Take our hands, Joanne. Pop superstar Lady Gaga packed a sold-out Frank Erwin Center in Austin on Tuesday as part of her Joanne World Tour. Sparkly spectacle? Sure. Life-affirming tearjerker? Absolutely. Two hours of raw talent packed with sequins, fringe and a whole lot of hats? Well, we already said it was a Lady Gaga show. Austin360’s Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb break down a show that didn’t leave a single poker face in the house.
EW: So, Deborah, we discussed our respective levels of Gaga fandom going in. I would consider myself a Gagalogist, and you say you harbor occasional monstrous tendencies. If I’m going to look at this show from a pop academic view, this concert was Gaga giving you everything you want. She’s defied boxes for about 10 years — even defying her out-of-the-box box sometimes, if that makes sense. Tuesday night, we got back-of-the-bar twang from “A-Yo,” tender balladry with “Joanne,” 1970s power-pop with “Come To Mama,” Met Gala Euro-seizures with “Bad Romance,” pride anthems like “Born This Way,” German industrial cabaret with “Scheiße,” Catholic hellcore on “Bloody Mary” … heck, we even got a song from “Artpop”! The good lady was one Tony Bennett jazz riff away from a hat trick. (Although she did perform many tricks while wearing various hats.) There’s nothing she can’t do, as she keeps trying to show you people.
DSS: She’s undeniably one of the best performers of her generation, by a long shot. And people (people like me sometimes) are quick to scoff at the “Little Monster” phenomenon, the intense emotional attachment her fans feel for her, but that show was emotional. I didn’t walk into the Erwin Center expecting to weep, but I did. Three times. Every artist says they love their fans, but she really does seem to strive for a different level of connection. “All I ever do is think about how I can be better for you all the time,” she said at one point.
The stage set demonstrated as much. With three platforms placed at different spots on the floor and floating screen clouds that transformed into bridges between them, she seriously brought the show to everyone in that arena.
EW: Gaga can come off as a little affected sometimes, but I think it’s because she’s performing with this uber-sincerity that’s totally devoid of sarcasm. She’s never taking the piss out of her own message or delivering a lyric with a wink. When you see Gaga receive a painting from a fan depicting the singer with her best friend Sonja Durham, who recently died, it’s this wholly committed moment. Could feel canned with another performer. Gaga, however, asks if the portrait was painted with acrylics. The word of the night was kindness. Gaga took a generous moment to welcome the folks in the audience who might not be on-board with LGBT equality. Certainly not the punk way to go about it, but definitely the radically compassionate way.
Which reminds me, this show was incredibly, gloriously queer. It was a fantasia: rainbow streams of light for “Born This Way”; Gaga riding cowboys on “John Wayne”; shirtless men and their pectoral muscles spending a portion of “Alejandro” tangled and tango-ed; the entire campy, Western ecstasy of my favorite “Joanne” song, “Diamond Heart.” Way to take the trappings of Texas and put a pink cowboy hat on ’em. Gaga knows her audience.
Alright, highlights for you, Deborah?
DSS: Man, so many! And they were all so different. Definitely, the moment you described with the fan painting, immediately followed by Gaga performing “Edge of Glory” in memory of her friend, with tears streaming down her face. I also loved the point during “Applause” when the screen of clouds came down to bridge the stage and Gaga and her posse of male dancers in flowered mumus sashayed across the arena while the crowd went wild. The ecstatic dance magic of “Bad Romance,” the quiet poignancy of “Joanne” and “A Million Reasons.” The dancing throughout. Honestly, in terms of arena production, the mixture of spectacle and intimacy was better than any I’ve ever seen. You?
EW: I have a notes file full of gems and I will be listing them in obnoxious detail to anyone who will listen this week. Gaga first hit the scene when I was out on my own for the first time in college. I remember watching the “LoveGame” video in my first apartment with my roommate. I remember when me and one of my good friends would run to the floor at fraternity semi-formals when “Just Dance” wafted over the speakers. So, seeing Gaga twist and pivot and hoof it to that familiar “Telephone” choreography was a little out-of-body. Like you said, Gaga soared through that “Edge of Glory,” and she also wailed upside down, hanging off a platform, on “Paparazzi.” Heck, the entirety of “The Cure” was a highlight.
But if you’ll allow me to talk gay turkey again for a second, there was something electric about hearing Gaga sing that God made you perfectly — no matter gay, straight, bi, lesbian or trans — in 2017, and in Texas. Maybe it’s a little sad to still have to say that so people hear it. But there’s the truth, here in Texas, here in 2017.
Gaga cycled through bejeweled leotards, blew the roof off with that extraordinary voice and performed feats of dancing strength. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is the superhero of pop. There’s not much more to it than that.
And after all that, Lady Gaga popped in at Antone’s after the show.