LADY GAGA at the Air Canada Centre. February 8, 2013. Rating: NNN
Two years ago to the weekend, Lady Gaga made one of her more infamous red carpet entrances: at the Grammy Awards sealed inside of a pearlescent egg. That egg, a little more prop-like, made for lugging around the world, makes an appearance during Gaga's Born This Way Ball, a seemingly neverending tour supporting Gaga's 2011 album of the same name.
Last night's not-quite-sold-out performance was the first of two Toronto shows. It was filled with tricks (a battery-powered motorcycle that she rode along a stage truss during Heavy Metal Lover), endless costume changes (the best was a white quilted PVC tulip dress with clear geometric cut-outs), and a whole lot of motivational banter ("Look around, we are the same!" etc., etc.).
She mined Madonna - or, gave thanks for her sacrifices? - five minutes into the show when, during Government Hooker, a dancer burrowed his face between her spread-eagled thighs. There were some genuinely trippy moments, reminding us that when Gaga isn't being a straight-ahead pop star she can be a little nutty. Why is Gaga "birthing" her dancers through an inflatable torso? Why is Gaga riding a Roomba? Why is the talking head from Read All About It here? Watching this very shiny show unfold and the impossibly pneumatic dancers move, oftentimes more mesmerizing than Gaga and her lime-green hair, it was difficult not to be almost terrified by how perfectly perfect everything was.
But humans are awesome because we are the supreme variable. Despite the succession of shiny, neatly executed routines, what kept the show from feeling like anything more was its total lack of urgency. Bad Romance and Judas and Just Dance and Alejandro, what singles! (And five years on, the simpler melodies of The Fame-era songs really stand out). But it's been two years since we've gotten a new song and Gaga's remained curiously quiet as a voice of pop transgression as well. Looking at what's been released in the interim, like that "trap" rap song and an unheeding, self-fulfilling rendition of the chorus on Kendrick Lamar's Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe, it might even be safe to say that Gaga's slippin'.
Toward the end of the show, Gaga performed Born This Way again while seated behind a Steampunk-esque piano, all voice and keys. It was a reminder that she can throw down on stage and write a damn good tune. But a large part of that song's appeal was that it functioned almost as agitprop, appealing to inclusivity through the most populist of means. That's the Gaga that was missing from last night's show.