Lady Gaga's Monster Balls

By Chris Azzopardi

World domination hasn't de-gayed Lady Gaga's shows. The pop queen, unlike some who've used us as a stepping stone to mainstream fame, has yet to abandon the crowd that crowned her, just as she insisted she wouldn't during our interview last year.

"Sometimes artists, as they begin to fill bigger and bigger venues, forget where they came from," Gaga told me with earnest believability, so humbled by her relationship with the gay community. "I'll never do that."

She's a Lady of her word, because even as she packs those bigger venues, like she did on Sept. 4 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, she honored her disciples with endearing call-outs, like introducing "Boys Boys Boys" as one for "all my 8 Mile gays," and saluted freedom, equal rights and individuality throughout the two-hour show. The Monster Ball Tour, originally rolled out last year with a stop at the Joe Louis Arena in January, waved a rainbow flag proudly above its lavish production of shifting set pieces and a catwalk stage extension long before Gaga actually did so herself, when she wrapped with her encore: an explosive, outer-spacey "Bad Romance."

But the rest of the show was out of this world, too. Spark-igniting boobs! A friggin' monster! Live singing! Fake blood! Costume changes galore! And the get-ups were, of course, stunningly crazy, especially when Gaga remained fairly immobile during "So Happy I Could Die" in a white, wing-propelling, headpiece-moving dress, like a peacock ready to walk down the aisle. It was as ridiculously amazing as it sounds, and so Gaga.

Her entrance, set to the throbbing should-be-hit "Dance in the Dark," was tweaked from January's tour, as she teased the audience behind a stage-wide screen that projected her larger-than-life silhouette. The stage was unveiled mid-song, and boy was it some stage: Designed to look like a red-light district, a broken-down car, which housed a piano under the hood, was the opening centerpiece.

Therein began Gaga's mission - to get to the Monster Ball, by car, by subway, by dancing her ass off. The story was simple, and there wasn't much to it, but it gave the pop star reasons to wind up in weird, elaborately ornate places, wrestle with a demonic, fish-looking "fame monster," and frolic among half-naked hotties (OK, there's always a good enough reason for that!). Hipster urban was how it started, but halfway in it was like Tim Burton crashed her disco-dance party.

Thematically, this Monster Ball felt like a modern-day "Wizard of Oz" reboot, as the Yellow Brick Road became "Glitter Way" (as if "Oz" wasn't gay enough) and Gaga was Dorothy, leading her friends and fans - her "Little Monsters" - back home. Silly musical-theater camp overturned self-serious commentary, the nature of her premiere outing.

It was joyous, liberating and hypersexual as she fired up the hits she's amassed in lickety-split time - "Poker Face," "Paparazzi," "Telephone," "Alejandro" and "Just Dance" - and wedged in some new bits that, during the run of her biggies, felt inconsequential. "You and I," though, really did have hit written all over its Elton-esque classic rock chorus, and "Speechless" - which Gaga also thrashed on piano (a burning one!) - is still way better live than on disc.

Between songs, Gaga's off-the-cuff conversation saved her from sounding like a Chatty Cathy doll, as she repeated banter from her previous stop here (Gaga: It's time to send Tinkerbell back to Neverland). When she wasn't rehashing old shtick, she was hosting Gaga group therapy, insisting we all embrace ourselves, regardless of who we are, because we're born that way. She loved up on Detroit almost as much as her gays, telling the cutest story: how she did yoga that morning in the area and a young girl in the class recognized her, said nothing, but gave her "the paw" (the Gaga hand sign for "Little Monster").

Even just for a bit, between being her outrageous superstar self, Gaga descended from the throne we helped put her on. She genuinely connected with the emulating cult-like crowd, pretending to be just one of us when she hated on Hollywood and revealed that she, too, had felt like an outsider. Nobody was one at the Monster Ball, where everyone felt right at home in the Haus of Gaga. And, as we all know, there really is no place like it.

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