“WHAT the f*** is going on?” shouted one happily baffled punter about 15 minutes in to Lady Gaga’s ArtRave: the Artpop Ball extravaganza, as he drank in the slightly surreal scene.
SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Star rating: * * * *
A sensual sci-fi scape of domes and Perspex walkways, dancers in bulbous costumes, giant exotic flora and Gaga herself prancing around like a bonkers Barbarella, making the outlandish claim that “tonight we celebrate that pop can exist in an intelligent space”. Is that what this was? As Gaga emerged for her next number dressed like a cross between a dalmatian and an octopus, it looked and sounded more like Lewis Carroll’s wildest acid dream.
Despite the riot of colour and unabashed commercial dance pop thrust of songs such as Just Dance and Poker Face, the Artpop Ball is not really a show for the little girls. Gaga’s roots in New York’s alternative cabaret scene still showed through in the more orgiastic and subversive aspects of the production, such as the marijuana leaf-shaped confetti shower during Mary Jane Holland, part of a Madonna-influenced segment which ticked off sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.
Back in those dues-paying club days, there was no budget for, say, a giant hydraulic throne shaped like a hand to bear her aloft and the moments when she sat alone at her piano during this show demonstrated that she really doesn’t need all the crazy ephemera. Gaga is a great singer and player with charisma to spare and a number of non-trashy pop songs (jolly as the trashy pop songs are). Stevie Nicks would approve of Dope, while she rounded off a barnstorming delivery of You And I with a celebratory knee-slide.
Gaga was always ready for her close-up, holding her pose while the applause erupted around her (as well as a spontaneous outburst of “here we f***ing go”) but she is also an egalitarian show-woman, fond of rallying speeches and borrowing items of clothing from the audience. She got more than she bargained for when she picked up a cuddly toy bearing bagpipes and a personal letter. Gaga read out the touching tribute and invited the writer, John, onstage to sit at her side as she performed Born This Way – a genuinely poignant moment in a tightly choreographed show with just enough wriggle room for an extra sprinkling of spontaneous magic.