Two years of covid-related postponements on top of a string of cancellations due to ongoing health issues made this weekend Gaga’s first time playing the UK capital since 2014. And what a return it was.
Confounding expectations, as always, the set and costume design eschewed the dayglo cyber-rave aesthetic of the album artwork for an expressionistic, concrete monolith she referred to as her ‘museum of brutalism’ and chic, gothic stylings with a largely monochromatic palette. But while the visuals may have been gloomy, the atmosphere was electric. Opening with a ballsy 3-track sucker punch of Bad Romance, Just Dance and Poker Face the setlist covered off a satisfying chunk of Chromatica, along with enough hits and treats to keep more casual fans engaged.
Gaga is a performer who unfailingly gives her all on stage, but her energy levels and performance skills felt at an all time high here. In part this may be due to the show being crafted in a way that played to her strengths and focused more keenly on her vocals and personality than ever before. Simple but striking staging and a noticeable reduction of full choreography allowed her room to breathe, and led to one of the slickest live performances of her career. There’s almost always something slightly shonky and a bit messy with any live Gaga experience, and in so many ways it’s part of her charm, but the Chromatica Ball is a remarkably well oiled machine. Don’t be mistaken, it still still oozes with her own particular kind of weirdness, but it does so in an effortlessly cool and high class way. As though she transported the feeling of those beautiful, stylish, freaky Nick Knight backdrop videos onto the stage itself.
This finely tuned precision extended through every area of the show. She spoke enough to connect with the audience, movingly so at points, but gone were the long rambling verbal detours of the past. The piano segment, in particular, was a revelation in this respect. I love Gaga at a piano, bashing the keys and letting her raw talent shine, but it has to be said that in previous tours this often became a stop, start frustration as she would sing, talk, sing a bit more and slowly trudge her way through (what felt like) a 25 minute rendition of one track. Instead songs like Shallow and Always Remember Us This Way absolutely came alive, getting a straight forward but powerhouse treatment, turning them into a highlight of the night rather than a potential bar trip.
There was plenty of high camp, whether that was strutting through the crowd to Babylon or delivering Hold My Hand as a hair-metal power ballad, but it was less bargain shop unicorn plushie and more Versace catwalk. There was enough art-house concept that it felt suitably pretentious (it’s split into signposted Acts for a start..) but not so much that it buckled under the weight of it. She made reference to the themes but didn’t over explain, letting the audience feel it for themselves. If something so excessive and over the top can possibly be called restrained, then that’s what it was.
Whilst a lot of the affection I have for her previous tours is tied up in the insanity of things like watching her be awkwardly and inelegantly fed into a meat grinder head first whilst singing Americano, there is something undeniably thrilling about seeing her knock it out of the park in such a flawless manner as this show provides. Whether this is the New Lady Gaga we are seeing, or just Lady Gaga right now, it was unexpected in a way I would never have expected. How very Lady Gaga.
All words by Susan Sloan.