The performance was electrifying from the first note.
A opalescent backdrop for “Lady Gaga’s Art Rave: The ARTPOP Ball Tour” revealed a drummer in a cutout in the center of an enormous glittering white sandcastle-like structure extended across the stage, flanked on the left by a crystalline DJ booth with two computers and on the right by a pair of crystal keyboard stations, one rear-facing arc piano for a background keyboardist and one front-facing for the star.
The guitarist and bass began the riff to the title track from Gaga’s latest album, “ARTPOP,” as a dozen dancers with what appeared to be beach balls on their backs filled the stage, whipping the crowd into a cheering frenzy as stylized images of Lady Gaga filled two enormous screens on the sides of the stage.
Lady Gaga emerged on the shoulders of two muscular male dancers in a sparkling skintight one-piece top with angel wings and a huge disco ball in the center of her chest singing “My ARTPOP Could Mean Anything.”
The audience response was deafening at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys.
“Lake Tahoe,” she screamed, “get ready because we’re gonna fuck you up!”
“Mother Monster” stripped her angel wings and went into a raunchy bump-and-grind of ARTPOP’s third single “G.U.Y.”
Like magic, dancers appeared in red-and-white sequined pants after a costume change so fast that I had not even noticed that anyone left the stage.
At least 16 dancers, five musicians and Lady Gaga were onstage during “G.U.Y.,” with the crowd cheering loudly for every flashy dance move before the stage cleared to just the bass player and guitarist for a song-ending solo.
The dance troupe in an instant re-emerged in tights with strategically placed openings that exposed random parts of back, belly and thighs, with strange hats symbolizing the planets on the heads of the key dancers, followed by a grand entrance by Lady Gaga dressed as Botticelli’s Venus in a sparkling bikini with stylized seashells on top.
She broke into a rousing rendition of the second single from ARTPOP, “Venus”, pausing for a moment midsong to lay on the stage and kiss a fan who presented her roses. “What can I say, I couldn’t resist,” she said. “Aphrodite is the goddess of love, after all.”
She picked up a sparkling box guitar in the shape of the original Gibson Flying V, and stood by the lead guitarist and played with him a while before ducking off stage for the next costume change.
Lady Gaga came back in a fabulous long-sleeved white sequin dress with a high cut in the front and a train in the back. She took a moment to address the audience.
“Tonight we are here to celebrate the most awesome fan base on the face of the planet. For those of you who know ARTPOP, welcome to the ultimate experience. For those of you who haven’t seen it, grab a glow stick and dance!”
The band broke into “Just Dance” and the full 16-person troupe wore peaked hats and black PVC. The routine was intricately choreographed, the light show intense. Lady Gaga grabbed an over-the-shoulder mini-keyboard with the with the head and tail of a seahorse on either end and played a solo as the dancers moved with amazing physical grace.
Then it was what longtime fans had been waiting for: a medley of Lady Gaga’s most famous songs.
“This is the song that made me a star” she said, introducing “Poker Face.”
“Telephone” began with an admonition by Mother Monster to “Put your phones away and get your hands in the air and dance.” All too appropriately, since almost half the crowd was watching through cell phone screens.
So we all “Left our head and our hearts on the dance floor” and abandoned ourselves to the sheer ecstasy of a whole crowd dancing in unison. With so many wild costumes in the crowd each doing their own dance, the audience was better entertainment than the show.
In my section, I saw blue, green, gold, white, purple, pink, and light-up hairstyles, paired with a kaleidoscopic mix of sequin dresses with halter-tops, men in leather harnesses with wildly colored silk shirts, and even a guy with Google Glass and a lit-up bow tie. Though there were many locals in attendance, some of the tour followers had come from as far away as New York, Toronto and Florida.
Unusual for a contemporary pop artist, the crowd was a broad mix of ages, including not just the 20-something set who buy most of the records, but also a strong contingent of people old enough to be their parents or grandparents with a surprisingly large fraction of the most wildly dressed fans being people in their 50s.
