LADY GAGA at AIR CANADA CENTRE, Wednesday, July 9. Rating: NNN
In the world of pop star arena shows, where everything has been done before, Lady Gaga can usually be relied upon to come up with something more leftfield than the lapdance routine or a top o' the piano ballad.
Although the 28-year-old's ArtRave: The Artpop Ball tour was high on energy, it was surprisingly short on surprises, save one: an assisted backstage-style wardrobe change - including wig swap - conducted onstage for all to see as a précis to her massive 2010 hit, Bad Romance.
In light of the ArtRave's scaled-back production values - compared with the Broadway-worthy animatronic monsters, moving subways and motorcycles she has trotted out in the past - the costume swap made sense: wardrobe changes can sap a pop show's energy. Necessity is the mother of invention, and Mother Monster was keeping it simple this time.
Gone too were the life-coaching, guitar-monies and a narrative thread tying it all together. Sadly, there was no vomiting routine either but there was an endless spewing of confetti shaped like stars, hearts and seashells.
Although pundits have penned professional obits following Artpop's mixed reviews, perceived commercial failure and that ill-fated R. Kelly duet, her singles still chart in the top five in Canada and she drew a packed house at the ACC. Clearly, there are still a lot of Little Monsters in Toronto.
ArtRave opened with Gaga creeping stealthily around a Lucite stage of crisscrossing runways in an angel wings and ankle boots combo to the title track from last year's Artpop release. From there, she moved briskly through a 90-minute set heavy on material from that album, a mixed bag of a record that featured solid songwriting beaten into submission by overkill EDM-style production.
Thunderous dins such as Donatalla, Mary Jane Holland and MANiCURE sounded more manageable blasting through arena speakers with the assistance of a five-piece band that included an extremely loud kick drum.
A seahorse-shaped keytar, inflatable foliage and a claw chair that rose in the air were among ArtRave's most dazzling set-pieces. The costumes, meanwhile, were mostly a predictable cross between kawaii J-pop kitsch and 90s raver garb with the odd bit of evening wear. The highlight was the inflatable octopus dress and matching headpiece Gaga wore during Paparazzi.
Fortunately, the glitter-dusted fans in the mosh pit showered the stage with stuffed toys, oversized glasses, cards, letters, handmade clothing and inflatable animals, some of which Gaga incorporated into the show.
Before performing the empowerment anthem Born This Way, Gaga read aloud a letter from an anxiety-riddled teenage fan who came out as a lesbian and was kicked out by her parents. "You are my medication, my cure," she read. In a teary-eyed moment, Gaga brought the turquoise-wigged girl onstage and sat her down at the piano as she sang the song.
Vocally, she was in top form. Gaga's bluesy and brassy runs were in full effect during ballads The Edge Of Glory, Gypsy and Do What U Want, but she relied heavily on backing tracks to get through the choruses during dancey numbers such as Just Dance, Judas and Applause.
If there was a narrative thread to the spectacle, it was the mutual strength Gaga and her fans draw from each other. The choreography was perfunctory, so more emphasis on the untamed rawness of Gaga's live-singing would have been bolder. Still, she proved she can keep up the energy without the barf and whistles.