.
As the concert moves into its second half, the pace slackens and the speechifying intensifies. At one point GaGa does her best Kathleen Turner impression, growling at the crowd: “Brisbane, for your freedom, do you give a fucccckkk?!!” Later, she tells everybody to “not be insecure if your heart is pure” before launching into a teenage story about some ruffians sticking her in a trashcan (haha!). The sentiment’s certainly there, but in amongst this and the endless declarations of “I love you. I really do. No, I really do” you begin to feel it’s being laid on a touch thick.
GaGa’s intense need to communicate with her fans is fascinating to watch, but it also makes her a frustrating, halting performer. There’s such a variety of demographics crammed into the venue tonight that the claims of understanding and the cries of endless love can’t help but fall a little flat. Here in the flesh, you don’t doubt her integrity, and GaGa has runs on the board in the fight for gay rights, for example, but her all-things-to-all-monsters approach feels too simplistic and, oddly, too impersonal for the complexities of the real world.
Thankfully, there’s still a bunch of tricks up her sleeve to carry home a rapidly tiring audience. Most impressive is ‘Americano’, its flamenco-doof trappings complemented by hanging hams, giant mincers and dancers in meat bikinis, before we get the almost inevitable break into a throbbing, pulsating take on ‘Poker Face’ – arguably the song of the night. It’s enough to have the crowd hanging in there for a worthy encore of ‘The Edge of Glory’ and ‘Marry the Night’.
The way GaGa brings the concert back from the abyss is impressive, and on that count you’d have to give her the nod. There’s appreciation too for both the musicality and stagecraft on display, not to mention the astonishing costume changes that have been taking place behind the scenes. But you leave the Entertainment Centre tonight with the sense of an artist who – despite her claims to the contrary – is still investigating what she means to pop music. This was a phenomenal concert by anyone’s measure – arguably one of the performances of the year – but until Lady GaGa gets to the heart of her craft, you can’t help but feel we haven’t seen the best she has to offer.
(Pic of Gaga at a recent show supplied: Yoshika Horita)
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