The dancers cleared the stage, leaving the bass player and two guitarists to hold the stage through the next costume change as security cleared the aisles, sending the colorful fans back to their seats.
The dancers returned to the stage in psychedelic one-piece swimsuits with beach balls on their backs and Lady Gaga made yet another grand entrance, this time in a blue PVC one-piece swimsuit with a set of inflatable tentacle-like tails in blue with white spots which she wore through her performance of “Do What U Want,” then ripped off to bare leg for the next song.
Then Lady Gaga was alone at the crystal keyboard on the side of the stage, an image on the screens showing a hugely magnified tight shot of her emotional face as she applied her impressive vocal range to the song “Dope,” with its intense themes of “I’m sorry and I love you” and with just a keyboard to accompany her. The words of the song speak of “The mountain of his soul” and there she paused to note the local environment.
“I wish my soul was as big as the mountains around here,” she said to roaring approval from the Sierra Nevada fans.
She took a moment to plug her nonprofit, the Born This Way Foundation, which helps homeless gay and transgender children who have been kicked out by their parents.
“My mother told me that we’re all born to be whatever we are, and now I’m proud to be running this foundation spreading a message of love, justice, and mercy to the world,” she said. “Because if one person is sick or sad, then we are all sick or sad.” You can give to the Born This Way foundation at http://www.bornthiswayfoundation.org/
With that, the dancers re-entered the stage and Lady Gaga broke into “Born This Way.” Two dancers in full black leather outfits came out with mini-cannons that shoot brightly colored flashing LED balls into the front section of the audience, while the rest of the dancers in their black leather and PVC outfits and danced, boys with boys, girls with girls. The version of “Born This Way” on this tour is nothing like the record. It’s been slowed down and stripped for a more dramatic effect that plays the emotion in this context.
We all sang “I’m beautiful in my way, ‘cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”
For just a moment, we all believed in the seductive illusion that we are all born to be superstars.
Lady Gaga kept singing as she left the stage for a costume change while the audience batted around the glowing balls.
She re-emerged with green hair, a black halter top and short black leather shorts borne on a chaise lounge by four dancers to the opening of my favorite of her songs “Edge of Glory,” which, alas, she only teased before she went into a full version of “Alejandro,” which she performed with all-girl dancers in shiny black straps and leotards.
“You’re doing pretty good, Tahoe,” she said. “We thought we might have to tone it down for you, but the purpose of the ARTPOP Ball is to bring the underground music scene above ground. Are you ready for the good stuff?” The crowd cheered.
Dancers wheeled a screen onto the stage and Lady Gaga proceeded to turn around in front of the screen, and, back to the audience, remove her halter top on stage and do the costume change. When the top of her next outfit was on, she turned around and proceeded to let two of the dancers completely transform her with a multicolor dreadlocked wig, a neon green skirt with orange highlights, hightop sneakers and a glittery rave-style pacifier in her mouth. The remaining dancers wore see-through PVC shirts, neon-green and neon-orange colored to match Lady Gaga’s costume as she broke into her biggest hit, “Bad Romance”, which at 597 million YouTube hits is the third most viewed music video of all time. The crowd sang along to the soaring hook of the song, so loudly that I imagined myself at home miles away being able to hear it. I threw my hands up and swayed and sang along at the top of my lungs.
“You were fabulous, Lake Tahoe; I hope you all go out and get some freaky sex tonight, and just remember: I live for the applause.”
The crowd roared and the band broke into her latest hit, the first single from ARTPOP, “Applause”.
The crowd cheered a solid five minutes until Lady Gaga emerged for an encore.
“Thank you for being my home for the day, Tahoe,” she said. “I believe that art is inevitably a failure because it can never match the true beauty of nature, but it can try, and that’s what the ARTPOP ball is all about. Every night we mix fantasy and reality and every night it’s amazing.”
With that, she did a wonderful version of “Gypsy,” with its somber themes of the touring life and all of the places she goes.
“I don’t want to be alone forever, but I love the gypsy life” the song says before it lists the many places Lady Gaga has been. This time that list included Lake Tahoe.
