SAN DIEGO — The delightfully ancient San Diego Sports Arena has, over the years, played host to the likes of Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley, prize fights, NBA All-Star Games and the massive Kobey’s Swap Meet, where one can haggle over the price of airbrushed T-shirts or receive free legal advice. But it’s a pretty safe bet that the arena has never seen a show the likes of the one [artist id=”3061469″]Lady Gaga[/artist] put on Saturday night.
And though the show was quite a spectacle — lights! smoke! costume changes! — it was Gaga’s graciousness that made the crowd forgive the fact that at three different times during her set, she mistakenly addressed the crowd as “San Jose,” a city some 500 miles to the north.
The first instance — during a break in “Just Dance” — was greeted with puzzled, “What did she just say?” murmurs from the audience. The second, during “Love Game” (“Scream, San Jose!”), elicited a smattering of laughter. And the third, during some between-song banter (“Now, San Jose …”), got the crowd a bit agitated. It was a thoroughly surreal moment, though Gaga recovered beautifully, working the correct name of the city into the chorus of her song “Alejandro,” then, at song’s end, with a self-effacing (and crowd-pleasing) mea culpa.
“I am so lucky that San Diego rhymes with ’Fernando’ and ’Alejandro,’ ” MTV News’ Woman of the Year sheepishly laughed.
Later in the set, she apologized again for the mistake, explaining that just as she was about to go onstage, she was told that the show was taking place in San Jose. The crowd cheered wildly, and all was forgiven. Of course, it helped matters that, at this point, Gaga had spent the better part of an hour positively pouring herself into every note, dance step and barely there costume. Showmanship goes a long way, after all.
Make no mistake about it, Gaga’s Monster Ball is a whirling, booming feast for the eyes and the ears. And on Saturday night, she was in full command of the entire thing, part ringmaster, part priestess, part S&M mistress.
Opening with the clubby strains of “Dance in the Dark” (from her recent The Fame Monster album), Gaga strode onstage in a diamond-crusted bodysuit lined with flashing lights, declared herself “a free bi—,” then broke into a hip-displacing routine, backed by a trio of sinewy dancers who were dressed in their electro-ninja-mummy finest. As the song ended, she disappeared backstage, only to re-appear a few moments later for “Just Dance,” which opened with her playing a keytar inside a glass case, in what appeared to be a subtle nod to the sculptures of British artist Damien Hirst.
The visuals didn’t stop there, either. “LoveGame” saw her don an ensemble that looked like a cross between Marie Antoinette and H.R. Geiger. She performed “Speechless” behind a piano, wearing a massively ruffled collar which made her look like an overwrought mannequin (or ostritch). And on “The Fame,” she strutted across the stage while wearing a golden Anubis helmet.
There were, of course, big set pieces (movable trees, mountable scaffolding), bright lights, booming soundscapes (Gaga’s costume quick changes were aided with a pounding DJ mix) and edgy video clips (slo-mo glimpses of Gaga being slapped and vomited on, artful closeups of snarling dogs and brooding ravens). There were moments of sheer performance art, too, like when she skewered the concept of fame worship by lying prone on the floor and shouting, “Scream for me. Do you want me to die?”
She preached unity and gay rights, told a dirty joke or two, feigned her own death during the set-closing “Paparazzi,” and then signified her own rebirth with the encore — a two song run of “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” and her current smash “Bad Romance” — which had her descend from the heavens in a rotating gyroscope, as white lights and rolling fog filled the stage.
It was an ambitious, conceptual show, and, at nearly two full hours, it was a decidedly workmanlike effort, too. Gaga gave everything she had, and the crowd — gay and straight, young and old, all dressed in their Gaga-est getups (bubbles, feathers, lightning-bolt eye makeup and more than a few towering crowns) — matched her effort and intensity, screaming loudly, clapping thunderously, and singing along obediently.
Gaga clearly fed off the energy, and was touched by it too. There might have been a few missteps, but she powered through and turned the San Diego Sports Arena into a raucous, delightfully raw discotheque. Towards the end of her set, after wrapping up a banging take on “Poker Face,” she laughed and said, “I had the best time tonight, San Diego!”
To hear the crackle of emotion in her voice, you believe she meant it — especially the part about San Diego.