Closing the loop on a seven-year stretch between Oklahoma City appearances, Lady Gaga led a sold-out crowd of her “monsters” through a two-hour set of hits and fan favorites, strutting across four stages Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena and achieving a sweet balance between nuclear pyrotechnics and real human warmth.
A skilled theatrical mind with a keen sense of what will gin up a crowd’s fervor, Gaga employed a masterful tool to wind up fans before a single note was heard: a six-digit clock counting down 10 minutes to the start of the show. Waves of excitement wafted off the crowd as each minute clicked away until Gaga and a phalanx of dancers and musicians bounded onto a kinetic, shape-shifting main stage.
“Unless you’ve got a real good reason, I’m gonna need you to get on your motherfucking feet,” Gaga said, pushing a heterogeneous audience of club kids, glammed-up suburbanites, wig-festooned superfans and more than a few senior citizens to reach the edge of glory with every song. Beginning with “Diamond Heart” from her 2016 album Joanne, Gaga delivered the fire and fury on her dance-floor bangers and decelerated into emotional reveries on a handful of beloved ballads.
Throughout the evening, Chesapeake Energy Arena was Gaga’s canvas as runways descended from the rafters to spirit the singer from stage to stage, depending on the needs of any given song. Dance tracks like “Scheiße,” “Poker Face” and “Perfect Illusion” mostly lived on the main stage, an undulating mechanism that alternately raised, lowered or slanted to give Gaga and her dancers a strikingly uphill battle for dance-floor supremacy. But Gaga could also summon a runway to take her to the opposite end of the arena, where a see-through piano beckoned her for ballads like “The Edge of Glory” and “Angel Down.”
Throughout the night, Gaga spoke warmly of her “monsters,” who responded with outstretched claws or paws as she thanked them for their devotion and spoke warmly of the need for kindness and tolerance.
“It doesn’t matter what race you are, what ethnicity you are, what age you are, what religion you are, you were born this way,” she said, leading into the title track from 2010’s Born This Way. If anything has changed in the nine years since Gaga released The Fame, she has adopted a more relatable persona and is uncommonly gracious with fans. After two front-row dwellers tossed a jean jacket hand-painted with Gaga’s portrait onto the stage, she read the attached poem in its entirety and then descended into the crowd to hug one of the fans.
Spectacle is what got everyone’s attention with The Fame, but Gaga earned enduring respect with her extraordinary voice, an instrument that can scale heights on emotional ballads like “Joanne” or pounding pop-rockers like “Diamond Heart.” That and her disarming transparency helped Gaga transcend those early comparisons to Madonna. At all times during her performance at Chesapeake, Gaga’s voice was at the forefront, no matter what she was wearing or how many dancers or fire plumes surrounded her.
After a 21-song set culminating in a performance of her recent single “The Cure,” Gaga coyly left the stage, seemingly acknowledging the ridiculousness of the encore ritual. When she reappeared, resplendent in her glam-cowgirl Joanne gear, she traversed the suspended runways back to her piano and delivered a powerful performance of “Million Reasons,” a ballad that is quickly becoming one of her signature songs. It was the finale to a roundly mutual lovefest that, even with 22,000 people in attendance, felt bracingly intimate.
“I used to always say this, and I still believe it now,” she said. “But looking out into the crowd is like looking into a disco ball because it’s lots of tiny mirrors reflecting back at me, and I see myself reflected in each and every one of you. And I love you so, so much.”
For an artist who began her career as a high-concept, ironic reflection of postmodern fame, Lady Gaga now sounds like she’d like to wrap herself around her fans. She can change her costumes as many times as she likes, but this is her best look.