Last Thursday I planned on going to a big ticket pop concert. I ended going to something much more.
HOW THIS RELATES
This is a music tech blog, right? Well, even though in 2010 Lady Gaga is considered mainstream pop, I hear in it all of the underground house stuff I listened to in the ’90s. RedOne (her beat maker/producer) and the other people in the Haus of Gaga have brought real trance, real house, and real acid beats into the mainstream, and I simply can’t believe it. Almost every new pop artist sounds like this now.
Acid 303-style bass lines, dry square leads, and a four-on-the-floor pulse worthy of Oakenfold and contemporaries permeates the show. Some of my favorite parts were the “scene changes” where the gigantic video “curtain” would fall and these awesome grooves kept the crowd going while she changed into endlessly more complex outfits as the night went on.
THE EXPECTATIONS (which were fulfilled)
This show was a huge spectacle, and a big scale production. It almost felt like going to a broadway revue – there was acting, scene changes, and a sweet “pit” section on stage. Instead of regular instruments they had a laptop-ist, a harpist, an electric violinist, and a drummer that was triggering stuff too. Also, the backstage and booth crew was massive which is standard for big ticket shows like this.
Gaga sings almost everything, which is no longer standard for big shows like this. Rather than blatantly lip syncing, most performers tend to rely on “backing tracks” – these pre-recorded versions of the vocal part are blended with the signal from the singer’s mic. However, if it’s going to be convincing, the mix leans in favor of the backing track.
I can speak from a bit of experience here, as I once played Timpani as a prop with a very popular Christian music act. Said act was blatant in their use of tracking to the point that WE WERE NOT MIKED. However, those in the arena bleachers said they could hear my wind chimes just fine. I did not bring wind chimes that night – I forgot them at school, but I digress…
Lady Gaga’s inherently electronic music uses plenty of extra tracks, but it felt like only the “effected” vocals with digital edits and such were used. Most produced songs are impossible to perform live due to vocal layering and “stutter edits” and things of that nature. Everything else was totally live. The show was structured in such a way that her most exposed moment was in the middle, and the other more demanding songs were far away from that part of the show.
The middle of the show is where you know for sure that you’re watching an amazing AMAZING performer. She sits alone at the piano, facing sideways so you can see her fingers clearly, and sings the slow songs. It’s worth the price of the ticket just to see this part – the emotion in these songs comes through very clearly live, and it’s very moving and impressive. I’d put this part up there with someone like Tori Amos or Norah Jones. She could have a career just doing this stuff.
But she doesn’t just do the slow piano songs. Instead, she wows the crowd stepping out of a (working?) subway car with an actual disco stick she uses to shine a bright light into the audience. She fights a gigantic angler fish (the “fame monster”) and rises a few dozen feet above the stage to ascend after a video cylinder showing a tornado swirl picks her up and drops her off at the Monster Ball.
The show is groundbreaking, both from a musical/talent standpoint, and from an artistic standpoint.
WHAT I DIDN’T EXPECT
This show becomes life-changing in a way.
I mean it – for all the shock and attention-grabbing stunts she pulls in her outfits and her music videos, her message is quite clear live: “this is who I’ve always wanted to be, and you too should all be free to be who you want to be.” She repeats this mantra throughout the show, telling the crowd she created this tour so people could be free to be themselves away from the norms of society (though most ultimately dress like Gaga when they go to her show).
But there’s something about her sincerity – you come away feeling totally positive afterwards in a way I’ve never felt after a concert.
Most events I’ve attended which were “positive” or “character building” you come away with the feeling that “gosh, I can be a great person if I do the following x, y, z…. things”.
At the Monster Ball, you come away with “gosh, I am already a great person”. It’s an incredible self-esteem booster that puts a smile on your face well after the concert has ended.
Gaga is a great entertainer, but more importantly through these (partially self-funded) concerts she brings pop music to new heights and more importantly, she brings LIVE pop music into a new era of sincerity.