Live: Lady Gaga, Loopy And Triumphant At Madison Square Garden

Lady Gaga Madison Square Garden Tuesday, February 22

Better than: Carmelo Anthony's Knicks debut, probably.

She has attention-span issues, Lady Gaga. Maybe you knew this already. For some of us, though, it's a slower realization -- something not immediately evident until, say, one observes her writhing on the ground on her little mini-stage in the center of Madison Square Garden, dragging out "Teeth" gleefully and interminably, shouting "SHOW ME YOUR TEETH!" at various dudes in her band (the lead guitarist is named Jesus Christ) and demanding they solo for their/our pleasure, only to interrupt the bassist (the bassist is named Kern, disappointingly) mid-solo to deliver an earnest, profane, only slightly defensive mini-speech about how she doesn't lip-sync and never will, no sir, not with all these Little Monsters here who've paid to see her, and certainly not with Liza Minnelli watching. Gaga had mentioned that Liza (and Marisa Tomei!) were in the house during an earlier interruption of "Speechless," a thundering piano ballad I was quite enjoying, actually, now derailed entirely by a long riff on how much Marisa and Liza meant to Gaga back when she was in performing-arts school, a semi-interesting tale at best, but at least she wasn't telling us how grateful she was again, because that happens a lot, the I'm-so-grateful thing.

Such random, wayward, goofy, jarring detours have only aided Gaga's rise to power, of course, but even now, having ascended to Queen of the Universe, regularly selling out a venue so huge and venerable LCD Soundsystem will be playing here soon, there's still a defiant lack of polish to her shows, packed with elaborately costumed and stage-designed and choreographed monstrosities subject to her every whim, grinding to a halt whenever she decides to reminisce about sitting in the MSG bleachers with her mom and envying "some other bitch up here onstage," or ranting about how much she hates money ("Get your guns out and shoot that money, 'cause you don't need it!"), or calling a gushing 22-year-old dude fan on her cell phone and letting him praise her for being so inspiring, or just yelling shit like "I know they've got some pretty great cock in New York City!" Frequently we are told that we are beautiful, that we can be anything want to be, that someday it'll be us up there in the spotlight, which is wrong, of course, but thanks anyway; she does her "I'm like Tinkerbell, if you don't clap for me I'll die" spiel, but that's getting kind of old, too.

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This takes a while to wind up -- her absurdly toned backup dancers do a lot of the work for her at the onset, leaving her to stand there and marvel at both the throbbing crowd before her and the stage behind her, which is like 50 Broadway sets built on top of each other, so as to accommodate the neon-crucifix cage, the car with the organ under the hood, the life-size subway car, the giant puppet monster that shows up during "Paparazzi," the gnarled tree that signifies "the deepest, darkest part of Central Park," "the only fountain in the world that bleeds for you" (it also shoots sparks), etc. I'm loathe to even attempt to describe her outfits: the shrink-wrapped porno-nurse? The leather-clad, keytar-shredding Final Fantasy boss? This is not my area of expertise. And even when things do wind up -- "Just Dance" gets us to fifth gear, "Telephone" to sixth -- all those set and costume changes, coupled with all that loopy banter ('I'd like to dedicate this song to all the drunk assholes in my life") plays hell with the momentum: This is a multi-million dollar variety show that could use just a touch less variety.

Yet the transcendent moments are, like, really transcendent. "Monster" is still her best deep cut, with the same poignant, blazing, synth-saturated melancholy as the Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin"; the climactic "Alejandro"/"Poker Face"/"Paparazzi"/"Bad Romance"/"Born This Way" sequence is just murder, that last tune already an all-time world-beater, the rare empowerment anthem that actually empowers. Boding equally well for the imminent new record is "You and I," a saucy piano ballad in the "Speechless" vein, a brassy Janis Joplin thing that tonight she plays straight: no interruptions, no distractions, just a straight belter that'd burn Joe's Pub or the Blue Note or whatever to the ground. And even amid all the corny banter riffs she's relied on for awhile now (the "give me bullshit over the truth" one, the "I always knew I'd see my name in lights" one, the omnipresent gratefulness), her banter is still funny, drool, disarming, distinctly human -- Stefani Germanotta is still in there, right on the surface in fact, marveling at the spectacle of it all just as we are, trying her best to sabotage it, and mercifully failing most of the time. Why would we ever think of getting on that stage ourselves? Why would she ever dream of leaving it?

Critical Bias: I'm a "Paparazzi" man through and through.

Overheard: "You know that feeling you have when you take your sweaty socks off after a long day? Tonight I'm gonna have that feeling all over my body." --a dude in the men's bathroom wearing a full-body leopard catsuit

Random Notebook Dump: The bootleg-T-shirt guys are now colluding with the New York Times subscription guys.

Set List: Dance in the Dark Glitter and Grease Just Dance Beautiful, Dirty, Rich The Fame LoveGame Boys Boys Boys Money Honey Telephone Speechless You and I So Happy I Could Die Monster Teeth Alejandro Poker Face Paparazzi Bad Romance Born This Way


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