Chicago Sun-Times
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Lollapalooza centers on Lady Gaga's Broadway bluster

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Lady Gaga performs Friday night at Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park. (Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)

Early this year, Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell said Lady Gaga's performance would be the "centerpiece" of this summer's sixth annual concert festival in Grant Park. He said $150,000 was spent on the staging for the pop star's Monster Ball Tour theatrics.

In a conversation backstage Friday afternoon, Farrell said, "Did you see how many trucks she has? 18! And one of them is just for her wardrobe."

At this point, after a rise in the pop culture that defines meteoric, Lady Gaga is the centerpiece of any space she inhabits. Her gravity sucked most of the total crowd -- estimated by Farrell at 80,000 strong Friday -- from Friday's other headliner, the Strokes. The guy standing next to me throughout Gaga's show? Wearing a Strokes T-shirt.

So rock is dead, and somehow Broadway won. Lady Gaga's performance was a highly scripted, bewildering, bedazzled psychological drama, with production values right off the Great White Way.

Her two-hour set played like a jukebox musical -- a bunch of Gaga hits strung together with a loose story line about kids in a broken-down car trying to get to the Monster Ball.

Our Lady first appeared in silhouette, singing "Dance in the Dark" in the first of many outlandish costumes fresh off the semi, including enormous shoulder pads, a nun's habit with a see-through plastic suit, a huge fringed lampshade, even the same disco-ball bra she wore when she played a Lollapalooza side stage for a small crowd as an unknown in 2007. She tackled all the hits -- "Just Dance," "Love Game," "Poker Face," an encore of "Bad Romance" -- from her two albums.

But the songs themselves seemed inconsequential next to Lady Gaga's evangelism. If you've ever been picked on, scorned, denied or in any way counted out, Lady Gaga wants you to know, she understands. Numerous litanies -- frequently punctuated with unusually hoarse, throaty, Courtney Love screaming to get her point across -- hammered this point, even if the songs only do indirectly. Born Stefani Germanotta, she was picked on in school, which she mentioned four times. Her conquering of pop culture and filling of Grant Park, she seemed to conclude, is vindication and validation. And you can have this, too. Let your freak flag fly with pride and you, too, shall be saved!

Someone's gotta say this to every generation, and it might as well be her this time around. She's just not adding a whole lot to it other than an overload of drama. Girl kinda needs to get over herself.

The attitude behind this is very aggressive, too, and you can see it in the choreography -- all punches and thrown elbows and monster claws. Everyone on stage frowns and sneers. The band members flip each other off. The bassist is dressed like a military commando. Gaga's expletive-laced homilies end with screams that say, in essence, "F--- you, world!" She rips her stockings, she smears herself with blood, she's seen in a video dressed in delicate chiffons -- and a gas mask. She strives to obliterate every convention of beauty, and she says she's doing it so we can "be FREEEEEEEE!"

"What I really hate," she added, "I hate money." (spit take!) Then the ridiculous scream again: "I don't want your money, I WANT YOUR SOOOOOOUL!" This before she tried to out-sacrilege Madonna (a profane prayer, a bleeding angel statue, comparing herself to Jesus) and added, in possibly her truest statement (despite also explaining that, next to money, she really "hates the truth"): "I don't care who you are or what you believe, all I care about is what you think of me."

What I think of her: She's an incredible talent, but she's buried it in all this showy nonsense that she seems to think has grand, transcendent meaning. When things quieted down and she sat at the piano, alone, she was stunning and truly entertaining, holding the crowd in the palm of her hand with greater power than the dancing and the mugging and the light show. She's got a helluva voice and can control or dish the vibrato with a master's skill. "Speechless" easily leaves a listener just that way, and a new song, "You and I," was a killer ballad with meat on its bones. She sounded like Bonnie Raitt when she sang it, and she certainly left us all something to talk about.

These piano ballads were also the only time we saw a sign of real humanity from Lady Gaga. She smiled. Before and after these two moments, she strutted through her performance with an eerie lack of facial expression, a completely vacant face, even when screaming. Here, she gave a shout-out to her dad. She brought out her former partner, Lady Starlight, for a brief dance routine to Metallica's "Metal Militia." She laughed. As she pounded out "You and I," she looked moved, awestruck, impassioned.

But the humanity disappeared once back on script. Then it was little more than cues and costumes and ... fireworks. It was "family night" with the Chicago Bears tonight at Soldier Field. Just as the curtain went up for Gaga's third act, a barrage of fireworks went off directly behind the stage (and over Soldier). A lot of people in the crowd wondered if this was part of Gaga's show -- understandable given the aforementioned $150K spent, her obvious penchant for production excess and, hey, the fireworks lasted exactly as long as it took for Gaga & Co. to dance their way through "Monster."

No, they were really just an omen. See those, Stef? See how brightly they burn, and how quickly they fade?

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The unfortunate part about professionals reviewing a show in a large venue like the south Lollapalooza stage is that you don't get the same experience as one of the fans 50,000 people back. There were serious sound problems for those of us who weren't close to the stage. While Lollapalooza had speaker towers (and they were definitely on for Raphael Saadiq and DEVO), they appeared to be silent during the Gaga show. From the back, she sounded like she was in a cave.

I had a bad experience, and I was disappointed. I can't say whether it could be 100% chalked up to the crappy sound in the back, but it certainly took the luster off the high parts of her performance. I think this must have been Lollapalooza's fault. I've been going for the last several years, and this is the first headliner where the sound seemed off.

How is it possible that no journalists noticed the mass exodus from Gaga that was completely obvious. Her performance was bleeding people, including a woman dressed in an entire-head-covering zebra body suit and scores of people obviously at the festival just for Gaga!

Great review and great show, but I agree: this chick talks too much. She lost the energy between songs sometimes and there was a steady stream of people leaving because it got kinda tiresome after a while.

I went to lolla but left as gaga went on. Maybe its cause I am in my 30's and grew up listening to Artists like Madonna and Janet Jackson, who both put on great shows in the past, (rhythm nation and blonde ambition tours). I knew Gaga would disappoint sad to see how bad Pop music is these days.

Gaga is the single-most talented performer of this century and this article practically says just that. Janet Jackson and Madonna barely write their own music let alone actually sing live. Tell me another pop artist who's doing that then tell me about how 'bad Pop music is these days'


The exodus was mostly due to two concurrent headliners. Since gaga started earlier, it made more sense to check out an hour of her set and then an hour of the strokes.

@Amanda and Salvador

Wow... What an incredible accomplishment that goo-goo Gaga writes her own songs and sings live. NOBODY DOES THAT!!!!! Therefore she must be the most talented pop performer of the century!

Madonna and Janet Jackson are not the benchmark for talent. I don't care if I'm pretentious but you people are completely ignorant or don't have a musical ear. There are other restaurants out there to go to besides Bennigans, Chiles, and Applebees before you go to the AMC theater to see the latest Michael Bay movie....

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on August 6, 2010 11:53 PM.

Lollapalooza: The north end, part 2 was the previous entry in this blog.

Lollapalooza debut: X Japan finally comes to America is the next entry in this blog.

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