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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Gaga for Lady Gaga: A look at the July 17 Monster Ball performance in St. Louis

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The concert grand finale, showcasing the colorful light show intrinsic to the Monster Ball performance, as Lady Gaga signs "Bad Romance."
The best show in St. Louis last Saturday was in and around the Scottrade Center downtown. Lady Gaga was performing her "Monster Ball" show inside, and her "little monsters" populated the vicinity on the way to their seats.

Gaga fans ranged from tweens to folks in their 50s. At least two-thirds were female and they provided the show. Dressing like their heroine, ladies paraded in ornate dresses and some in very minimal outfits. There were poofy skirts, tutus and micro shorts, all with stockings. Shoes ranged from tennis shoes and flats to chunky heels to stuff that only Lady Gaga wears in specific videos. More young women wore spiked high heels than any place off the runway.

The outfits declared female empowerment, freedom to dress minimally or outrageously, all in high fashion. It is unlikely even clubbing could have compelled such apparel, but a desire to emulate Lady Gaga overpowered normal reservations.

The men who aspired to dress like Gaga were another story. They were meant to be seen, to be part of the event's tapestry.

Despite the spirited lack of inhibitions, this was still a concert crowd, respectful toward each other and well behaved. It may have looked like a circus, but there was a sense of community. The tent of Gaga was open to all.

The cavernous 22,000-seat Scottrade Center was over 90 percent full. The hall sported two very large video screens about three-quarters of the distance to the ceiling, showing close-up views of performers throughout the night. The big picture required a full view of the stage no close-up camera could give. The center's sound system could make the seats shake. Hearing the music was not a problem.

A bigger problem came from the venerated practice of standing during the concert, blocking the view of those sitting behind.

Opening the concert was the New York band Semi Precious Weapons, which has played with Lady Gaga since 2006. Lead singer Justin Tranter offered a raucous mix of songs, flavored with his high tenor voice. Songs like "Stick It" and "Statues of Ourselves" provided attitude and drive but little memorable material.

Stagehands set up a thrust stage leading out into the audience before Lady Gaga appeared. She entered with her silhouette projected onto a dropped screen to give towering height before she strutted to center stage, starting with less familiar songs from her first album. Her troupe of dancers hit the floor on the third number, "Just Dance," showing the high energy show was just beginning to pick up speed.

The action on numbers switched between the full stage, blazing in purple, turquoise, pink and blue light, extending out to the thrust stage, or down to one spot with Gaga on a keyboard. Sets were minimal, shaped from building frames and stylized tree branches. Using projections and lighting, the stage transformed into urban or tropical splendor, exploding with vivid colors. An illuminated set of monkeybars, the center set for one song, glowed bright white as dancers ducked and weaved between the bars.

Prior to 1940 a lot of Broadway shows were simply song revues strung together by a loose narrative. Gaga's show used a very similar story. Gaga and her friends were trying to find their way to the Monster Ball, which "will set you free." The troupe moved from a broken down car to a subway car to the open stage, moving through high energy dances on numbers like "Money Honey," "The Fame," "LoveGame" and "Boys Boys Boys."

Generally Gaga participated in all the high stepping dances, replicating the varied steps that have become familiar in the videos. "Telephone" was well enough known by the audience to prompt an extended sing-along as the dancers strutted under a barrage of shifting spotlights.

Gaga took a break from the exertions of dancing for a solo number, "Speechless," at a grand piano. The piano was rigged with a gas jet to feed a fireball lighted over its main body, flickering and rolling in a mass throughout the number. Gaga continued at the piano with the only as yet unreleased song of the concert, the soulful "You and I."

A video montage incorporating a tornado provided time for a quick set and costume change. Gaga returned in a huge white dress with wings to sing "So Happy I Could Die," rising 20 feet above the stage on a platform that rose out of the floor.

The action then returned to the main stage, which had been transformed by bright green lights into a lush forest. Gaga continued singing "Monster," "Teeth" and "Alejandro," the latter again prompting a big sing-along as her current video release. The whole troupe picked up the dance pace on "Poker Face," her first big hit, again bringing a wave of song from the crowd.

Costume changes switched Gaga's look from a body suit with high boots to a high fashioned red draping gown to a white party dress to a black gown to a two-piece underwear ensemble. Moving into the concert's final section, she wore a black sequined pants outfit.

The plot of the show reached its zenith as Gaga's friends, scared by the spooky forest, left her alone to face the monster that emerged from the forest. The monster was exceptional, a giant puppet run by about six men, with tentacled arms, glowing white eyes and teeth and an orb hanging from its forehead like a deep water fish.

Downed by the monster, Gaga arose in a gold metallic body suit, spitting sparks from the bust and crotch. The monster disappeared. Triumphant, Gaga and the company launched into a full-blown version of "Paparzzi" as the stage burst into brilliant white and red lights, signifying at last arriving at the Monster Ball.

After about two-and-a-quarter hours of continuous show, Gaga called out "Be yourself!" and the hall went black. The crowd erupted into cheers. Gaga came back for one encore, in even more lights, closing the night with "Bad Romance." The audience heartily sang along, knowing the long-running video version well. Gaga, now in a silver costume, and her team took a joint bow almost three hours after the evening's program began.

Throughout the concert Gaga paused between songs with encouraging comments about individuality.

"God designed each and every one of you to be a superstar, and you were born that way," Gaga said.

Lady Gaga takes her Monster Ball tour to Kansas City on Aug. 3 at the Sprint Center.

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