American Airlines Center, Dallas
Friday, Dec. 8, 2017
Out of all the big names to grace the American Airlines Center stage this past year — Adele, Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande, Lionel Richie, Jay-Z, Bon Jovi — and out of all their fantastic set designs, costuming, backup dancers and performances, Lady Gaga rose to the top Friday as the clear best of 2017.
Stepping into her world was like stepping into Alice’s Wonderland. She was small and restrained at times, and her voice and her movement were too big for the arena to contain at other times, especially during the pop anthems "Just Dance," "Love Game," "A-Yo" and "Bad Romance." Gaga isn’t the most technical dancer, but she threw herself into each move with a frothing frenzy that made even spectators short of breath.
She jumped down the rabbit hole, and we went with her, tripping out on crazy visuals the entire journey. Her mini-films that played between each act weren’t the gratuitous imagery that a lot of performers slap up on the big screen to take up time and space. They were visually intriguing and told a story without dialogue.
In one, Lady Gaga is dancing in a dressing room with friends. Then the lights dim and she goes full Black Swan, holding an oxygen mask to her face. Gaga has fibromyalgia and had health issues while writing Joanne. She almost quit, and in that context, the imagery has new meaning.
On Friday, Gaga's main stage had five hydraulic platforms backed by a dazzling, flashing LED wall. They lifted a bedazzled Lady Gaga some 30 feet above the stage and changed orientation from horizontal to diagonal for different songs, creating interesting, angled platforms for the artist and her 10 backup dancers.
Gaga also three satellite stages that dispersed like islands in the sea of people on floor level. She island-hopped via cloud-shaped catwalks that descended from the ceiling of the auditorium. The blimp-like objects were used as projection screens for the performance until they were needed to escort Lady Gaga to her destinations. The bottom part of the cloud would break away and descend like a flat tortilla, mechanically curling into a taco through which she and the other dancers walked, pranced and danced, allowing them to make use of the entire floor space.
On the furthest island, a musician’s paradise awaited: a multistep stage with LED track lights. The centerpiece was the show-stopping, see-through, heart-shaped piano, which was covered in mirrored polycarbonate and lit by lasers. If Lady Gaga’s elaborate rhinestone-encrusted costumes were the Pavé of this diamond ring, the piano was the 5-carat diamond that glimmered and glinted in the lasers’ light. It cast rainbow beams into the darkened arena sky for "Born this Way" and anchored songs like "Come to Mama," "Edge of Glory" and "Million Reasons," which Gaga, a talented pianist, played.
As expected, Lady Gaga came out in garb fit for a Texas pageant queen. Her album Joanne has country influences (she wears a pink cowgirl hat on the cover), and she played up this connection with all of her outfits.
“This is a party, y’all. And I know how you party here in Dallas because I used to come here in 2008 to the Roundup Saloon,” she told the crowd. “Thank you so much for letting me borrow your hat, Dallas.”
The audience was speckled with pink cowgirl hats, and Gaga regaled concertgoers with at least 10 costume changes. Standout elements were her over-the-knee boots, a rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuit and topcoat, a white tulle ball skirt over a black velour bodysuit, and a red leather ensemble and matching red cowgirl hat with rose vines hanging from it. Embellished bodysuits, fishnet stocking, fringe and leather were in no short supply. There were rhinestones on everything.
Aside from all of the glitz and glamour, hydraulic lifts and taco-shaped catwalks, what made Gaga’s show most spectacular was her special brand of heart. It’s the humanity that’s she’s known for, and it has has garnered her a following of “monsters,” many of whom are members of the LGBTQ community or identify as outcasts or misfits.
“If you don't know what it means to feel pain, you don't know what it means to be strong. Those two things need each other. God favors the brave. Fortune favors the brave. I know there's a lot of brave people in the audience tonight,” she said.
On Friday night, Gaga was Lady Liberty, and the American Airlines Center was her Ellis Island. She welcomed everyone in North Texas to her shores: dads with their daughters, 20- and 30-something women, grandmothers, men in drag, and frat bros in their button-down shirts and North Face vests, all jamming out to her music.
“We love everybody here, no matter your gender, race, sexual orientation. You were born that way,” she told the crowd. “I can only assume that most of the people in audience tonight are in favor of equality. Am I wrong?”
The crowd responded with approving cheers.
“If you don’t believe in equality, maybe you got dragged here by someone," she said. "But I wouldn’t boo those people; I think it’s important to have compassion for those few people who are here who don’t believe in equality because this would be a very awkward couple of hours for them.
“What I’m really trying to say is everybody’s got to love each other, and stop throwing stones at our sisters and our brothers. It wasn’t that long ago we were just living in the jungle.”
Lady Gaga referenced God numerous times; asked the audience to help her grieve her “Texan girl," a friend who died of breast cancer; and said she almost quit music before making Joanne because of pain from her fibromyalgia.
She awed the audience with an anecdote about gathering strength from her Aunt Joanne, her dad’s sister who died at age 19 from lupus. Gaga, whose birth name is Stefani Joanne, is named after her.
“When I made Joanne, I looked to her for strength." Gaga told the crowd. “I never got to meet her, but it doesn't matter. She's in the spirit of my family. She's sitting right here, like I have a second ticker keeping me going. She was a poet, and she wrote the words ‘I know where I'm going.' She was going to heaven.
"Go back to that time in your life where life blasted you so hard you don't remember what you were like before it," Gaga commanded the crowd. "I gave my pain a name on this record. This album is about family and about heart. It's all our pain that makes us the same, and it made me who I am."
The moment brought many in the audience to tears.
Toward the end of the show, Gaga’s monsters tossed their handwritten letters on the stage.
“Don’t worry — I keep them all,” she said.
You got the feeling that she wasn't exaggerating. Gaga chose one to read aloud, and the camera cut to a closeup of the author in the front row, a 20-year-old woman sobbing with her hand covering her mouth.
Gaga read the long “monster-gram” out loud. Here’s an excerpt:
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“I would get made fun of for everything by my classmates. There were times I wanted to give up, but I won't for you, Gaga. I have two goals in life: to meet you and to make it as a journalist. I’m studying journalism at UNT. … I deal with depression and anxiety, and it's a struggle to get out of bed. … You saved my life, and I can never thank you enough.”
After Gaga read the letter, she went into the crowd, stood face to face with the woman and said, “You gotta ask me a question now because you said you wanted to interview me.”
“What gets you through each day?” the woman asked.
“I put God and friends and family before anything,” Gaga replied before taking the stage once again. “You got your interview; what are you going to do now? You need a new dream.”