Better Than: Anyone else closing out Roseland Ballroom’s long and storied chapter in New York City.
With a stage hidden by a deep red curtain surrounded by oversized, large roses, it’s clear Lady Gaga took her role as emcee for Roseland Ballroom’s “10-day funeral,” as she has called it, seriously. In front of a slightly more subdued crowd than expected in terms of dress (more casual concert-wear than Gaga costumage), Gaga entered from a door also shrouded in roses at house left, burlesque-teasing the audience with only a hand and leg before revealing herself completely. She posed and vamped before sitting at her first piano of the night, a less showy opening than one can be accustomed to experiencing at a pop concert. In a way, she was making it clear the set was less about her and more about the venue she was helping celebrate and close out.
There are many reasons people are proclaiming the demise of Gaga, the end of her career, and the emptiness of ARTPOP. There is validity in some of the more statistical claims, ones that show lagging sales compared to her previous albums and smash EP, The Fame Monster. Yet, she was chosen unopposed as the person to close out a near century of history. From vaudeville to dancehall to pop music, Roseland Ballroom’s diverse venue has stood in midtown and lasted through NYC’s most formative eras.
While we talk about the end of Gaga, we still talk about Gaga. We feed the fame monster, giving her another classic era to fulfill — the great fall from grace. Her first two major tours, ‘The Fame Ball’ and ‘The Monster Ball,’ were entirely centered around fame — wanting it, experiencing it, losing it, regaining it. Gaga is a firm student of celebrity, and even as negative feedback rolls in, she uses it to her advantage, having even used a “boo-ing” sound in her VMA performance of “Applause” and headlines about her weight in her AMA performance of “Do What U Want.”
See also: The Lady Gaga After-Party at Goldbar
Still, in November, Gaga was chosen to close out Roseland Ballroom’s stay in New York with not just a single show, but a 10-day residency. Since her 28th birthday on March 28th, she’s performed seven shows at Roseland. Seeing her second-to-last performance at the venue, and second-to-last performance ever hosted at the venue (last one tonight), Gaga encompasses so much of what Roseland has been over the years. Beyond the proud NYC stamp she wears on her sleeve as both Stefani Germanotta and the act of Lady Gaga, she’s pure theatre but also disco and a lot of dance. She withholds the eras that made Roseland an institution within her own act.
From start to finish, she honed in all of these elements. Her moments behind the piano, like the acoustic opening version of “Born This Way,” was pure jazz and wildly sensational. Her voice, massive and underrated, filled the room with its power and energy. She followed with another track off of Born This Way, “Black Jesus + Amen Fashion,” the only questionable choice within the set given its bordering on accessorizing during its performance. The first outfit change of the night came between “Black Jesus” and “Monster,” off of her aforementioned mega EP The Fame Monster. She came out dressed in red and covered in roses, later donning a keytar with a similarly rose-covered strap for her smash “Bad Romance,” the first jolt the audience experienced and created during the show.
In between songs, Gaga offered some playful, theatrical banter in her best whispery-baby Marilyn Monroe impression. She made sure to point out her genuine pleasure in seeing in the balcony collaborator Tony Bennett (with whom she’s releasing an album of duets with later this year), and director/photographer Steven Klein, who was behind her “Alejandro” video. She climbed a rose-draped ladder to Tony at one point and later remarked on how moving it was to see her dad and Steven Klein meet and hug backstage. Being the theatrical, bawdy star she is, she ended her very genuine anecdote on Klein and her father by saying “Daddy, he’s the nice man who took that pretty picture of my pussy!” in a heightened version of the whispery-baby voice.
The night hit it’s peak when Gaga found herself surrounded by some of the most classic images of New York City. At house right was a large structure imitating the front car of the F train with neon signs along the wall behind it. They read “176 Stanton,” “XXX,” “Fresh Meats,” and so on, giving an image of Gaga in her pre-fame element. She took to another piano right in front of the subway car and stole a moment to wax poetic about her fans, her career, the critics of both, and her own imperfections and struggles with substance abuse. She sang “Dope” from her latest album, ARTPOP, and she let her voice truly shine as she belted out the lyrics of the ballad. In the middle, she continued her speech, stating “I’m not sober yet, but I’m working on it everyday.” Cheekily, she added, “instead of getting high in the morning, I wait until 10 o’clock.” It was refreshingly candid moment, far removed from the more generalized motivational speeches of her past, though she had touched on specifics of her bullying in her tours. She completed the song before transitioning into another piano-driven track, “You and I,” that opened up into the more massive studio version for the second-half and allowed her to make her way back to the stage for her classic “Just Dance.”
An acoustic “Poker Face” signaled the beginning of the end for the show. She capped off the night with an ARTPOP power duo of “Applause” and “G.U.Y.,” though the opening strains of the album’s title track played briefly and were wholly missed out on after her brilliant show of it on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. “G.U.Y.” was particularly pleasant to hear live; the Zedd beat was made to be experienced in a club and its crunch was felt all over the dancefloor.
The set felt short, but it was never meant to be a Gaga solo show. She was co-headlining with Roseland, never once letting the audience forget that this was our good-bye to one more place that had helped shape New York’s flavor and music scene. As her guttural and perfectly-executed yelps of “nein, Zedd!’ echoed through the room, the show was over, and it signaled just one less night of dancing in the Ballroom.
Critical Bias: I semi-dressed up for the show.
Overheard: “She’s sounds so perfect! She doesn’t even practice!” Wellll, I don’t know about that last part, but her voice did sound pretty great.”
Random Notebook Dump: I’m extremely concerned for poor Tony Bennett, who keeps aligning himself with all these young pop stars who are so troubled by drugs. He should just relax and enjoy being old for a bit.
Born This Way (acoustic)
Black Jesus + Amen Fashion
You and I
Poker Face (acoustic)
Lady Gaga plays Roseland Ballroom one last time tonight, 4/7. Lady Starlight opens the show at 8:00 p.m. before Gaga hits the stage at 9.
See also: The Lady Gaga After-Party at Goldbar
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 7, 2014