Barry Brecheisen / WireImage
Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014 | 1:32 p.m.
Of all the lavish lighting, costumes and multimillion-dollar stage effects, including what seemed to be an outcropping of psychedelic mushrooms on the stage extending into the audience and a piano encased in a fake ice formation, I was impressed most by the torn tights.
This is in reference to Lady Gaga’s performance at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday night. It was the second show by Gaga (whose stage name has always presented a weird second-reference challenge) in the past two weekends. As the stage blew up in thundering sound, blazing neon colors and dancers spinning in high vibration, the pop superstar ripped through her fishnets.
This happened, or seemed to, early in the set during “Poker Face,” and as with all the other percolating activity onstage, seemed to be at once expected and unscripted. This isn’t to focus on Gaga’s more salacious qualities, though the pop artist is an unvaryingly sultry and stylish performer. But wearing out her attire is another manner in which Gaga hearkens to classic stage performance. Busting through stage gear is a long rock tradition. James Brown was known to tear through his pants performing the splits (he ripped the knee and the seat of his trousers on alternate occasions). Mick Jagger popped a button off his pants at a 1969 Madison Square Garden show, a classic clip from the “Gimme Shelter” documentary.
For all the flash and sizzle, it is safe to say Gaga is a serious artist and, five years after she made her Vegas stage debut at Pearl Theater at the Palms, one of the most inventive, generous and imaginative performers to ever play the Strip. The performances on her “ArtRave” tour have been reviewed — fairly and accurately so — as not meeting Gaga’s high standards of theatricality. True. The set list was absent some real crowd pleasers. “Edge of Glory” and “You & I” were edited out totally. “Telephone” was tagged at the end of a medley powered by “Poker Face.” Gaga’s most recent album, “Artpop,” was performed considerably.
But if you judge an artist on his or her entire career arc, Gaga remains one of the more generous and fascinating performers of her era. In “Paparazzi,” she chose a tentacle, polka-dot number, looking like a vision you’d experience if you sampled the mushrooms blooming from the front of the stage. She is unafraid to slide into a clamshell-styled bikini in “Venus,” donning a costume and a wig that brought to mind Raquel Welch in the 1966 fantasy film, “One Million Years B.C.”
Gaga dances in a tireless sort of way, and in those numbers, it is apparent she’s not singing entirely in her own voice. But she does dial it down in her live shows, singing fully a cappella (beautifully so), and actually playing the piano. She owns the often-elusive quality of connecting with her fans, too. At one point she stood at the stage, her arm outstretched, and separated Us from Them. “We have sent all the weird people outside and locked the (expletive) door!” Those ensconced in the “normal” zone went nuts. Later, she pontificated of any artist’s unique qualities: “If you are performing art on your own, you are an artist!” Though it bears reminding that a Gaga concert is heavily reliant upon people occupying seats, that message, too, was applauded.
Warmly, Gaga also plucked a note from a fan near the front of the stage, reading the entire page-long message — written by hand — of a young woman whose beaming face was captured on the big screen. Gaga helped this young woman through some tough times, and in an audience of many thousands of riled-up fans, that moment was warm and real.
Watching this full-scale performance play out, I was reminded of something Teller once said about a show he watched in Las Vegas. That show happened to be “Jubilee,” which in its infancy was as aggressive and dynamic as Gaga today. “You feel that it is a generous show, you know?” Teller said in an interview last year. “Big and generous, absolutely unpretentious, and it comes out of real tradition.”
Gaga has that sort of Vegas attitude, and absolutely she would be a terrific resident headline draw on the Strip, maybe one day in that superstar lineup at the Colosseum. This was not her greatest performance, but Gaga put herself out there in a way that was artistically, physically and even emotionally generous. She’ll worry about wardrobe repairs some other time.