Photo: Eric Baumann
Lady Gaga performing at the House of Blues, March 30, 2009
"Boston, do you love me?!"
Lady Gaga, resplendent, striding onto the stage of the Wang Theatre, has just removed an intricate half-Egyptian/half-Wagnerian headdress from her person, freeing her enormous blonde hairdo from its confinement. A tidal wave of synths builds in the aural space surrounding us, and an insistent throb percolates — this majestic intro is in serious danger of becoming a full-on dance/stomp assault. As her question leaves her lips, cheers and screams erupt from the crowd, glowsticks swirl like drunken fireflies, and a sea of cellphone cameras answers with a frenzy of snaps. Then the beat detonates and she is pounced on by her horde of backup dancers: "Do you want to fuckme?!"
At this point, I hit my internal "pause" button. With the scene frozen, and Gaga's Valkyrie helmet poised in mid-air, waiting to topple to the floor, I pondered what, exactly, was going on here. On the one hand, this could be taken straightforward, an upping of the sexual ante to her smitten throng of Gaga-philes. But it could also be an ironic gesture, a biting commentary on the ridiculousness of fame and notoriety and the uneasy relationship between the wanton sex-tart diva superstar and her voracious fanbase.
There's a bit of truth to each, but ultimately what is happening here is that the phenomenon of Lady Gaga is one that finds her increasingly emboldened to portray the fearless libertine, strutting, shucking, and belting her way through a gallery of iconic poses that confronts her audience with their own desires. As my mind hit "play" again and she dove into the next dance anthem, we all screamed our approval: "Thank you for asking, and the answer is 'yes.' "
The show began with strobe lights, dry ice, and lasers — that is, a run-through of "Dance in the Dark" (a track from her just-released EP The Fame Monster). It was striking how willing Gaga was to frustrate her audience's need to bathe in her aura — hiding in the shadows of the stage, revealing herself only in flashes of white light that made me think of the end of Ridley Scott's Alien. Of course, once she stepped out into the spotlight to the slamming Euro-kick of "Just Dance," the game of hide-and-seek was over, and the full-blown Gaga-fever commenced.
Gaga's "art" is couched in thick layers of artifice, making her sincerity difficult to confirm. She's given to making quizzical statements — gestures of her own antipathy towards fame (bolstered by one mid-song proclamation that "true fame is within us all," and her introduction of "Money, Honey" with the declaration that "If there's one thing in this world that I hate, it's mmmmmoney!"). Her constant vamping and vogueing, though, is a reminder that this is a performance by a persona. However arch she may be, her subtleties are no match for the roar of her fans; at times, the sheer number of "I love you's" exchanged between artist and audience reached mid-'70s Ozzy proportions.
Gaga's fans, it must be said, are perhaps the most diverse mob you will ever see at a pop concert: young, old, straight, gay, whatever — this cross-section of seething humanity was anything but a homogenous niche. When Gaga first burst into the pop consciousness last year, I wondered whether her singular Laurie Anderson-esque weirdness would alienate the masses. Last night, as throngs of done-up Gaga-wannabes and cross-dressing crazies danced into the aisles of the Wang during the sense-shattering finale of "Bad Romance," it was clear that Gaga's clever strangeness has instead made the masses more alien.