Lady Gaga at Xcel Energy Center, 5/20/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Lady Gaga
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Something awful happened to Lady Gaga last year: It was decided she was no longer famous. Or at least no longer as famous -- her latest album, Artpop, went to number one but was somehow not number one-y enough, and it received, in Wikipedia-speak, generally mixed reviews from critics. The mysterious consensus that Gaga's star had dimmed was potentially fatal to her art (not to mention her pop), decelebrification as crippling an affliction to a performer who chooses fame and notoriety for her medium as arthritis would be to a flash guitarist or laryngitis to a diva.

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Slideshow: Gaga for Lady Gaga: Incredible Little Monsters' costumes

Tuesday night's show at the Xcel (dubbed, with tweet-ready typographical excess, "The artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball") was less a counterattack on this public perception of Gaga-in-crisis than a canny refocusing of her energies. Rather than attempting to seduce or steamroll the sort of snarkers who've rechristened her latest effort "Artflop," Gaga accentuated her peculiar relationship with her fans, her "Little Monsters," through effusive shows of affection and curious displays of artifice.

The set design embodied this paradox of the intimate and the ersatz. The stage was dominated by what resembled an unpainted ceramic model of some otherworldly village, with the default lighting bath of violet neon, as well as the evening's predominant pink and blue color scheme, highlighting its unnaturalness. Yet only a fraction of Gaga's performance occurred on the stage proper -- instead she stalked and strutted and sashayed along multiple catwalks that extended out into the arena, bringing her nearly within arms reach of her fans.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Depending on your perspective, the concept behind the show was either unfocused or malleable. "Welcome to our planet. Feel free to sample the locals," Gaga declared by way of introducing "Venus," which quotes Sun Ra's "Rocket Number Nine." (Is Gaga from Saturn?) But she seemed to have abandoned the extraterrestrial theme just a song later, leading into "Manicure" by announcing that she and her dancers had traveled in time from 1974, apparently to instruct us in the pleasurable ways of the Watergate Era.

Of course, the more artificial her fashion choice, the more Gaga looks like herself. There are so many ways to look like Lady Gaga, and we saw at least a half dozen. The skimpiest was the spangly "seashell bikini" referenced in "Venus," topped with an impossibly full blonde mane. The most elaborate was a Medusa crown with matching tentacled bustle. But maybe the most flattering was a simple PVC outfit with a green wig, which she sported with a casual around-the-house feel. The much-discussed onstage costume change, with a cabana providing strategic obstruction, was less lewd than demystifying.

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