By Frisco Rosso
Lady Gaga recently hit South African shores during her Born This Way Ball tour and I was roped into seeing her performance at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg. Ordinarily I’d have given this a miss but I figured it was time to open my mind a little and see what all the Gaga fuss is about.
Kicking off the evening to an almost empty stadium was Lady Starlight, who spent the best part of 40 minutes wandering on and off stage and striking cryptic poses to a backing track. Other ignoramuses besides me were left bemused at the spectacle and throughout her performance I couldn’t help wondering what the beer queue was looking like. Perhaps if I hadn’t been stationed in the cheap seats and was further forward I might have found something of Lady Starlight to engage with, but unfortunately the bulk of her performance went straight over my head.
Next, The Darkness – my main musical reason for making an appearance – pranced onto the stage with enough pomp and swagger to get the party started. They blazed through a set consisting of many of their renowned songs, including Get Your Hands off My Woman, One Way Ticket, Love is Only a Feeling and the obligatory I Believe in a Thing Called Love.
Even from the cheap seats at the back, it was possible to see lead singer Justin Hawkins’s trouser furniture doing unabashed cartwheels as he flounced around the stage. This surely served as a baptism of fire for the golden circle children who are likely to have had that image tattooed in their minds for several days afterwards.
Grammy-winning Gaga finally romped onto the stage just after 9pm to a thunderous roar and as the first female artist to perform at FNB stadium. Straddling a life-size puppet horse, akin to the sort seen in the War Horse stage play, she entered to a pumped-up audience baying for their idol’s attention. Her elaborate mechanical backdrop consisted of a large castle that looked like a combination of Burghausen and Greyskull and had numerous doorways and elevated platforms for Mother Monster and co to strut around on throughout the show.
She later re-emerged, or should I say was reborn (this way), through an enormous onstage vagina – not really the sort of symbolism that needs much explanation, except perhaps for the prepubescent children in the audience and their presumably awkward-feeling guardians. At that point I was secretly hoping that Stan from South Park would appear, asking where the clitoris is but alas, no dice.
“I am not an alien, I am not a man, I am not creature of your government, South Africa, I am you!” she proclaimed as fans waved their arms and glow sticks around hysterically.
In terms of outfits and visual effects it was excess in all areas. Gaga had between 30 and 40 costume changes throughout her 150-minute set. She only ever seemed to be away from the stage momentarily, and frequently returned in various guises that included hanging from a butcher’s rail clad in the once infamous meat dress (she clearly recognised South Africa’s braaivleis culture) and the bizarre egg costume that set tongues wagging at the 53rd Grammy Awards. I can only imagine that the backstage logistics at Gaga shows are a nightmare.
There were plenty of tongue-in-cheek references and themes relating to Christianity and paganism that may have shocked and tested the fanatical mettle of some fans but were for the most part uncritically embraced as the stadium sang along to hits including Bad Romance, Poker Face, Born this Way and Telephone.
Gaga’s ceaseless energy and dedication to her audience couldn’t be faulted, from elaborate dance routines in flamboyant, bulky costumes with troupes of dancers to intimate dialogue with her spectators. A handful of wide-eyed Little Monsters were pulled on stage at one point to keep Mother Monster company, as she played a piano solo and regaled the audience with inspirational tales of her troubled past and visit to South Africa.
“Some people write a diary, I write a song and keep all the pain there. Healing comes from being honest to who you are,” she said, tugging on the heart and basque strings of her followers.
Her final summing up was certainly worth kicking around for:
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re gay, bi, straight… You are born this way. Don’t give a fuck about what people think or say about you… It doesn’t matter if your parents don’t have a seat for you at their dining table, because they can’t accept you for who you are, you will always have a seat at my table.
“Look around! You will have a seat at these little monsters’ tables too. What makes me so proud is watching you all grow… Some of you used to copy my style and fashion, now I watch you grow into who you are. You are finally born this way! Now, don’t give a fuck anymore! Have an amazing evening… Go get drunk and vomit on your friends!”
A little preachy perhaps but the prospect of sharing a stomach-full of partially digested beer with my friends left me with a healthy warm glow.
I have a newfound respect for Lady Gaga as an entertainer in the sense that she has the ability to captivate her audience and extends herself beyond what is expected, with a few surprises along the way. Even after the show, I have no urge to run out and buy any of her material, but I must admit I have been won over by her artistry and poise.
To some she may represent all that is wrong with an overpopulated and commercial music industry that inspires little more than droves of sheep in wolves’ clothing, but she does succeed in creating an atmosphere of sanctuary and kinship that allows her millions of followers to simply enjoy themselves – essentially what live shows are all about.
If she remains true to her word and returns to South African shores with her next tour, you’re unlikely to find me front-row-centre, but I can’t guarantee that I won’t be back amongst the cheap seats with a sense of anticipation at what she has to offer.
With more tension than your mother’s suspension, I am Frisco Rosso. I’m likely to deliver a few lines worth at any given moment regarding film, music, sport, books and anything morally unsound that strikes a blow between the eyes in the name of entertainment.