MONTREAL -- "I'm going to give you the best show of your life tonight. You're not going to be able to walk in the morning."
An over-the-top (even by her rather lofty standards) mélange of, well, practically everything, the new Monster Ball features Gaga at her most outrageous, unhinged and (at times) sublimely ridiculous, a whirling, whooshing beast of a thing that's long in practically every conceivable way: long on style, long on attitude, even long on inspiration. Loosely based on a narrative arc (yes, there's an entire story line this time around) that recalls "The Wizard Of Oz," "West Side Story," "Metropolis" and even "Angels In America," packed with more wattage than an overheated power plant and more costume changes than a thousand Vegas reviews, it's the kind of show that leaves you with wide eyes, ringing ears, aching limbs and absolutely zero chance of making it to work in the morning.
In other words, you should probably go see it, though not entirely for the spectacle. There are also plenty of real, genuinely tender moments in Gaga's show, or at least there were on Monday night in Montreal. She spoke from the heart, she cried a bit, she cracked jokes, shoot, she even played a brand-new song ... and really, those were the bits of the show that resounded loudest.
But first things first. Much like earlier runs, this version of the Monster Ball opened with a booming, club-ready mix of "Dance in the Dark" and arty, black-and-white images of Gaga projected on a retractable screen. The music got louder and the images quicker, and then, very much to the delight of the Montreal crowd, their heroine appeared -- in impressively shoulder-padded silhouette -- bathed in purple light, making the famed "monster claw" gesture with her hands. The marathon was under way.
The screen was lifted, revealing a noirish New York streetscape, all twisting fire escapes and neon signs. In the middle of the stage sat a smoking car, broken down, as Gaga's backup dancers/ character actors would soon reveal in a few delightfully cheesy lines of dialogue, on the way to the Monster Ball (the search for the mythic party, "the greatest of all time," according to Gaga, makes up the sorta story line of the show). In the mood to help, Gaga descended a rickety fire escape, tossed off her shoulder-padded outfit to reveal a leopard-print one-piece, and lifted the hood of the old jalopy, only to reveal a keyboard, on which she played the opening notes of "Just Dance."
The song kicked in, the neon lights started blinking in syncopation (some of which even revealed cleverly concealed dirty phrases: "Hotel Hass" became, appropriately enough, "Hot Ass"), and the Montreal audience lost their minds. Gaga vamped it up to the hilt, strutting down a catwalk that jutted out into the audience, cracking a smile, shaking her hips just so. Backed by no less than a dozen dancers and a gaggle of musicians that included two guitarists, a violinist and a harpist (!), there was an added oomph to the whole thing, certainly a harbinger of things to come.
For the next hour or so, the production was in full swing. "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich" saw Gaga scaling various pieces of scaffolding (and urging the audience to "get those guns out and shoot that money ... you don't need it!"). "The Fame" had her rising from beneath the stage, playing her bass/ keytar/ Roland 808 thingy dressed like a Christmas present. "Love Game," which Gaga performed with the aid of a gilded subway car and an actual disco stick (one that doubled as a spotlight she shone on the audience) was fierce, and "Boys Boys Boys" was a hot, throbbing number, featuring her muscly male dancers cavorting in little more than spandex shorts (she dedicated it to "The Canadian gay boys").
"I've been on vacation for three weeks," she laughed as the crowd whooped. "I've been watching that TV show 'Cops,' and I've been partying in New York, and I've been cooking for my dad, and I've been drinking lots of light beer, so naturally I'm f---ing ready to party."
No kidding. After a quick costume change (she emerged looking like a cross between Missy Elliott in her "The Rain" video and Rick James), the New York scenery disappeared around her, and she went into a fierce version of "Money Honey," complete with an extended keytar solo. That was followed by a positively joyous version of "Telephone" (sadly, no Beyoncé), which ended in a cacophony of guitars and strings. And then, Gaga slowed things down just a tad.
After another break, she appeared atop her piano, a single spotlight shining down on her. She did her usual cabaret stuff--a version of "Brown Eyes" that had her crouching on her bench and holding notes for downright silly lengths of time, and "Speechless" saw her break out the old flaming piano. After a rather hilarious discussion about why she decided to start sporting fake nails ("Why should I not feel like a lady just because I'm excellent at piano?" she giggled), she tested the audience with a few notes of "You and I," the brand-new track she premiered last week at Elton John's White Tie And Tiara Ball. When the crowd whistled their approval, she made an impromptu decision:
"I'll play a little of it," she laughed. "You know I can't say no to you because I love you so much."
Of course, she ended up playing all of the song, and it was epic. Pounding away on the keys, singing for the rafters, Gaga positively killed the song, filling the Bell Centre with audible gasps from the audience and real, genuine emotion. Her band hammered on behind her, and the whole thing built to an arena-size crescendo before Gaga brought it all home, and, as the crowd cheered wildly, another anthem was born.
Of course, from there, things got a little spotty. This was, after all, a very long show (a definite four-quarters kind of affair), and let's just say the third quarter, with its wonky Central Park-as-imagined-by-Fritz Lang set, indulgent takes on "Alejandro" (complete with a replica of the Bethesda Fountain that poured blood), "Monster" (more blood, this time gushing from Gaga's chest), and "Show Me Your Teeth" (no additional blood, only an insufferably long bit where she introduced the members of her band), was a bit of a mess. If ever there were a time to slip out to the bathrooms, well, this was it.
The show reached its conclusion with an epic battle against an evil angler fish (for real) on "Paparazzi," and then the set-closing "Bad Romance," which Gaga performed in her planetoid sphere (oh, and at this point, after vanquishing the angler fish, she and her comrades officially discover the Monster Ball, just in case you were wondering). All that was left was a richly deserved curtain call, an extended bow and a snarl from Mother Monster. Even after Gaga and company had left the stage, the audience inside Bell Centre stood and cheered, whistled and clapped. And then they did all three of those things again. Only louder.
And Gaga deserved all of it. Aside from a few missteps (which can only be expected in a production of this magnitude), the new Monster Ball Tour is a raw, rousing, rollicking success, something that's partially due to the sheer spectacle of the show, but mostly due to the unyielding will, spirit and talent of Gaga herself. It may be her crowning achievement, it may not, but it's certainly, absolutely worth it. Word to the wise, however: make sure you stretch before you go. Gaga's out to make you hurt this time around. And she will.
Are you planning to see Gaga's new Monster Ball? Let us know in the comments!