WASHINGTON – White smoke billowed from the top of the stage as if a new pope had been named at the Vatican.
But it was merely part of the lengthy introduction for the high priestess of pop, Lady Gaga, to make her striking entrance, cocooned in an upright metal tomb to belt “Bad Romance.” The taut music, riddled with metallic guitars, paralleled her claustrophobic presentation and immediately announced that this long-awaited Chromatica Ball would be a trippy journey.
Fans endured two years of postponements of Gaga’s live production to complement her 2020 “Chromatica” album, and Monday’s U.S. tour kickoff, which spans the country through September, delivered peak Gaga.
Even wearing a headset mic, her potent voice ripped through Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., as she broke free from her shell to bounce through “Just Dance” and gyrate during “Poker Face.”
The snappy opening salvo prefaced a four-act spectacle that carried vague themes of the Gaga holy trinity of identity, reinvention and acceptance. Artsy video interludes were understandable necessities to allow for set and costume changes, but their duration often decelerated the momentum.
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Still, it wasn’t too arduous to slip back into Gaga’s world when she returned on stage, whether she was splayed on a slab for “Alice,” an identity crisis set to a disco beat, or imploring fans to “put your paws up!” during the raging “Replay.”
A limber 36, Gaga shimmed amidst what looked like an acre of dancers and a glam band tucked into alcoves on the massive stage. Her innate acting abilities snuck into her glaring facial expressions, zoomed in for the two circular screens flanking the stage, as she stormed through “911” with its frantic red lights.
Some predictable stadium trappings popped up throughout the two-hour show, including the plumes of fire that spouted around the venue during a frothy “Telephone” (because that’s what this sticky summer night needed – more heat) and the inevitable move to the B-stage at the back of the floor.
But as delightful as it was to watch Gaga and her ace dance crew “Vogue” their way through “Babylon” in matching gold satin and boogie to the smaller setup during “Free Woman,” minimalist Gaga was, as always, the most rewarding part of the night.
It also allowed her to sideline the choreographed exuberance to connect with her fans, a devoted, loving horde whom she clearly equally adores.
“I see a lot of people in this audience who know exactly who you are!” she proclaimed at the start of the glorious hymn of acceptance, “Born This Way.” Starting behind a piano bedecked in tree branches, Gaga infused the song with deliberate phrasing before bursting into the mirror ball version with a handful of dancers and yelling, “They better not mess with gay marriage in this country!”
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While Gaga could have remained in place, she instead disappeared for another costume change and re-emerged in black fishnet stockings and a matching purple and black leotard and headpiece that looked like a prop from the “Star Wars” cantina.
But the flashy outfit was a direct contrast to the most compelling part of the concert.
In between two gems from “A Star is Born,” the magical “Shallow” – her voice a mighty, versatile instrument – and the tender-yet-grand piano ballad “Always Remember Us This Way,” Gaga turned pensive.
“Over the past few years this country has been very brave and showed a lot of courage and there was a lot of pain,” she said. “We wish we could go back and change what happened, but I want to remember your bravery. I think the world is pretty special, even though it’s (expletive)-up, too.”
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But she reserved her strongest commentary before a soaring take on “The Edge of Glory,” dedicating the song to, “every woman in America who now has to worry about her body if she gets pregnant. I pray that this country will speak up. That we will stick togeher and not stop until it’s RIGHT.”
The evolution of Lady Gaga has been tremendous to witness. Whether she’s dancing cheek to cheek with mentor Tony Bennett, snapping off an Italian accent on film, peeling back the showmanship for her Las Vegas jazz and piano show or wrapping a massive stadium production with a middling ballad from the current “Top Gun” (as she did with “Hold My Hand”), her ambitions still feel limitless.