This will not be your average review, but then Lady GaGa is not your average artist, so I think that’s fitting. What follows is a bit of background on how exactly I became a GaGa fan, and then the complete story of how I went from having a normal week to, just 48 hours later, being part of a sold out crowd at one of the most unique shows I will ever see. So, here’s that story, in four parts.
Part I: Prologue. Spin that record baby…
In 2007, I became a member of The Police online fan club in order to get tickets to their reunion tour. Once that tour wrapped up in August 2008, the fan club sent out DVDs that were ‘fan club exclusives’, with behind the scenes footage, some live snippets and such, of The Police Reunion Tour. It was a very good DVD. At the end of that documentary, the DVD included music videos by four bands. I don’t recall who the other three artists were, but one of those four videos [it may have even been the last of the four] was Lady GaGa’s ‘Just Dance’. As I watched, I wasn’t sure what to make of it, or her. Is she a singer? Is she simply a dancer for the video? Who is this? Damn that song is catchy! All of those thoughts ran thru my head as I watched the video, then watched it again…and again.
In February 2009, I was out with my friends Jenne, Jesi, and Matt. While Jenne and Jesi were off looking for something, Matt and I struck up a conversation about Lady GaGa, who had just announced a show in Richmond. I said I really liked ‘Just Dance’ but I didn’t have her CD yet. Matt said ‘The rest of the album is really really good. You should get it.’ By the next day, I downloaded her debut ‘The Fame’ and, by the end of that week, I bought a ticket to her Richmond show. So, in no small way, I have Matt Koval to thank for making me a fan of GaGa. Thanks Matt. Once again, you were right on the mark, and way ahead of the curve.
Fast forward two years. A few days ago, [February 15] Jesi found herself in Richmond unexpectedly so we met for dinner after I got off work. I had not seen her in months, so it was great to reconnect with her and catch up. One of the first things she said as I sat down was, ‘Okay, if GaGa plays within 100 miles of where I live, you have to go with me, deal?’ ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘I had tried to see her September 2010 show in Charlottesville but couldn’t get a ride, so I’ll see GaGa with you, absolutely.’
Completely by chance on Monday night this week, I went on Pollstar.com to check tour dates for a few artists. I checked upcoming dates for Lady GaGa, not expecting her to be on tour. [I thought the Monster Ball Tour ended in late 2010]. Not only was she on tour, she was playing DC on Thursday! That’s Thursday this week! I thought about it for a minute. It’s gonna be sold out, so that means second market tickets [Stub Hub, Craigslist etc.]. Jesi probably won’t be able to afford it. Hell, can I afford it? Ah well, I’ll ask her but I doubt seriously we’ll be able to make this happen.
I sent Jesi a message via Facebook, fully expecting a reply of ‘That would be cool, but too short notice, I have to work, I’m out of town, it’s too expensive…’ and that would be the end of it. Instead I got a reply of ‘Cool LET’S GO, and I CAN AFFORD IT!!’ So, the search began in earnest on Tuesday morning for GaGa tickets.
Jesi found some cheaper than I was able to. They were well above face value, but they didn’t break the bank either. So, we had our tickets. I looked into how I was gonna find a way up to DC. That’s when I found out all I could about MegaBus.
Part II: Journey to DC. Don’t be scared, I’ve done this before…
I found out MegaBus goes to DC from Richmond seven times a day. I bought a ticket leaving at 1:50 Thursday afternoon, arriving in DC at four, and a return ticket to Richmond leaving very early Friday morning. Total price round trip was $12.50. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was willing to sacrifice some comfort for a trip by myself to DC, especially to see Jesi and GaGa.
Jesi suggested she meet me and we just hang out in the city rather than going back to her house in Arlington before the show. So, I wasn’t going to be at a house until after the Lady GaGa show, which meant I was going to pack the lightest I ever have for an overnite trip: Toothbrush, wallet, phone, bus ticket and concert ticket. I didn’t even bring my iPod because I didn’t want to have to worry about storing my noise canceling headphones while at the show. Didn’t take a book for the same reason. It was a true first for me, and I found not having baggage of any kind sort of liberating.
