WASHINGTON – White smoke billowed from the top of the stage as if a new pope had been appointed at the Vatican.
But it was just part of the long introduction for pop’s high priestess, Lady Gaga, to make her striking entrance, encased in an upright metal grave to tie “Bad Romance.” The tight music, filled with metallic guitars, paralleled her claustrophobic presentation and immediately announced that this long-awaited Chromatica Ball would be a trippy journey.
Fans endured two years of delays in Gaga’s live production to complement her 2020 “Chromatica” album, and Monday’s start of a US tour that spans the country through September delivered the peak of Gaga.
Even wearing a headset microphone, her powerful voice ripped through Nationals Park in Washington as she broke free of her shell to bounce through “Just Dance” and rock to “Poker Face.”
The rapid-fire opening salvo ushered in a four-act spectacle that carried vague themes of Gaga’s holy trinity of identity, reinvention and acceptance. Artsy video interludes were understandable necessities to allow for scene and costume changes, but their duration often slowed the momentum.
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Still, it wasn’t too difficult to slip back into Gaga’s world when she returned to the stage, whether she was spreading out on a record for “Alice”, an identity crisis set to a disco or imploring fans to “put their paws up”! ” during the furious “Replay”.
Gaga, who was 36 years old, shimmered amid what seemed like an acre of dancers and a glam band tucked into alcoves on the massive stage. Her innate acting skills crept into her stark facial expressions, zoomed in on the two circular screens flanking the stage as she stormed through “911” with its frantic red lights.
Some predictable stadium trappings appeared during the two-hour show, including the plumes of fire that sputtered around the venue during a frothy “Telephone” (because that’s what this sticky summer night needed – more heat) and the inevitable move to B – stage at the back on the floor.
But as lovely as it was to see Gaga and her ace dance crew “Vogue” make their way through “Babylon” in matching gold satin and boogie to the smaller setup during “Free Woman,” minimalist Gaga was, as always, the most rewarding one part of the night.
It also allowed her to juxtapose the choreographed exuberance to connect with her fans, a devoted, loving horde that she clearly loves just as much.
“I see a lot of people in this audience who know exactly who you are!” she proclaimed at the beginning of the glorious acceptance hymn, “Born This Way.” Starting behind a piano festooned with tree branches, Gaga infused the song with deliberate phrasing before bursting into the mirrorball version with a handful of dancers, shouting: “They better not be messing with gay marriage in this country!”
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While Gaga could have stayed in place, she instead disappeared for another costume change and reappeared in black fishnet stockings and a matching purple and black leotard and headdress that looked like a prop from the “Star Wars” cafeteria.
But the flashy outfit was a direct contrast to the most compelling part of the concert.
Between two gems from “A Star is Born,” the magical “Shallow” — her voice a mighty, versatile instrument — and the tender yet grandiose ballad “Always Remember Us This Way,” Gaga turned thoughtful.
“Over the last few years, this country has been very brave and shown a lot of courage, and there was a lot of pain,” she said. “We wish we could go back and change what happened, but I want to remember your bravery. I think the world is pretty special, even though it’s also (expletive) up.
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But she reserved her strongest commentary for a soaring version of “The Edge of Glory,” dedicating the song to “every woman in America who now has to worry about her body if she gets pregnant. I pray that this country will speak up. That we stick together and don’t stop until it’s RIGHT.”
The evolution of Lady Gaga has been tremendous to witness. Whether she’s dancing cheek to cheek with mentor Tony Bennett, pulling off an Italian accent on film, paring back the showmanship for her Las Vegas jazz and piano show, or closing a massive stadium production with a mediocre ballad from the current “Top Gun” (which she did with “Hold My Hand”), her ambitions still feel limitless.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lady Gaga US Chromatica Ball tour: Singer defends gay marriage, abortion