Lady Gaga not quite ready for arena circuit

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

January 9, 2010

By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times

If there was a moment to sum up Lady Gaga’s first of three nights at the Rosemont Theatre Friday night, it was probably when she pulled a Tommy Gun off her piano and sprayed her audience with sparklers masquerading as gunfire.

“Do you like the show so far?” she snarled, and of course, the crowd gave her what she demanded: adoration at top volume.

The call-to-arms happened throughout the night, but in not so obvious ways. Lady Gaga, the persona created by 23-year-old Stefani Germanotta, is meant to be a confrontational, sexually affronting street diva, but on Friday she illustrated, intentional or not, she is also obnoxious, derivative and needlessly raunchy.

In-between songs she frequently struck poses, including yawning, to imitate she was bored with her audience — the same people who were forced to re-purchase tickets when her production team miscalculated the stage size at the Chicago Theatre, which moved the show to Rosemont at the last minute.

Gauging by the ticket demand, Germanotta’s moment is here, but she has yet to earn the worship that make her demands feel premature. Friday’s show certainly had its dazzling moments, but they were mostly visual — the stunning cat suit festooned with lights she wore for “Dance in the Dark,” the three-dimensional nature of her boxy set design and the primal costumes worn by her dancers and band for “Monster.”

But even those had elements of memories long past — touches of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Madonna’s “Vogue,” David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” some Freddie Mercury, a lot of Karen O and Peaches. Songs like “LoveGame” and “Speechless” are superlative club hits, but many others, including “Alejandro” and “Teeth,” would be trivial afterthoughts without their visual punch.

There is also her biography, which features front and center musical training at New York University. But when Germanotta sat down at a piano, she mainly clunked through two songs (“Speechless” and “Poker Face”) without much finesse. As for her singing, it was evident the majority was taken care of by a pre-recorded backing track.

There was also the moment when the show hit the brakes so she could shill for a popular mobile phone carrier, a live commercial insincerely framed as a charity announcement to help homeless teens. Germanotta phoned a fan from the stage and this time, it was the audience that yawned.

So what is Germanotta but a performer who understands the architecture of hype and the cult of personality? Her artistic sensibilities are top shelf — some of the visual snapshots will stick with anyone who has seen them for some time. But when Germanotta toughened up for shock value, it resulted in dialogue about oral sex that could have been lifted from an average porn flick. (Word up to you moms who accompanied your grade-schoolers!)

The primal nature of the video projections, costumes and bone-crushing beats were ambitious enough for an arena, which is likely where Germanotta-as-Gaga is heading. She’s no longer in the clubs, but judging from the desperate need for authenticity her show suggests, she might want to return there often.

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