Lady Gaga; The John Paul Jones Arena; Wednesday, September 8

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 During her first song Wednesday night at the John Paul Jones Arena, “Dance in the Dark,” Lady Gaga was backlit by a purple beam, her huge silhouette cast against a thin screen before the stage. With each change of pose, the audience erupted in an earsplitting euphoria. Soon, Gaga disappeared. A friend chimed in. “Where’s Gaga? Now we’ll never make it to the Monster Ball.”

“Yes you will. I’ll take you.” Thus spake Gaga, and off we went into her Monster Ball tour, a bizarre and fascinating mishmash that touched on bizarre costumes, Joni Mitchell-style ballads, LGBT advocacy, something called “the glitter way,” a video of a woman puking a purple liquid on Gaga, and, of course, the hits.
 
Legions of fans came dressed in their own take on Gaga’s over-the-top style. Some women came wrapped in caution tape, and some men came in drag. One fan went so far as to sew dozens of Hello Kitty dolls to nightgown dress, in an apparent effort to mimic the 24-year-old pop phenom. Gaga’s B-movie gore meets haute couture aesthetic is a strange brew, often more weird than sexy—unlike Madonna, whose weirdness was always sexy. But it’s working: Gaga is on schedule to gross $200 million with the tour, which started in November 2009 and will run through April 2011, her Twitter feed is the most followed in the world, and she’s sold 15 million albums.
 
The story behind what Gaga called the first "electro pop opera" begins when a car carrying Gaga’s “friends” breaks down in a decadent cityscape that recalled New York. Gaga summons a keyboard from under the hood, and off again into the subway, from which she emerges in see-through nun’s habits, with exes taped over her nipples (“Love Games”). Is that an angel Gaga sees? No! It’s a tornado, and it whisks she and her friends to an enchanted forest in "the deepest and darkest part of Central Park" where she sings “Alejandro,” defeats a giant squid monster with a machine gun brassiere, and sings “Monster” to celebrate. And finally to the Monster Ball, where she sings “Bad Romance” in a setting that resembles outer space. “The best thing about the Monster Ball,” Gaga said earlier in the night, “is that I created it so that my fans would have a place to go.” 
 
If the cult that surrounds Lady Gaga seems to outstrip the quality of her music, the concert helped to explain why. Central to her act was an acute understanding of the questions that unsettle people—or fans, or friends—of a certain age: Is there a place for me in this world? More to the point, what’s my gender? Whatever you don’t like about yourself, Gaga had the salve. “God made you that way,” she said. “Celebrate your gay pride.”
 
For all of its glitz, Gaga’s show too reveled in the flaws of its performers, especially during a piano break when a nearly naked Gaga sang an imperfect, but moving version of “Speechless” on a flaming piano, dedicated "to all the drunk assholes in my life." 
 
But as far as Gaga was concerned, it wasn’t about her. “I don’t want you to leave tonight loving me more,” she said. “I want you to leave loving yourself more.”
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