There's this moment during live shows when the house lights finally go dark and the crowd screams in anticipation of the main act. I wanted to capture this on my recorder last night, but the response from Lady Gaga's fans -- the "Little Monsters" -- at the KFC Yum! Center was so deafening that my recorder actually exploded. I may or may not be joking.
The only other Yum! Center concert I have been to was My Morning Jacket back in October. If anything, Lady Gaga's 20,000 fans made me realize how few people actually went to see Louisville's own MMJ. At times Saturday night, it seemed like the whole city had crammed into the arena.
A giant screen, which sort of looked like half of a lamp shade, hid the stage and displayed projected images -- Gaga the size of a small building, for instance, or the numbers that counted down from 10 to zero as the sound of a siren and the first distorted notes of show-opener "Dance in the Dark" blasted from the speakers. "Are you free?" Lady Gaga asked. When the screen became transparent and the crowd saw Gaga for the first time, I thought my head was going to end up like my recorder. She was a motionless Gaga statue atop a platform, wearing a headset microphone. The choreography had her move a shoulder. The Little Monsters lost their shit. "I can be whoever -- or whatever -- I want," Gaga roared. "Tonight in Louisville, we're all super-free monsters!!!" When she told everybody to put their "paws up," thousands of hands, fingers bent, shot into the air.
The Monster Ball, which is what Gaga calls her tour, incorporates a loose narrative: She and her fellow performers -- dancers, guitarists, a drummer and harpsichordist, back-up singers, keyboardists, a string section, etc. -- are lost on their way to, you guessed it, the Monster Ball. Once the lamp shade rose, it revealed the first part of the story: A broken-down green car on stage. Under its hood? A piano for Gaga to play. Neon signs glowed with messages such as "Drugs," "Implants, Sedation, Dentistry" and "Thank You." Smoke billowed from beneath the stage.
The show took on a sort of horror-movie vibe and was split into sections, indicated when the artsy pictures were projected onto the lowered lamp shade. During these set changes, house music would blare for a minute or so. Then the lamp shade would rise again to reveal a new set. The second chapter featured a subway car that was supposed to take them to the Monster Ball and, well, it stopped working, too. Toward the end, Gaga ended up in a "forest" where she sang "Paparazzi" in front of a giant, tentacled "Fame Monster," a prop that to me looked like an angrier version of Big Mouth Billy Bass. Just so you know, the way to kill the Fame Monster is with a bra that shoots steady streams of sparks. (Fans holding camera phones into the air also can help slay a Fame Monster.)
I may not know all of Gaga's songs, but I know she covered the hits: "Just Dance," "Poker Face," "Alejandro," "LoveGame," "Boys Boys Boys." After a piano-driven version of her new single, "Born This Way," Gaga stayed on the keys to play an unreleased soulful song called "You and I." A cyclone of fire swirled from the top of the piano as she stomped the keys with her boots. Although I wasn't a huge fan of her music before going into last night, I have to give it to her: She knows how to captivate an audience. Her voice sounded good live -- if the dancing made her tired, she showed no signs of being winded -- and the crowd obeyed whenever she told it to jump, 20,000 people bounding in place. Honestly, the floor beneath my feet was moving, especially during the encore of "Bad Romance" and a revisited, energetic version of "Born This Way."
I couldn't keep up with all of her costume changes but remember studded bras, a Tinker Bell-like dress and an outfit that looked like it was made out of crystals. Part of the stage resembled a fashion runway and extended into the standing-room-only section on the floor. Gaga often marched down this runway, using the perch to preach to her disciples -- a diverse group when it comes to sex, age, sexual orientation and ethnicity. In her hand, Gaga held a glowing scepter. She talked about "overcoming adversity" by holding up a "number 1," which was actually a middle finger. She mentioned how she was bullied as a kid, said the wound never goes away but you "learn to be proud of that wound." She instructed her Little Monsters to be brave and celebrate their pride. Some did so by crying tears of joy.
She most seemed like the head of a church during "Teeth," a song that went on for what seemed like 15 minutes and, between verses, had her talking about how she doesn't lip-sync. Then she went on and on about Jesus. Leo's Bar Belle, Sara Havens, was standing next to me, and she assured me that I didn't have to go to church on Sunday because Gaga's sermon was enough.
Throughout the show, fans tossed items onto the runway. There were stuffed animals and bras and My Little Ponies. Lady Gaga tore off the head of a Barbie. She used her heeled boot to pin down a stuffed Tinker Bell so she could rip off its head, too. "Not that I don't like fairies," she said. "I just don't like skinny blonde ones." At one point mid-show, a Virgin Mobile promotion had her call a fan in the stands, and the audience could hear the conversation. The fan who "answered" a cell phone was a younger guy, and he kept shouting, "I love you Mother Monster!" I thought: Dude, you don't have to ACTUALLY hold that phone to your ear because, you know, your voices are coming over the speakers. She then invited him to have a post-show glass of wine with her.
About 30 minutes into the performance, Gaga screamed, "We've only got two hours together. So dance!!!" Nobody was going to argue with her.
1. At times, opening act the Scissor Sisters reminded me of the B52s. The group is led by vocalists Jake Shears and Ana Matronic. Matronic said that if you hadn't heard of them before last night, you were probably not "gay or British." I recognized the song "I Don't Feel Like Dancin," which got the audience, well, dancing. The biggest cheers for the Scissor Sisters came each time the words "Mother Monster" left their lips and when Shears had stripped down to a black leather thong and pranced off stage.
2. The costumed crowd reminded me of Halloween. Several people looked like Lady Gaga's body double. One guy dressed up as Minnie Mouse.
3. I'm convinced that the Little Monsters could eat Justin Bieber's fans, the Beliebers.
4. Lady Gaga stretched out the syllables and made the word "Louisville" seem so damn cool and profane and like the name of a Kama Sutra position.