Sunday, June 24, 2012
Born This Way Ball - Live In Sydney - Review
It's strange the difference a year can make. When the Monster Ball rolled into town, I was a raised paw (and a smidgen of self-respect) away from being a little monster. The Fame and Fame Monster lifted the bar for modern dance-pop albums and I loved her theatrical stage presence. But the Born This Way era lost me. The album was not very good and the increasingly awful videos demonstrated that she is, essentially, a one trick pony with an increasingly tired message. And yet, I was still excited to see her on Wednesday night. The 26-year-old (stop laughing) is a brilliant live performer and already has a stronger back catalogue than most of your dusty faves. It's a shame then that the Born This Way ball is the concert equivalent of a drag show crossed with a self-help seminar.
Hordes of fans made the pilgrimage to Allphones Arena for Lady Gaga's first of four sold-out Sydney dates in full costume. Pretty impressive given that the stadium is almost an hour by train from the city. It's a long way to go wearing coke-can rollers, hair-bows and pointy shoulder pads! Their dedication can't be faulted and I was genuinely moved when an awkward teenager standing next to me burst into tears at the mere sight of his icon. I know what it's like to be that wrapped up in an artist and I hope he enjoyed every second of show. Lady Gaga really is the second coming for teenage gays and ugly people and she deserves a lot of credit for preaching a positive message of self-acceptance. But it's time to change the record because this shit is starting to get old.
In all fairness, the show began in spectacular fashion. Lady Gaga emerged from what looked Castle Grayskull, chained to the back of a horse. She was then marched around the circular runway by her captors, while belting out "Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)" from underneath a mask. It was dark, gothic and dangerous. This is the kind of visual mayhem Gaga is capable of when she's not trying to reinvent the wheel. Unfortunately, it was largely downhill from there. The heinous crime against music otherwise known as "Government Hooker" came next and the stupid talking head from her "Born This Way" video made an appearance to announce a ridiculous narrative that I couldn't follow. Speaking of that crappy song, she finally escaped the confines of her bulky costume to perform it - complete with one of the evening's few well-choreographed dance routines.
Next up was the painfully uncontroversial Black Jesus segment. Mother Monster took the chance to launch into the first of many rants about loving yourself and expressing your individuality. The diva begged the audience not to give a fuck. She should practice what she preaches and stop obsessing over Madonna. But I digress. "Bloody Mary" was a complete non-event and "Bad Romance" wasn't given the epic treatment it deserves. That majestic anthem will stand the test of time unlike 90% of Born This Way and deserved more than a half-arsed dance in the castle courtyard. It was at about this time that the staging really began to annoy me. Lady Gaga is one of the few pop stars that can simultaneously sing and dance but the poor bitch had about two metres of stage to play with. I'm sure the castle cost a fortune but it looked cheap and tacky. This is definitely a case where less would have been more.
"Judas" already sounds dated but the Born This Way ball momentarily came alive when Gaga performed "Just Dance" and "LoveGame". Those hits brought the non-monsters in the audience to their feet and she was genuinely engaging when she talked about how far she had come since the release of the former. It's easy to forget that "Just Dance" was a number one hit in Australia almost a year before it exploded overseas, so I guess we can lay claim to hatching the superstar. Yay? I got a particular kick out of hearing "Telephone" but it's really not the same without Beyoncé there to add some class and sex appeal. It did, however, spark my favourite part of the show when Lady Gaga joked around with fans, making references to '90s bands and cult classic Clueless. This is the woman I want to see more of - not the well-intentioned but frankly annoying self-love advocate that polluted the rest of the show.
For such an expensive production, I think most of her outfits looked like bad Mardi Gras costumes. What's worse - they were just recycled ensembles from videos or the red carpet. Lady Gaga is supposed to be an innovator, so why has her image not evolved for 3 years? One exception was the human motorcycle look she rocked for "Heavy Metal Lover". That was hot and I loved the soft-porn interlude where a dancer pretended to eat her out. Next came "Bad Kids" - one of the best jams from Born This Way - and I started warming up to concert. But alas the closet Loli Lux fan decided to give us a lecture on homosexuality, including the incredibly offensive pearl of wisdom "you don't have to be a cunt to be gay". Excuse me? What kind of stereotypical shit is that? More importantly - who nominated this bitch to be a spokeswoman for the gay community? Is she bi, transgender or a lesbian? Has she had to go through the torture of coming out? No wonder little monsters have a higher suicide rate than unemployed Korean businessmen. She doesn't have a fucking clue what she's talking about.
Speaking of Lady Gaga's growing number of dead fans, the next cringe-worthy moment was a stripped-back ballad version of "Hair" dedicated to the recently departed. I love "Hair". It should have been the album's lead single. It's a brilliant pop song but it's not a fitting tribute - at least lyrically - and I felt genuinely uncomfortable when the bossy singer demanded everyone join her in a prayer. She even got shitty when people refused to take part. Gaga has built her career on preaching acceptance but I guess it doesn't extend to the non-religious. The "Hair" debacle was followed by "You And I". I don't particularly like the track but she sounded great and looked amazing playing the keyboard with one leg perched over a dancer's head. She is a scarily talented performer and could be even better if only she would tone down the increasingly boring performance art aspect of her shsow. She doesn't have to be over the top all the time.
"Electric Chapel" is a complete snooze on record and was just as boring live but sounds like a masterpiece in comparison to "Americano". That pretentious mess - performed in the cheapest plastic imitation of her iconic meat dress - was abysmal. The staging was a complete joke too with female dancers being mutilated in giant meat grinders. I'm sure Lady Gaga thinks she's making an important political statement but it just came across as another lame grab for attention. "Poker Face" still sounds great but isn't it time to start playing with the arrangement? It was just the same old thing with the same dance routine as the video. I was over the Born This Way ball by that stage and did something I haven't done in years - I pushed a bunch of monsters aside and left before the end of the show. The prospect of getting home early was more appealing than seeing the end of the concert. Which speaks volumes.