Live: Lady Gaga, Burning Down Radio City

"Bad Romance" on night #1. Stage-fog budget was considerable. Lady Gaga Radio City Music Hall Sunday, January 24

Lady Gaga needs her fans more than they need her. "You know, I'm kind of like Tinkerbell," she announces midway through the fourth and final night of her Radio City takeover, lying flat on her back onstage, desperately demanding our applause. "DO YOU WANT ME TO DIE? I CAN'T LIVE WITH YOU!" And then it's off to the lewd cabaret strut of "Teeth," the "take a bite of my bad-girl meat" one, wherein we are repeatedly implored to show our teeth, flaunting our own fierceness and potential famousness, as though even thousands of mouthfuls of pearly whites had even a chance to outshine her, and the visually overpowering spectacle she has concocted to attract the huge, adoring crowds she evidently needs to survive.

This show's every bit as outsized and ludicrous as you'd expect/demand. Myriad costume changes (the Lit-Up Bodysuit, the Crow's Nest, the R-Rated Princess Leia), myriad elaborate stage props (the Junkyard Piano, the Gyroscope, the trapezoidal bank of enormous video screens), a gang of 10 backup dancers to molest Ms. Gaga and vice versa, creepy interstitial videos to entertain us during the aforementioned costume changes (the one where she's doused in sparkly turquoise vomit is a metaphor for something, I assume), a full backup band that's actually visible onstage like five percent of the time, etc. There is a hell of a lot to look at here, much of it inspired and deeply, admirably weird.

This pulverizing visual feast overshadows but never entirely overpowers the songs themselves, lurid and luxurious arena-disco anthems ("Paparazzi" is still the gold standard, but "Monster," melancholy and gleefully garish, is a gorgeous maximalist-electro jam) delivered by Gaga in a surprisingly lithe, confident, booming voice -- no lip-syncing Britney/Janet type, she. The coolest effect in the whole show, in fact, is between songs, in complete silence, when you can hear her breathing heavily into her headset mic, channelling actual physical exertion, not fake lust.

It's even better because at these moments you know she's about to spout off some more loopy stage banter -- all multimedia extravagance aside, loopy stage banter is the best part of a Lady Gaga show. It is by turns crass ("Get your dicks out!"), compliment-seeking ("Do you think I'm sexy?"), philosophical ("Give me a giant dose of bullshit over the truth any day"), generous ("You can't get your money back, because I gave it all to Haiti"), and inspirational ("Don't let anybody tell you you can't be exactly who you want to be"). All divas indulge in a bit of look-how-far-I've-come-and-I-couldn't-do-it-without-you pandering, but hers feels rawer, somehow. "When you're lonely, know that I am lonely too," she intones more than once, and unless you're feeling lonely at the exact moment she's onstage in front of thousands of people, I suspect she's even lonelier.

Your opening acts: earnest r&b belter Jason Derulo and almost violently sassy glam-punk troublemakers Semi-Precious Weapons, who sound like Jet masquerading as a New York Dolls cover band and feature frontman Justin Tranter pouring champagne from a bottle with his own face on it directly into the mouths of extraordinarily brave patrons who run down to the lip of the stage. You could do worse for an opening line/T-shirt slogan than "I can't pay my rent but I'm fucking gorgeous."

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