July 7: Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour Live at Madison Square Garden (Concert Review)

If I were a sinner, why would Jesus let me play the Garden?

On Wednesday night, I became a full-fledged monster…again.

July 7 marked Lady Gaga‘s second performance at Madison Square Garden–her hometown show during the second American leg of her seemingly ceaseless tour, the Monster Ball Tour.

Gaga’s tour has improved dramatically since the last time I saw her last year in Boston. Dropping the forced perspective, minimal bluntness of the initial Monster Ball tour stage, the arena-armed Gaga has given us room to breathe, and the results are much more memorable.

Once a self-indulgent art installation, the Monster Ball Tour now operates as a cheeky, playful homage to The Wizard of Oz, as Gaga and her clan of gender ambiguous, S&M-clad buddies traversed the sketchy, unfamiliar streets of New York City to try and find the greatest party of all time–the Monster Ball! And just how would they do that? Why, by following the Glitter Way, of course!

The new-and-improved show includes the best musical bits of the first leg, including the greatest video interludes remixed and refreshed (including the one where she vomits blue glitter all over herself, which I affectionately refer to as “Vomi-Gaga,” now with a bloody good bit of cannibalism to boot.) The dancing is sharper, the energy has reached a new high, and everything about the night just felt good–even while watching Gaga eat her own bloody heart out.

Particular highlights included the performance of “LoveGame,” which incorporated both the opening subway sequence from Gaga’s performance at the Much Music Video Awards in 2009 and the throbbing, rave-inducing Chew Fu Ghettohouse remix breakdown at the song’s end. Just like last time, as the words “disco stick” stutter over and over on top of the remix’s punchy beat, the stadium burst into nothing short of pure, hysterical euphoria (which you can see here). Such bliss.

Then came a personal favorite: “So Happy I Could Die,” performed on high in one of the Haus of Gaga’s newest contraptions–the living dress. In short, it’s a gorgeous, bat-like gown with the ability to move on its own. As Gaga belted one of my favorite cuts from The Fame Monster from a platform center stage, the dress slowly expanded and constricted, as if she were wrapped inside of a living, breathing silver Komodo Dragon. Who needs fur when you can wear it alive?

There was also the obligatory piano bit with “Speechless” and the arena-rock, Elton John-friendly ballad from her upcoming album, “You & I.” Now with Gaga, the piano prowess shtick is kind of nothing we haven’t already seen before: The spins around the piano stool, the leg in the air, standing straight up on the stool while playing–yes, we’ve seen it all before, and yes, she’s very talented.

Yet she trumped expectations still again tonight. In the final few moments of “Speechless,” the singer suddenly hopped on top of the piano and, peering over the keys with an eager glimmer in her eye, began playing the final few chords of her power ballad backwards, delivering what was undeniably one of the best vocal performances I’d ever witnessed or heard from her. Just watch the six minute mark above…Unbelievable, to say the least.

Of course, there was also the Fame Monster himself, a kind of Anglerfish-meets-Cloverfield monster creation come to life that ends up making a cameo behind Gaga and her lady friends prior to her dramatic performance of “Paparazzi.” I won’t say exactly what happens, but it appeals to the live action, Disney World-loving part of me in a way that no pop star ever has before.

Like the last time around, Gaga continued to bark out commands ad nauseum: “Dance, you motherfuckers!” we demanded. “Clap for me!” “Show me your fucking teeth!” “Paws up!” “Get your dicks out, New York!” But make no mistake–it was all out of love.

As has come to define the Gaga, the show was colored with positive self-affirmations and long monologues of praise directed toward her fans. “I was right where you are,” she said suddenly, pointing to some unsuspecting little monster at one point during the night, “looking right up here at some bitch on the stage. This is proof that you can be anything in the world that you want to be!” she bellowed. The crowd roared in approval.

As the show went on, Gaga would occasionally double-take while looking out into the crowd, briefly distracted. “Get that camera on her!” she yelled to a cameraman at one point, earnestly pointing at a little monster in the front row, decked out in her Gagaloo greatest.

Later, while wielding a disco stick, La Gaga took a minute to shine her light across the stadium to see the faces of all her fans, quietly murmuring to herself in approval and occasionally chuckling aloud. “Oh my God, you’re all so beautiful.” If the singer’s obsession with her own fans is a lie, it’s a convincing one.

Having already gone once, It was wonderful to witness what has been essentially the evolution of the Monster Ball From wheeling out a single, sad looking tree for the performance of “Monster” a year ago, to the now full-blown twisted forest set that the song came to be performed in during the second leg, it’s beyond clear that Gaga’s artistic vision (or at least, her budget for set design) has expanded tenfold in less than a year’s time.

Above all, the most glaring difference between the Monster Ball‘s new emphasis on fun. Far from the overly pretentious amateur-avant garde approach of the first leg (yes I know it’s Lady Gaga we’re talking about, but still), the second leg of the Monster Ball Tour was surrounded by an air of camp celebration and genuine mega-wattage entertainment that had the entire arena dancing and thrashing with their paws the entire night.

Last year, I concluded that the Monster Ball Tour was “the next step in the natural evolution of Gaga’s artistry; yet another rung in her blood-laden ladder to icon status.” If only I knew how quickly she’d climb in less than a year’s time.

Well done, Gaga–you’ve staged a show worthy of rivaling that of your fellow pop legends.

All photos and videos courtesy of MuuserMonster, Parker. (Thanks for accompanying me to the Monster Ball, bb! I had a killer time.) Click here to see more videos.

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