At Lady Gaga's sold-out show on July 2, the first of two gigs at Boston's TD Garden and the opener of the U.S. leg of her Monster Ball Tour, the pop superstar paused between songs to deliver a pointed message to her adoring fans: breathing heavily into her mike like a sexed-up Darth Vader, she intoned, "Remember: no other pop singer will ever love you as much as I love you."
Bold words? Definitely. But the Gaga phenomenon wouldn't work without the two-way symbiosis that is her unique relationship with her "little monsters." Thursday night's show was a people-watching horn of plenty, as male and female attendees dressed to the nines in thrall to their diva master. High-heels ruled the night, as did outrageously skimpy attire and painted faces, both onstage and in the audience.
Gaga started the show off coyly: shadow-dancing to opener "Dance in the Dark" behind a massive gridded scrim, she slowly revealed herself in stages. A few songs later, in the midst of her electro-throb smash "Just Dance," she tossed her overstuffed blue leather sequined jacket and doffed the oversized sunglasses, and the jumbotrons got a look at her piercing eyes for the first time. The crowd exploded.
"I am here to set you free!" Gaga screamed, arms outstretched, rapturously. The capacity audience took her at her word, convulsing in fits of apoplectic mania at her every gesture. No longer trotting onto a club stage with just a DJ and a dream, Gaga's stadium supersizing has beefed up her Eurodisco dance grooves with a full band and a posse of backup dancers. The human players know enough not to get in the way of the dance-floor whump of megahit like "Poker Face," but over-the-top guitar and organ flourishes made a normally plodding tune like "Brown Eyes" sound like the Spiders From Mars covering Mötley Crüe's "Home Sweet Home." A mid-set bevy of piano tunes found Gaga in a plaintive mood, even joining her band in a brief foray into a free jazz improv that belied their session dude origins. Although it was hard to imagine who was paying attention to the sidemen when a mustard-blonde superstar was center stage in a g-string pounding out notes with her high-heeled boots.
Gaga has never needed an excuse to amp up her set and wardrobe outrageousness, but this round of Monster Ball gigs — loosely based around a hunt for "the greatest" party of all time — is extra prop and glitter-heavy. Stage pieces included a subway car and a Bethesda Fountain, and a few gallons of fake blood oozed throughout the night. She trotted out in a Ming the Merciless-y robe during "Boys Boys Boys," an elaborate ice queen get-up for "So Happy I Could Die" and a cylindrical contraption for "Monster." Allusions to Bowie and Madonna pop up throughout her set with glitter stomp and mega-blonde strip-teasing, but at her most outlandish moments she displays the fashion bravura of Lamb Lies Down On Broadway-era Peter Gabriel, a will to be weird that would seem, to the uninitiated, a hard sell to a nearly 20,000-strong crowd.
But her fans get it, and in a live setting it's easy to see why. Whether she is shucking through the distorto-stomp of the euphoric "Bad Romance" or tickling the ivories in a stripped down run-through of the brand-new Seventies-Elton-John-ish "You And I," Gaga uses her natural magnetism to make the weirdness seem intimate.
This mix of the bizarre and the heartfelt was summed up perfectly at the end of set-closer "Paparazzi": basking in the frenzied screams of her fans, Gaga, in a voice dripping with heartfelt sincerity, raised a hand in the air and said, "I love you all so much!" while her custom outfit spit sparks out of her chest and crotch. "Together," she continued, "we can do anything!" For a second there, it almost seemed true.