The bus actually arrived in DC a little early. It was a great trip in a very clean bus with excellent staff. I cannot recommend them enough for an inexpensive east coast trip. The bus stop was in the heart of DC’s Chinatown, so I crossed the street and waited for Jesi at Starbucks. Within twenty minutes, Jesi arrived, and the fun was about to begin.
We went to the Spy Museum since we had some time to kill before the doors opened at The Verizon Center, but the admission price was twenty bucks, plus, I didn’t want to have to rush through the museum if we were pressed for time, so we decided against it.
So, we decided to move to Plan B: Drinks!
We walked to Gordon Biersch, a very upscale appearing restaurant. Feeling a bit under dressed in jeans, [me, not Jesi. She looked great in a purple crushed velvet dress] we stayed because they had begun their happy hour. Jesi got an appletini, I got a whiskey sour since the waiter couldn’t guarantee they had Grey Goose vodka available [I didn’t want to chance it] and we talked over drinks. I was also hoping to catch up with two other dear friends I knew would be at the GaGa show, Kurt and Sarah. I’ve known Kurt since high school and I’ve always had a lot in common with Sarah, especially when it comes to music. The fact that Kurt, who only listened to 60s era music, folk and singer songwriter genre things when we were in high school was now a huge fan of Lady GaGa and attending his second show with Sarah…that kind of blew my mind, but then, I don’t think the me from 1992 would expect to see me at a show like this either. People change. I knew Kurt and Sarah were gonna be at this show because Sarah won tickets from a radio station in Baltimore. Only thing was, her tickets were at Will Call so, she wouldn’t know where she was sitting until around 6 that evening and, with the floor area being General Admission, I knew that if her seats were on the floor, we wouldn’t see her as she would spend the time before the doors to the venue opened waiting in line with the other ‘monsters’, prepping for a mad rush to the floor area and staking out a spot.
Around six, Jesi and I decided to order dinner, and soon after, I got a text from Sarah, ‘We’re here [at the venue]. GA!’ I knew that meant her seats were on the floor, so we wouldn’t meet up before the show. Maybe after.
Just after seven, Jesi and I paid the check and made our way to Verizon Center. If I didn’t know where to go, it would have been easy to find my way: Simply follow the ones in wigs, leather and heels.
Part III: The Monster Ball. That girl is a monster…
I must mention a word or two about the opener, Scissor Sisters. I didn’t even know they were on the bill until Sarah told me on Wednesday so, it was a nice bonus. I had heard of them when they co-wrote some songs with Elton John for a program on the IFC channel, but I wasn’t very familiar with their catalog. After a few songs, Jesi and I were saying they reminded us of Human League, Thompson Twins…very 80s euro-pop sounding stuff. Then on song four, Jesi leaned in and said ‘ERASURE!!’ ‘That’s it!‘ I said back. They are the 21st Century version of Erasure. I mean that as a compliment. They were fun, high energy and a great warm up for the madness about to descend.
After about a forty minute set from Scissor Sisters, they left the stage. In a peculiar move, the house lights never came up past a dim glow, so it was still very dark in the arena as the crews prepared GaGa’s set behind curtains. Jesi and I were in section 416 on the upper level, stage right. It ended up being a great view. You could see the full stage and also had a great view of the screens so you could see the closeups. The pre-show music that played before Lady GaGa took the stage was all Michael Jackson, which was a nice flashback. Hearing the bass line from ‘Billie Jean’ pulsating through an arena made me smile.
Then…the Monster Ball began.
After an intro featuring on screen black and white images, GaGa sang ‘Dance in the Dark’ completely in silhouette. It was a striking effect and had the legions of fans screaming, even though no one had actually ‘seen’ GaGa yet.
Before we go any further, here is the set list:
2.Dance in the Dark
3.Glitter and Grease
5.Beautiful, Dirty, Rich
9.Boys Boys Boys
12.You and I
13.So Happy I Could Die
20.Born This Way
Lady GaGa is an artist truly made for the ‘big’ stage. She has the presence to hold an audience’s attention, no matter if they are in the front row, or up in the nosebleeds. When she is onstage, all eyes are on her…and she knows it! She made a point of saying she doesn’t lip sync, and would never lip sync. That’s true when it comes to her lead vocals, but her background vocals are sampled from the albums. which I really have no issue with. She has a great, commanding voice. The use of sampled background vocals simply helps flesh out the song.
