Lady GaGa The Monster Ball Tour: Manchester

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Lady Gaga: The Monster Ball meets Manchester
By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter

A 40-foot animatronic sea monster, 15 costume changes and a grand piano burning to pieces in the middle of the stage - you certainly get what you pay for at a Lady Gaga concert. The 23-year-old pop phenomenon played the first night of her self-styled "electro opera" in Manchester on Thursday. The tour, which travels around the UK and Ireland for the next couple of weeks, is dubbed The Monster Ball. But there's nothing to be frightened of - except tinnitus. It was a hugely ambitious, terrifyingly loud show, spread over four acts and held together by a flimsy "narrative" about Gaga and her dancer friends trying to get to a party. Impressively, the entire spectacle was put together in just four weeks. The singer told fans at the MEN arena: "We were doing another show in the United States... but I got very bored, so I threw it away." In fact, the production was so last-minute that the star was still on stage adding the finishing touches just half an hour before the doors opened. Inevitably, then, the first night didn't run entirely smoothly. Lighting cues were missed, the sound mix wasn't properly balanced and the show over-ran by 30 minutes, leaving some of the audience stranded in a cold and snowy Manchester. But nearly all 23,000 of them stayed on to the bitter end - because, make no mistake, this was a sight to behold.
New songs The show opened with Dance in the Dark - the song she played at the Brits on Tuesday - with Gaga gyrating on a set she appeared to have borrowed from a Gotham City production of West Side Story.Dressed in a futuristic, angular, glitterball suit, she descended the fire escape, poked around in the bonnet of a dilapidated green Rolls Royce and teased the audience with a snippet of a new song, Glitter and Grease. But things only really came to life with Just Dance, her first UK number one, and the first big sing-along of the night. From there, the pace never really let up. A pounding, staccato Love Game was performed inside a New York subway carriage, while Lennon-esque ballad Brown Eyes saw Gaga hammering the life out of a steampunk-inspired grand piano. The costume changes came thick and fast, often within the course of a single song. They were, for practicality's sake, more leotard-based than some of the star's more outrageous creations - but there were still a few eye-popping moments. By their very nature, the garments defied description. But here's an attempt to encapsulate three of them: Muppet Wonder Woman; Joan Collins Jedi Nun; Jellyfish bride humidity disaster area. The problem with the ridiculous frocks, however, was that they obscured the musician hiding beneath them. The most electrifying moments of the night came when plain old Stefani Germanotta from New York sat behind the piano and displayed some good old-fashioned musicianship. The emotional high-point was Speechless, a song she wrote for her father - "about how he loves Johnny Walker just a little bit more than he loves me." It was a disarmingly tender performance, and quite at odds with everything that came before or after. But then it is easy to forget that Gaga has only been doing this for 18 months. She has established herself so firmly in the public consciousness that she already has an air of permanence. The expectations for this, her first headline tour in the UK, were up there with Madonna - who has been doing it for 25 years but who, since Tuesday, has one less Brit award. That Gaga's grand, dynamic show lived up to that challenge was testament to her vision and ambition - but surely it must be bankrupting her? Take, for example, the folly of the fish creature - a multi-limbed, pneumatically-operated beast from the depths of the sea that appeared for just three minutes, mauling Lady Gaga as she attempted to perform Paparazzi. It wasn't entirely clear why this was happening, or what relevance it had to the song. But it must have seemed like a good idea to someone (presumably not the tour accountant). Gaga survived the attack by the way, with just enough energy for a stomping, full-hearted rendition of Bad Romance, which sent the audience chanting "Ga, ga, ooh-la-la" into the chilly evening. Execpt for one fan, who paused to tell the BBC her night had been "dead weird, but nice."

ACT 1: City
Dance in the Dark
Glitter and Grease
Just Dance
Beautiful, Dirty, Rich
The Fame
ACT 2: Subway
Boys Boys Boys
Money Honey
Brown Eyes
So Happy I Could Die
ACT 3: Forest
ACT 4: Monster Ball
Bad Romance

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Lady Gaga: Weirdly wonderful, with shoulderpads
Following her success at the Brits Lady Gaga opened her tour in Manchester with swaggering confidence, offering something noticeably edgier than your average pop stadium show

There's an impressive swaggering confidence about the way Lady Gaga takes the stage, singing Dance In the Dark: it takes a certain je ne sais quoi to open your show doing something that looks suspiciously like mime on a rickety metal staircase while wearing an outfit with shoulderpads the size of the deck on a small aircraft carrier. Then again, you might be filled with swaggering confidence, were you Lady Gaga. On Tuesday, she was the solitary bright spot at a tedious Brit awards ceremony. Arriving midway, apparently wearing a proportion of the set on her head and performing a ballad dedicated to Alexander McQueen, she seemed like the only real pop star present; certainly X Factor-sponsored boyband JLS dangling precariously from wires over the stage looked a bit wan by comparison. She won three Brits, and such is Lady Gaga's current celebrity that she can cause an audience to scream approval simply by removing her sunglasses – she removes her sunglasses midway through Glitter And Grease to prove this – and her merchandise stall can gamely offer the MEN crowd a £50 hoodie emblazoned I LOVE LADY GAY GAY, which you might think twice about wearing around some of Manchester's estates. There seem to be takers. Moreover, there were teenage boys here with ­glitter in their hair and their faces painted in the singer's trademark lightning flash make up. Staying cynical is a tough call when you're confronted with adolescents so devoted they're prepared to risk the bus home got up in a manner that virtually invites the less enlightened user of late night public transport to thump them. Looking at her fans, you're struck by the feeling that, regardless of her more implausible interview claims, Lady Gaga might actually be that rarest of things: a pop star who encourages the audience to take risks, invites their fans not merely to listen to their music and buy their records, but enter into a kind of alternate world. That said, it's hard to work out exactly what that alternate world might stand for based on her lengthy show, nearly two hours, in four acts with film footage of a negligee-clad woman vomiting green paint over the singer and a series of costume changes in which the shoulder pads get increasingly immense, until those in her initial costume look like the very model of subtle understatement. Perhaps it's enough that it's just a bit weird, weirdness being a commodity that pop music of the chart-topping variety in which Lady Gaga deals seldom bothers with these days for fear of scaring off potential buyers. Neither the world's greatest singer nor the world's greatest dancer, she nevertheless appears to be working harder than any of her peers to create something noticeably edgier and more interesting than your average pop stadium show. You could argue that you'd be hard pushed to create anything less edgy than your average pop stadium show, but, as she rips through Pokerface and Bad Romance – two of the finest-crafted pop singles in recent memory - you can't help but be entertained by what's going on up onstage. It might be depthless when it purports to be deep, but it still leaves every other pop star looking a bit wan by comparison. The Guardian

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