This review was originally published in Web Edition 095 of Twin Cities Gay Scene magazine on August 22, 2017.
"Cold beer and hot popcorn. Screaming fans, including many of a certain age. The singer dons a cowboy hat and the band is all twang, all country stomp. No, this is not the Anoka County Fair. This is a Lady Gaga concert in 2017.
…but I love it. Having seen Gaga's previous shows at the X (2010's "Monster Ball Tour" and 2014's "artRAVE: the ARTPOP ball"), I had major preconceived notions on the formula of a Gaga show. Gaga deconstructed those notions just about every step of the way. Lady Starlight was not on stage DJ-ing before the show. Her friends' scrappy glam-rock band wasn't the opening act.
Lady Gaga did not preach at us all night. She instead offered sage advice for our troubled world without judging her newfound adult contemporary audience; a majority of the seats around me in the Lower Level were occupied by middle aged married couples. Call it the Super Bowl effect, seeing as tour tickets went on sale immediately following Gaga's 2017 half time performance.
Other than that, crowd watching proved much less interesting this time around. Lady Gaga's previous tour crowds made me feel like Halloween had come early. Perhaps Lady Gaga inspired them with her more stripped down "Joanne" era fashions. Besides a few drag queens, not many people dressed up in those outrageous costumes Ms. Gaga was once synonymous with. I saw plenty of tall gay men wearing crop tops, Daisy Duke shorts, and nude-toned country boots, though.
Unlike most tours, there were no bad seats in the house. Everyone had a chance to feel close to Gaga, thanks to her massive and groundbreaking stage. It consisted of a large end stage and three separate platforms across the General Admission floor of the arena. All four areas were connected by massive runways which descended from the ceiling in perfect time to the music. Crazy.
Musically, the set list flowed even smoother than Xcel's countless beer taps. Juggling the "yee haw" stomp-clamp fire of the "Joanne" album and the late-00s electro pop of "The Fame" was a major challenge, but the stylistic shifts throughout the night never felt abrupt. Something that facilitated this immaculate flow was that Gaga truly narrated the show, with wise banter in between songs putting us in the right mood for the next.
Even her emotional speeches about her Minnesotan friend Emma were handled with more grace than her previous stops here. Emma, a Twin Cities super fan who is paralyzed, has been mentioned at Gaga's local shows since they met years ago. This time Gaga dedicated an extended "The Edge of Glory" performance to Emma. Gaga stopped her piano rendition of "Glory" several times to give us updates about our hometown hero; how she recently took 30 steps in a walker; how she listens to Gaga's champagne problems but offers great advice without judgment. Emma later appeared on stage before the "Million Reasons" encore and was given the microphone. She encouraged the 18,000 seat audience to perform a "peace be with you"-type greeting to the strangers around them.
Even when the show felt like it was crushing your heart into a "Million" pieces, it found a way to bring it back to an uptempo, party atmosphere. Gaga went from the "The Edge of Glory" piano ballad right into her uptempo #1 hit "Born This Way." Who does that? Lady Gaga fully pulling off a song-to-song tonal shift like that is a case study in her artistic brilliance. Things only got more upbeat from there, with massive renditions of hits "Paparazzi," "Bad Romance," and her latest single, "The Cure."
Flip Phone's Chad Kampe described the show as, "Raw. Stripped. Bare. Vulnerable." I could not agree more. That innovative stage was not at all a distraction. It did nothing but bring Gaga closer to everyone in the arena. The most vulnerable part of the show was how vocally concerned Gaga was with reaching the audience. The constantly moving stage was a physical catalyst for the performer to reach the audience (sometimes literally).
You could feel how much Lady Gaga cared about connecting hearts and minds. "Love" was the focus and her mission all night. It was beyond refreshing in these dark socio-political times."
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