This show is for grown ups. I say that not from a prudish point of view, just as a statement. I saw many young pre-teen girls in attendance with parents and, while on the one hand, Lady GaGa can be, and is, a very positive voice of Independence and acceptance for young women to look up to, I am not sure if I would want a twelve year old watching some of the more than suggestive choreography, or hearing some of the banter concerning sex. Yes, Madonna did similar things years ago, but Lady GaGa takes it to another level. I don’t mean that as a negative thing at all, I think it’s great that she is so direct and up front about a usually taboo subject. I just think that this is a show for grown ups.
She’s known primarily as a dance/techno artist and, those songs were present in abundance, but I really think Lady GaGa is at her best when she is at her piano belting out a ballad, whether it’s ‘Brown Eyes’ from her debut CD, ‘The Fame’, ‘Speechless’ from 2009’s ‘The Fame Monster or the new song she played Thursday night, ‘You and I’. I am usually not a fan of an artist playing something that the crowd doesn’t know yet in concert. I want to hear songs I know, not the new stuff you’re working on that’s not out yet. However, I was impressed by this new song and her passionate performance. And, just in case you think the word ‘ballad’ equals ‘boring’, the song ended with her piano turned into a fire pit!
The costume changes were numerous. Some were done right onstage, some were done offstage while a movie played, or her band played an extended solo. I give her credit for keeping the audience interested while she wasn’t onstage. I must add that her backing band is basically a heavy metal outfit. They were very impressive and gave some of the dance numbers a heavy metal flavor.
Case in point: The song ‘Teeth’ from ‘The Fame Monster’ album. never really resonated with me on record. It wasn’t bad, but it was not a song that I revisited often on the iPod. In concert however, ‘Teeth’ was a center piece for GaGa and her guitarist. to perform a Robert Plant/Jimmy Page type call and response. It was unexpected, and it was absolutely riveting. GaGa writhing around the stage in a black bikini screaming ‘Show me your teeth!!’ and her guitarist answering with a screaming riff.
Then came the highlight of the night for me: Alejandro.
When it comes to GaGa, in my book, I think her best work, the piece of music that people will be playing fifty years from now and dissecting, is ‘Bad Romance.’ It’s a pop music masterpiece. ‘Alejandro’ was the followup single to ‘Bad Romance’ and, when I bought The Fame Monster, I liked ‘Alejandro, but it was no ‘Bad Romance’ in my book. Seeing it live in concert has changed my opinion of that song considerably.
The imagery used onstage for ‘Alejandro’ was a huge Christ statue. Okay, yeah, Madonna did this on the ‘Like A Prayer’ video. Seen it. No big deal. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the statue started bleeding. I’m not talking about a slight drip of blood, it started gushing blood! GaGa’s neck, chest and midriff were suddenly covered in fake red blood…and I stood there [I stood for the entire show] awestruck. ‘This is almost like a fucking KISShow!’ I said out loud though I knew no one heard me. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Jesi, being very catholic, I wasn’t sure if she was uncomfortable for clearly enjoying this moment that must have seemed almost sacrilege, or if she felt guilty for liking it, but I was floored.
‘That was pretty incredible!’ I said to Jesi after the song ended. I think Jesi’s response was ‘Wow!’
I’m not sure where the picture below was taken, but it was one I found on the Internet that came closest to the image I saw. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I could simply put this picture up as my only comment about the show and be done with it.
If you’re a fan of spectacle, as I am, if you are a fan of GWAR, Alice Cooper or KISS, as I am, then you simply have to admire that image, and realize that the degrees of separation between KISS and GaGa are not very far at all. That was the overwhelming feeling I came away with at show’s end. Though the music is very different from most everything else I listen to, the reason I like GaGa so much is because she knows what she wants, she knows her fans, and she doesn’t care who she offends in the process, as long as her fans like it. That’s a page right out of the Gene Simmons Book of Rock, and I can’t help but love her for that.
