by Sara N.
Be who you want to be. Love who you want to love. And, apparently, wear what you want to wear.
Lady Gaga, pop icon and goddess of the absurd, energetically preached those messages again and again Saturday to a house packed with fans, many of whom flooded Salt Lake City's EnergySolutions Arena dressed with the same bizarro glee of their idol.
More about the audience later; first, the concert. In a show that had almost as many set changes as costumes changes, Gaga effortlessly flowed between the roles of entertainer, life coach, provocateur, scold, musician and advocate. Concertgoers surged to their feet the instant Gaga took the stage, and they stayed there for two hours, singing along, putting their paws up, as she frequently entreated them to do, and filling the arena with ear-splitting cheers at each song and spoken portion of the show.
Often breathing heavily into her microphone at the end of a number, Gaga announced that she never, ever lip syncs when she performs, and this commitment to giving her fans the best possible show is what made her concert so entertaining. She belted out hit after hit -- "Love Game," "Bad Romance," "Poker Face," "Paparazzi" -- showing off impressive pipes and strong dance moves. Her outfits were as out-there as you would hope: sheer dresses with off-kilter silhouettes, bizarre hats and masks, impossible shoes. She sported a monster hand for part of the show, and in the last half, she performed covered in stage blood. (I'm sure there was a good reason for this; the show did follow a "plot" about Gaga trying to travel to the Monster's Ball and defeating the fame monster, which apparently takes the shape of a giant, menacing deep-sea fish. But really, who cares about such a loosely constructed storyline when the music itself is so much fun?)
The highlight of the night came when Gaga, a classically trained pianist, accompanied herself as she sang a stripped-down version of her new hit, "Born This Way." This being a Lady Gaga concert, though, even this slower moment didn't happen without spectacle; flames erupted from the top of the baby grand piano and soon spiraled into a huge column mere feet away from where she sang. This isn't to say that her more elaborate numbers didn't also dazzle, particularly those that used the talents of her back-up dancers. It was all flash and spectacle in the most entertaining way.
Gaga interspersed her musical numbers with short lectures, offering a story about overcoming bullying as a girl, addressing her charity work with GLBT organizations, urging her fans to follow their dreams as she did, advocating for tolerance, love and acceptance of everyone. Sure, the themes of her comments weren't surprising, nor were they likely to change many minds, since most concertgoers probably already embrace these ideals. But they are nevertheless messages that need to be disseminated, internalized and repeated, particularly by someone as sincere and devoted to the causes as Lady Gaga.
People have dismissed Lady Gaga as Madonna for the 21st century, but this comparison sells her short. Consider her strong voice, her impressive piano skills, her energetic dancing, her embrace of out-there ensembles that push our notions of fashion, and her overall message. They all combine to create a fascinating performer who doesn't just shock for shock's sake. She wants us to question celebrity, sexuality, beauty, fame. And she made it quite clear that, at only 24, she's looking forward to many more years of entertaining. I, for one, can't wait to see what she does next.
Speaking of the Little Monsters, the costumes of those who filled the arena were almost as entertaining as the show itself. Women in tight, sequined minidresses strolled into the arena elbow-to-elbow with men in ripped mesh shirts and high heels, middle-aged women in gray hoodies, and dudes in sweatshirts and camouflage hats. Attendees showed up in homemade outfits that mimicked those Gaga wears in her video. Many people sported lightning bolt face art and Minnie Mouse-style bows made of hair, both of which Gaga popularized. Women and men alike wore feather boas over ordinary street clothes. Some people skipped pants in favor of leotard bottoms; others skipped shirts in favor of bedazzled bras. Ruffly gold hot pants were paired with ripped fishnets. My favorite? The guy in the well-loved Batman t-shirt. Defender of Gotham, meet Gaga, the superhero of self-empowerment.
Skimpy, spangly, ruffled, ripped. Many of the outfits were weird and wonderful. Lady Gaga seems to inspire people to be who they want to be -- or who they wish they could be, if only for one night.
For another take on the concert (and far better photos than my iPhone could provide), check out the Salt Lake Tribune's review.