The year is only two weeks old, but local pop fans may have already witnessed the biggest concert happening of 2013. Stars don’t come much bigger or brighter than Lady Gaga who invaded the Tacoma Dome Monday night with the U.S. launch of her Born This Way Ball tour. And it was a night filled with all of the spectacle, hedonism and empowering messages we’ve all come to expect from the woman born Stefani Germanotta.
The stage was dominated by a massive gothic castle that expanded and folded into various configurations as the 26-year-old pop star and her scantily clad entourage pranced, preened and gyrated through a set that included all of 2011’s chart-topping “Born This Way” album. Sadly, Gaga didn’t preview material from her forthcoming follow up disc, “ARTPOP,” which is expected to surface this spring.
Gaga’s set got off to a late start, nearly an hour after opener DJ Madeon. But all was forgiven as Mother Monster made her dramatic entrance with “Highway Unicorn,” perched atop a mechanical horse and dressed in some sort of alien cyborg ensemble as she made her way around a v-shaped catwalk that encircled part of the crowd.
It was, of course, prelude to a bunch of freaky costume changes, though none quite reached the bizarre heights of her Cousin It and bloody nun looks from 2010’s Monster’s Ball Tour.
Early on, the castle opened to reveal a pair of inflated legs and a swollen belly. With a zip – yes, the zipper was there – Gaga was birthed back onstage, wearing a slick, yellow dress as she delivered the party pumping “Born This Way.” The lyrics to that anthem and Gaga’s between song banter promoted acceptance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered folk. “You are the new generation, and in this generation we breed compassion,” she said later in the show.
The aesthetic was Madonna meets Marilyn Manson, and a disembodied, animatronic head that kept showing up was among the most unsettling touches. Gaga and a doppelganger were also delightfully creepy as they glided around in spectral, white gowns for “Bloody Mary.”
Later, the singer emerged from an egg-shaped pod sporting a horned mask for “Bad Romance.” She was carted out with fake sides of beef and dumped into a big grinder, wearing her familiar meat dress, for “Poker Face.” But, most strikingly, she emerged dressed as a motorcycle, with a dancer grinding on her back as she rode her way down the catwalk during “Heavy Metal Lover.” (Let’s see you make that look sexy, Transformers.)
But there was heart and soul beneath all the slick spectacle. Though Gaga appeared to use backing tracks during the most dance-oriented parts of her set, she proved she has pipes during expressive piano-powered deliveries of “You and I” and a reprise of “Born This Way” that she sung to a fan she called up during the show.
And she seemed genuinely gracious as she acknowledged, several times, how fans had enabled her meteoric rise, at one point marveling that she’d worked as a waitress, a stripper and a coat check girl just a few, short years earlier.
“I never thought in a million years it would happen like this,” she said towards the end of her two-hour set. “I used to pray. I used to think if I worked real hard if I was in it for the right reasons I might be a star.”
She invited a few fans onstage for the finale, memorably an 11-year-old girl she said she’d been singing to all night. She and her pack of “little monsters” pranced around the stage during set closer “Marry The Night” before sinking out of view.
Earlier in the day, Gaga made a cameo outside to toast the launch of her Born Brave Bus, a promotional tool for her new Born This Way Foundation that was parked in front of the Tacoma Dome. Gaga started the group last year with her mom, Cynthia Germanotta, who was among the 16,000 in attendance Monday night.
The group is meant to connect fans with community and mental health resources in their communities, and fans visited the bus to play games, make videos and talk to community counselors that were made available before the show.
But it wouldn’t be a Gaga show without the inevitable right-wing protests. The usual gaggle of T-Dome street preachers demanded repentance and admonished the “evil” that concertgoers were about the witness as they filed into the Dome.
But, to be fair, those guys show up for Ozzy and Prince, too. What was out of the ordinary was a plane hired by the anti-gay group, the Florida Family Association, that flew a “NOT Born this way” banner over the Dome before the show. And, in related news, Justin Bieber is no longer the biggest jerk to visit the Tacoma Dome in recent months.
Set List: Highway Unicorn (Road to Love), Government Hooker, Born This Way, Black Jesus + Amen Fashion, Bloody Mary, Bad Romance, Judas, Fashion Of His Love, Just Dance, Love Game, Telephone, Hair, Electric Chapel, Heavy Metal Lover, Bad Kids, The Queen, Yoü and I, Born This Way (slow piano reprise, sung to fan), Americano, Poker Face, Alejandro, Paparazzi, Scheiße.
Encore: Edge of Glory, Marry The Night