She's a phenomenon.. but what is she good at, exactly?
O2 Arena, London
Lady Gaga is a young woman in a tearing hurry. It was only 17 months ago that she had her first British hit, with Just Dance. Since then she has had four number one singles, completed a 69-date world tour, released her second album ahead of schedule, and done the first 77 shows of a second tour that has another 100 nights left to run. A big part of being a star is wanting it, and Gaga wants it very, very badly.
Last time I saw her perform, at Brixton in July, she played only nine songs and struggled to fill an hour. This show, billed as The Monster Ball, is twice as long and far more elaborate. Gaga took some flak for doubling her prices, but most tickets are £35-£75, and for that fans are getting the sets, the costumes, the dancers, the special effects and the blonde ambition that you might expect from Madonna – who charges twice as much.
What they are not getting, as yet, is a show to match the standards of Gaga’s hits. The start is promising enough: there’s a lengthy intro to build anticipation, and Gaga performs the first song, Dance In The Dark, as a silhouette, so you’re not sure if she is a person or a projection. The set portrays a buzzing New York street, with a twist of rudeness – even in New York, you don’t tend to find neon signs saying ‘WHAT THE F*** HAVE YOU DONE?’.
There’s an old American car on stage, which, as Gaga opens the bonnet, turns out to have a synthesiser inside. When she plays Just Dance as the third track, with 12 dancers and a kaleidoscopic backdrop to adorn those pulsing slabs of electronic sound, it seems that she has added live performance to her set of skills.
You expect some ebb and flow at a gig like this, but there follows the longest longueur I can remember enduring in an arena. The next 14 tracks are nearly all duds. They include dispiriting pop songs with titles like Vanity and Beautiful, Dirty, Rich; dishwater dance tracks like So Happy I Could Die; a vandal’s cover of Ben E King’s Stand By Me, stripping it of warmth and swing; and a pair of piano ballads, one shrill, the other pompous, both bringing out the worst in Gaga’s limited voice.
She makes matters worse with her patter, which is condescending, self-obsessed and tediously profane. ‘Every one of you is a mirror,’ she tells the fans, ‘I see myself in all of you.’ She addresses us repeatedly as ‘little monsters’, as if this was a bad children’s party.
There are, inevitably, plenty of children in the house. They would probably love it if she sprinkled her conversation with a few light swearwords, but she goes too far, making remarks that are neither funny nor clever (‘let’s see your d***s’). It’s the same with her tireless deshabille, which ends up being neither sexy nor rebellious, just dull.
Telephone, the first miss among Gaga’s hits, falls almost as flat as its interminable video. Alejandro, the new single, is a slice of Latin pop which, if she had remained a jobbing songwriter, might have just made an album track for Madonna. The so-called narrative of the show, a watery homage to The Wizard Of Oz, is a non-event.
Towards the end, things suddenly get better. Gaga has three big weapons left in her arsenal, and Poker Face is a storming crowd-pleaser, Paparazzi a solid vehicle for some pyrotechnics including the famous firework bra, and Bad Romance a swaggering finale. These hits are indeed monsters. But that doesn’t change the fact that most of the show is balls.
Crowded House, who quietly re-formed in 2006, are back again with a new album and a theatre tour. In Manchester, Neil Finn and company showed all the guile with which they straddled the gap between the melodic craftsmanship of the Beatles and the indie jangle of the 1980s. With a nine-track encore that featured Johnny Marr on guitar, his daughter Sunny on vocals, and songs by the Smiths and David Bowie alongside Crowded House classics like Don’t Dream It’s Over, this was a genial masterclass in grown-up pop.