Review of Lady Gaga’s concert at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, 3/28/11, on her 25th birthday. Originally appeared here.
Lady Gaga’s Birthday Ball
Los Angeles crowd goes gaga for the pop diva on her 25th birthday
By Jeff Moehlis, Noozhawk Contributor | Published on 03.31.2011
Before Lady Gaga’s performance Monday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, on the occasion of her 25th birthday, her father warned her that people were going to throw gifts on the stage, and to “be careful what you put in your mouth.”
Indeed, the yellow-haired Lady Gaga was showered with presents thrown to her by her fans, a display of affection that seemed to truly touch the artist, who is arguably the world’s biggest pop star.
But her favorite birthday present — from her wardrobe staff — was a pair of red ruby slippers that Judy Garland had worn during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. This gift, which she brought onstage and at one point was used to play the piano, was particularly meaningful to Lady Gaga. She revealed that she had wanted to play Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard of Oz, but lost out to an older girl who had rubbed it in by pointing out that she used Coca-Cola on her ruby slippers to keep from slipping.
In retrospect, maybe that stage just wasn’t big enough for her. Like Dorothy, Lady Gaga is now the star of the show, but she also has brains that would make the Scarecrow proud — she’s a marketing genius, plus she can write some pretty darn catchy music; the bravery that the Cowardly Lion craved — she is seemingly fearless in her fashion and antics; and the heart sought by the Tin Man — in her advocacy of gay rights and anti-bullying campaign, and her rather sizable donations to charity.
The stop in Los Angeles was part of Lady Gaga’s worldwide Monster Ball Tour, which, keeping with a theme, she described as a “punk-rock version of The Wizard of Oz.” It is loosely based on the story of Lady Gaga and a group of friends getting lost while trying to reach the Monster Ball, but this narrative wasn’t essential to the show.
From start to finish, Lady Gaga delivered a thrilling night of song and spectacle, with outrageous costumes worn onstage and by the audience.
Of course, in addition to song and spectacle, there was shock. At one point she wore a headpiece that resembled a nun’s habit and a see-through outfit with white tape crossed over her nipples. Later, a dancer from Germany, hovering suggestively over Lady Gaga, was introduced with “Michael loves California girls, and Michael loves California boys. Like Jesus, Michael loves everybody.” But let’s admit it: If Lady Gaga didn’t do anything shocking, we would probably be disappointed.
Her hits were scattered throughout the show. Early on, “Just Dance” exploded with energy, with a kaleidoscopic projection behind the dancers, adding a trippiness factor. This was also Lady Gaga’s first foray onto the part of stage that extended out into the audience. A bit later, “LoveGame” was a joyous collective ride on the “disco stick.”
Before singing her hit “Telephone,” originally recorded with Beyoncé, a 19-year-old fan got the thrill of his life — he got a phone call from the onstage Lady Gaga and was christened Ambassador to the Monster Ball. This fan, with poise beyond his years, had earlier been sitting a few rows behind me, and was overwhelmed when he found out right before the show that he had been chosen for this role, something he told Lady Gaga that he had prayed for the night before. You just had to feel good for this kid.
After this song, she gave spirited piano renditions of her current No. 1 hit, “Born This Way,” and the newish song “You and I.” Oh, did I mention that for the latter song the piano was on fire?
Her main set ended with hits “Alejandro,” “Poker Face” and “Paparazzi,” during which a huge Fame Monster with glowing eyes and mouth grooved along, with Lady Gaga donning a sparkler bra. For the encore, Lady Gaga turned the Staples Center into the world’s coolest club with the “Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah / Roma, roma, ma / Gaga, ooh, la, la” of “Bad Romance” and the empowering “Born This Way.”
It is somewhat hard to believe, but Lady Gaga has topped her fabulous Andy Warhol-inspired Fame Ball Tour, which I was fortunate to catch at L’Olympia in Paris in July 2009. At the Monster Ball she is able to draw upon a greater wealth of material, and there seems to be no limit to the realization of her artistic vision. But I did miss the plastic bubble dress that she wore at the Paris show.
Exhausted after giving it her all for two hours — with no lip-synching or other corner-cutting — Lady Gaga was touched when her supporting cast brought out a cake and led the 20,000 “little monsters” in singing “Happy Birthday,” while “Happy Birthday Gaga!” scrolled around the electric lights of the venue.
Thanks to Lady Gaga for sharing her birthday with us. I’ll give her the final word: “Good night, be yourself and love who you are.”
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.