After ‘Paparazzi’ ended, and the encores awaited, I wondered what the order of the encores would be. I knew we would hear ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Born This Way’ I just didn’t know what would come first. The fact that she closed the evening’s performance with ‘Born This Way’ didn’t surprise me, but it’s the only part of the evening I would’ve changed. It’s really hard to follow ‘Bad Romance’ with anything. ‘Born This Way’ isn’t a bad song, I just think it pales in direct comparison with her masterpiece ‘Bad Romance.’ She sang ‘Born This Way’ acapella for a verse and chorus. It was something she did when she ended her Richmond show with ‘Poker Face’ acapella before the dance beat returned and they played the version on the record. With ‘Born This Way’, I think the singers need to find their footing on the acapella portion, the harmonies were a bit unsure and I was really hoping the night wouldn’t end with this version of the song. I was not only happy when the dance intro to ‘Born This Way’ blared from the speakers, I was relieved.
The night ended with the reaffirming lyric of acceptance that is ‘Born This Way’, and then all of the little monsters made their way out into the night.
Jesi and I learned something upon our exit: The Verizon Center does not have a cab stand, so it’s basically up to you to flag one down. As we made our way outside, it was raining [leaving Richmond wearing my heavy coat was a good choice]. We attempted to grab a cab for about ten minutes before making our way to the Monaco Hotel, partly because Jesi’s aunt is a Vice President for the hotel chain, but primarily because it had an overhang that would get us out of the rain.
Jesi called Red Top Cab and, twenty minutes later, we were en route to her abode in Arlington. We had a drink of carbonated fruit juice, talked for a bit and finally, around one o’clock in the morning, we called it a night. She showed me to my room, I popped a Benadryl [she has two cats, and I am allergic] and I slept for a bit.
See, because I am slightly crazy, or maybe just way too dedicated to my job, I was catching a 6:30am bus back to Richmond that morning.
Part IV: Journey Home. I’m kinda busy…
At 5:00am, I heard Jesi’s alarm sound from across the hall, and I was up. We both looked and felt like, well, like we had gotten about three hours sleep. We left her house at 5:30, stopped off at 7-11 so I could buy breakfast [a Pepsi and a honeybun] and made it to the bus stop by 6:00. Since Starbucks was not even open yet, Jesi had to double park so we said our goodbyes in the rain at the bus stop. Thanks again Jesi for rising so early to make sure I got home okay. After Jesi and her car, whom she refers to as Rupert, parted, I waited in the rain for the bus to arrive.
My bus arrived around 6:20. I boarded, quickly ate my honeybun, had a few gulps of the Pepsi, and then promptly closed my eyes, intent on sleeping for the ride home. I remember the bus leaving the DC bus station, and I remember peaking out to see the sunrise sometime after seven, but I didn’t really wake up until I looked up to see Richmond’s minor league ballpark, The Diamond. And it was only 8:13! My ticket said that the bus would be arriving around 8:50, so I knew my mom, who was meeting me to drive me right to work, would not have left the house yet. I texted her, ‘Passing the Diamond!’ Then I called her to make sure she knew I would be at the outdoor stop across from Main Street Station way ahead of schedule.
My bus arrived around 8:20, and shortly after 8:30, mom arrived. On the ride to work, I changed clothes. That was a first. My work bag was in the backseat from Thursday afternoon and, I had the forethought to put deodorant and a brush in the bag that morning so I would have it on Friday. As I exited the car, I did a check in the mirror to make sure I looked somewhat presentable and not like I had been on a bus since before sunrise.
By 9:15 I was at my desk and working, wired and getting stuff accomplished. I had a very productive day, especially considering it started in a different city and I was running solely on adrenaline and caffeine.
Admittedly, I did find my way to bed before 10:00 Friday night, and caught up on sleep. All the while, the images from the previous twenty four hours danced around my head.
To Jesi, thank you so much for being part of this wonderful adventure. Thanks for hosting me and making sure I got to my bus home on time. I hope we do something like this again soon!
To you dear reader, thank you for reading this true tale. If you take nothing else away from this story, know that when GaGa is in your town, you don’t want to miss her! It’s a truly unique and unforgettable experience; one that left me ‘Speechless.’