Seated at a piano made of thorns in the middle of a rapt sold-out audience at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Lady Gaga confessed that there was a point in her life when she wasn’t sure if she’d ever make it back to a stage like this again.
Indeed, a lot has happened to both Gaga and the world since she was last able to tour. “Severe physical pain” due to fibromyalgia forced her to postpone and eventually cancel the final leg of her Joanne World Tour in 2018. The “Chromatica Ball” stadium tour (grab tickets here), originally slated for 2020, was postponed twice for COVID concerns. The release date for the album she was planning to tour in support of, chromatica/” data-ylk=”slk:Chromatica” class=”link “>Chromatica, was briefly pushed back due to the pandemic, too.
Or as the singer/actress/performance artist herself put it with a mix of humor, reflection, and bravado: “This bitch has been to the grave and back!”
This complicated balance of tones and emotions was sustained throughout the kickoff of the North American leg of “The Chromatica Ball” on Saturday night (August 6th). The twohour and 10 minute spectacle, broken into four acts, along with a prelude, finale, and encore, mixed moments of triumph, vulnerability, celebration, defiance, heartache, and cathartic blowout as seamlessly as Gaga has always blended her wide-ranging aesthetic influences.
That artistic alchemy was also in fine form during the show, highlighting everything from the stark brutalist architecture of the stage design, to the Alexander McQueen tributes in the costume design, to the body horror accents in the set pieces, to the unabashed power metal excess of it all.
Not only was there something for everyone in “The Chromatica Ball,” there was also some reference, or similarity to, other good works of art that the diverse collection of weirdos who attend Lady Gaga concerts care about and could make feel their own special connection to the material. (For this writer, it was classic Rob Halford leather daddy looks and Cronenbergian props. For my plus one, it was the Skinny Puppy and New Order-esque videos between acts.)
“I wanted to tell a story with abstractions and art, so the show celebrates things that I have always loved like art and fashion and dance and music and technology, poetry, and the way all of those things work together,” Gaga said in an Instagram video taken shortly after the doors opened for the tour’s premiere in Düsseldorf last month. She described the result as “a real savage and hard look at yourself, what you’ve been through.”
Whether the second person perspective she evoked with that statement was intentional or not, it really did feel like every one of the 50,000+ people in attendance were going on their own journey during the performance. Which is a credit to Gaga’s incredible ability to cultivate an air of intimacy and connection in even the most cavernous of stadiums. (And the former SkyDome, for all of its charms, has never been a place known for making concertgoers feel like they’re part of something intimate.) It was also a testament to how well “The Chromatica Ball” has been conceived and executed.
The prelude gave the audience a years-in-the-making blow off with a trio of classics in “Bad Romance,” “Just Dance,” and “Poker Face” while Gaga emerged from a futuristic hybrid of a cocoon and an iron maiden. Acts I and II sustained that energy with blistering takes on already beloved new material from Chromatica like “Alice,” “Replay,” and “911,” plus mainstays like “Monster” and “LoveGame” that brought the playfully bizarre aesthetic, choreography, and overall vibe that Gaga built her reputation on.
The avant-garde videos projected between acts paused the action just long enough to allow for costume and set changes, and for everyone on both sides of the stage to briefly catch their breath before diving in again.
Act III settled the both performers and audience into a grove as the former, decked in elaborate array of golden suits and gowns, vogued to “Babylon.” “Free Woman” saw Gaga and her dancers leave the main stage, parade through the crowd, and ascend to a second platform erected in the middle of the stadium where the singer remained to play a stripped-down version of “Born This Way.”
This literally and figuratively set the stage for the emotional crux of the evening in Act IV. Seated — and occasionally precariously perched — at her thorny piano in the middle of thousands of little monsters, Gaga poured herself into “Shallow,” “Always Remember Us This Way,” and acoustic piano takes on “The Edge of Glory” and “1000 Doves.”
She also earnestly addressed the crowd between songs, tackling her own personal struggles and our collective grief. She thanked her fans for sticking by her. She sent love to everyone who lost someone to COVID. And she talked about the deep sadness that inspired her to write “1000 Doves” and how much she regretted obscuring her pain with a happy pop track before playing it the way she originally intended. When everyone was fully in their feelings, she picked up the pace again with “Fun Tonight” and “Enigma.”
With everyone sated from the frenzy of the first acts and the catharsis of the fourth, the finale of “Stupid Love” and “Rain On Me” allowed everyone to bask in the afterglow before one last blast in the encore that saw a biker jacket-ed, scissor-handed Gaga singing “Hold My Hand” in a literal ring of fire.
The overall effect was powerful, but also thoughtful and measured in a way. Which is probably the best possible note that an artist in touch with herself and her fans the way that Lady Gaga is could strike right now. None of the issues that kept her away from touring have been eradicated completely. In addition, her queer fans who found their first tastes of their own identity and the permission to celebrate it in her songs are now facing what might be the biggest existential threats of our lifetime.
Now isn’t the time for a victory march. But it is the time for a good party, a good cry, and a little soul-replenishing. And when Gaga stood on the floor of the Rogers Centre during “Free Woman,” and sang “This is my dancefloor I fought for,” that fight felt thoroughly worthwhile and maybe even sustainable.
Lady Gaga next plays Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. on Monday (August 8th). Tickets for that gig, and for the rest of the tour, are available via Ticketmaster.
Born This Way
Always Remember Us This Way
The Edge of Glory
Rain on Me
Hold My Hand
tour-setlist/” data-ylk=”slk:Lady Gaga Finally Kicks Off “Chromatica Ball” After Years of Delays: “This Bitch Has Been to the Grave and Back!”” class=”link “>Lady Gaga Finally Kicks Off “Chromatica Ball” After Years of Delays: “This Bitch Has Been to the Grave and Back!”
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