Lady Gaga in concert
The Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.
August, 2010

This summer I won two tickets to see Lady Gaga. I was trying to win tickets to Arcade Fire. You take what you can get in this life.

Her concert lasted two hours, in which she demonstrated her ability to fill 45 minutes with good songs. The evening, a drama that could only have been choreographed by Wagner and Tolkein while both were seriously faced, included a UFO, a haunted truck, a slice of subway, a jungle gym, surreal videos, blood, trap doors, platforms shooting out of the stage, platform shoes, a burial, a resurrection, taekwondo-style dancing, and enough stilettos to stake a circus tent. And wigs, including one that looked like a mushroom cap. I want one! All we were missing were bagpipes, artillery, and a miniature version of Stonehenge.

Lady Gaga and her court, when not hurling themselves into every song at Warp 6, were busy changing clothes, except the guitar player, who took his shirt off but should have left it on. (Up in our private suite, Special D wore a white feather boa, which she occasionally loaned to admiring gay men.) In the middle innings, Gaga cooled down by playing two songs solo at the piano. Someday she’ll look back at this interlude and wish she were dead. I certainly did during her inane warbling. I give her credit for setting the piano on fire, but I take it back because the piano was not consumed.

Nevermind this acoustic crap. What about the songs that made her famous? Can she write or is she just bluffin’ with her muffin? Let’s examine the thematic material in Lady Gaga’s oeuvre. No, let’s not. Let’s confine ourselves to “Telephone”:

Situation: The singer is dancing at a club.
Problem: Everyone is calling her.
Result: She’s stressed.
Resolution: It occurred to me that she should stop answering her phone, but this hypothesis was not tested or even considered.
Lesson: Stress is bad, but stupidity makes it worse.

That leaves the actual music. Lady Gaga stuffs so many happy hooks into each song that they can’t be dislodged from the fluffy insulation inside your brain. (In that respect her sound is like the seamless, vacuum-packed assembly line that was Boston, except you can dance to it.) For 24 hours all I could hear in my head was “Poker Face.” Even while I was asleep, dreaming about dinosaurs or cheerleaders, they were dancing to “Poker Face.” At least it’s her best song.

To rid myself of this neuro-plague I counterattacked with an hour of music that was the opposite of Lady Gaga’s: thoughtful, intricate, subtle, quiet. Alas, the Cowboy Junkies are too quiet. I could still hear “Poker Face” while listening to “Sweet Jane.” What’s the next notch above the Cowboy Junkies? That would be Coldplay. But I was afraid of swapping “Poker Face” for “Yellow.” I finally hit on the freeing formula: the neo-human, glacier-fed, synthesized wall-of-drone of late-’70s David Bowie. I listened to Station to Station, Low, and Heroes. Twice. Done!

We hear a lot about Lady Gaga’s influences. There are the big names, like Queen, Kiss, and Madonna, and the lesser-known but edgier bands, like Mott the Hoople and the New York Dolls. You could even make a case for Grace Jones, at least during her disco years, and for raw chutzpah her only peer is Tiny Tim.

But to me, Lady Gaga will always be Prince in a bikini.

And yes, I enjoyed her show. Especially when they fired her out of a missile silo and she landed on her 6” heels without a waver or a wobble. How I wish I had that woman’s knees! I’d put them on eBay.


  1. Michele Tresler says:


    You put the “bad” in romance, at least for The Ga. Loved your review.

    My favorite part of the show was when they stopped playing that lame heavy metal and classic rock music before the lights dimmed and that first failure of an act started. What a debauchery that was. I needed another drink before, but after that…

    I waited impatiently for The Ga to take the stage. And, yes, the best part of the show was when she was fired from beneath the stage like a rocket and landed on her feet like it was nothin’ – oh, yeah, I jump out of bed every morning like that to come to work.

    Well, I never got to see Madonna live – which really pisses me off because her Blonde Ambition tour video I have from 1989 is so rad I practicallly have seizure just thinking about it – so The Ga satisfied my satisfaction – for now at least – to see an icon with the shock and awe style that Madonna became famous for.

    I love The Ga. If anyone has the chance, read her interview in Vanity Fair from a couple of months ago. Her candid style is something I wish more celebrities would show us. Behind all the hoopla and cameras, they are just humans, just like us.

    I run on the treadmill to Telephone. I’m cool.

    Peace out.

  2. Travis says:

    You and my wife would get along famously. She is all ga-ga for Gaga and I’m living in pop music Hell.

  3. K to the T says:

    P.S. Just *reading* the title of that song put it in *my* head. I had to listen to a poorly “performed,” poorly written audio book to get it out.

  4. K to the T says:

    This rawks.

    Really: love your turns of phrase.

    Cracks me up that you won these (the big ticket of our era [eras move quicker now than they did back in the day]) and what you were trying to win.

  5. Kathryn says:

    Steve, Steve, ya coulda sold the tix on Ebay and purchased a case of Geritol, a hearing aid AND a new set of knees (not Gaga’s) with the cash. Why are you kvetching? A night out with Special D AND a feather boa!? Be still, my beating heart! Did she wear her tassles too?!
    Lady Gaga has talent, although the true depth of her Chopin chops will probably never be known. I think Gaga represents the soul of America: Entertaining! Shallow! Overanalyzed! And on the way out…..probably kicking and screaming.
    p.s. you could have erased the neuro-plague with only one play-through of any John Hiatt CD…..

  6. Jennifer says:

    Hang it, I wish I could edit my post. The last paragraph was meant to have a * at the beginning.

    And I should say, my fandom wasn’t really all that drastically curtailed. Gaga still makes me smile for all the other reasons I originally thought she was fun. I was just a little disappointed to have the myth so busted for me.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Well, I will confess to being a Gaga fan, as far as that goes*. But I have to say, this is an immortal couplet in music-review history: “I give her credit for setting the piano on fire, but I take it back because the piano was not consumed.”

    You left out one influence that once you’ve made the associate will be as hard to dislodge from your brain as the tune to Poker Face: Elton John.

    Only she doesn’t have a Bernie Taupin to turn her lyrics into gold; more’s the pity.

    My fandom was drastically curtailed when I saw a French TV interview with her, during which the host, in all innocence, asked her to demonstrate some of those purported “classically trained” chops that are always mentioned in gushing reviews, and she demurred and played a little easy ragtime instead. Highly suspect, if you ask me. If one is classically trained, one could in theory produce a few notes of a moderately difficult Chopin etude, at the very least, on demand. At least I would think so.

  8. Libby says:

    Where was the boa when we were on the road? Or was it there… this memory thing is not fun. Great post, Steve. You’re bookmarked now…. if you want to be or not.

  9. extraspeciald says:

    I’m Special D, and I approve this message.

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