After the show, I joined the tightly packed mass of humanity exiting the venue and overheard some people’s reactions to the show. Lifelong Tahoe resident Katie said, “That concert was amazing, it was totally epic.”
Justina from Sunnyvale said, “That was just fantastic. I have been following Lady Gaga for five years and that was the best performance yet.”
It was a beautiful night with temperatures in the low 70s and the promise of one of our famously spectacular Lake Tahoe sunsets before the main act took the stage. Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys was full of the colorful fans who follow Lady Gaga across the country in their wild, multicolor hairdos and their sequined outfits.
The opening act, Japanese-American metal band Baby Metal, took the stage promptly at 7 p.m. With graphics that promised to “make the world safe for kwaii (Japanese for cuteness) and metal,” the backup guys took the stage in white robes and pale makeup reminiscent of Noh theater characters fronted by three Japanese girls in red chiffon skirts and black tops with silvered fronts.
Their musical mix was unusual: a heavy, crunching metal with a double bass drum that shook like an earthquake while the girls did a high-energy and impressively acrobatic dance show with many jumps and cute poses as they sang cutely in Japanese for a half-hour as the early crowd slowly filtered into the venue. Some of the middle aged people in the crowd looked puzzled by the unusual choice of opening act, but the hardcore tour followers seemed to wear knowing them like a badge of honor, singing along to the lyrics in Japanese.
A couple behind me was jazzed for the performance.
“We actually came to see Baby Metal” said Jennifer, from Toronto. “We saw Lady Gaga in San Jose and it was great,” her husband said, “but we were so impressed with the opening act that we just had to see Baby Metal again. (Tahoe) is a much more intimate venue than the big stadium shows that Lady Gaga usually plays, and for the same price you can be a lot closer to the action.”
After a fast and efficient set change by the expert stage crew, the second opening act, Lady Starlight, took the stage at 8 p.m. wearing a simple floral dress. She played such a stripped down techno set pondered how she managed to get a slot on such a major tour. I used the time to introduce myself to fellow denizen of the press box, Kim Wyatt of Lake Tahoe News, who told me that “What I really like about Lady Gaga is that she is creating a new type of family with her tour following.”
She performed with attitude and enthusiasm, but the music she mixed was extremely bland and without the wind ups and transitions that make good electronic music Work. I know a dozen local DJs who could have whipped the crowd much better than she did. I sat back and admired the expensive three-tiered lighting rig and enjoyed a spectacular sunset, quietly thinking about the hint of set I could see behind the shiny opalescent backdrop, and waited in a state of shaky excitement for the main event to start.
Lady Starlight ended her set at 8:30 p.m. with “Are you all ready for Lady Gaga? Me too. I love you, Lake Tahoe, it’s such a beautiful place that I never want to leave. Can I move in with all of you?”
The computer controlled lights swung around to light the crowd as the stragglers filled in the few remaining seats in the nearly sold-out venue and most of the crowd stood and danced in the pink light to background music that went to the tour graphics as they waited for the set change that would herald the arrival of Mother Monster herself. Fans talked and took a few last pictures with the colorful tour followers before the light was too poor for cell phone photography.
Lady Gaga is such a fixture in our culture that it’s hard not to understate her importance.
Though most will note her six Grammy Awards and her legion of 10 million fans and 40 million twitter followers, Mother Monster’s impact goes way beyond that: from being the only artist with more than 10 music videos with over 100 million YouTube views to being the label on the CD-ROM that Bradley Manning smuggled his secrets on, to being one of the strongest voices for gay rights and equality in our culture with her Born This Way foundation Lady Gaga has been an inescapable influence on our culture over the last half-decade.
Live music is a magical experience, and in many ways seeing Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP Ball was a prime example of artistic performance at its best.
Lady Gaga said at the end of the show, “I believe that art is inevitably a failure because it can never match the true beauty of nature, but it can try, and that’s what the ARTPOP Ball is all about.” I would tend to disagree in this case. Even in the beautiful setting outdoors in Lake Tahoe, her show was so magical that not one set of eyes in the packed crowd was on anything but the incredible show going on the stage.