Page last updated at 04:36 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Lady Gaga: The Monster Ball meets Manchester

By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter

Lady Gaga, performing in London in December
Lady Gaga's Poker Face was the best-selling UK single of 2009

A 40-foot animatronic sea monster, 15 costume changes and a grand piano burning to pieces in the middle of the stage - you certainly get what you pay for at a Lady Gaga concert.

The 23-year-old pop phenomenon played the first night of her self-styled "electro opera" in Manchester on Thursday.

The tour, which travels around the UK and Ireland for the next couple of weeks, is dubbed The Monster Ball. But there's nothing to be frightened of - except tinnitus.

It was a hugely ambitious, terrifyingly loud show, spread over four acts and held together by a flimsy "narrative" about Gaga and her dancer friends trying to get to a party.

Impressively, the entire spectacle was put together in just four weeks. The singer told fans at the MEN arena: "We were doing another show in the United States... but I got very bored, so I threw it away."

In fact, the production was so last-minute that the star was still on stage adding the finishing touches just half an hour before the doors opened.

Inevitably, then, the first night didn't run entirely smoothly.

Lighting cues were missed, the sound mix wasn't properly balanced and the show over-ran by 30 minutes, leaving some of the audience stranded in a cold and snowy Manchester.

But nearly all 23,000 of them stayed on to the bitter end - because, make no mistake, this was a sight to behold.

New songs

The show opened with Dance in the Dark - the song she played at the Brits on Tuesday - with Gaga gyrating on a set she appeared to have borrowed from a Gotham City production of West Side Story.

Dressed in a futuristic, angular, glitterball suit, she descended the fire escape, poked around in the bonnet of a dilapidated green Rolls Royce and teased the audience with a snippet of a new song, Glitter and Grease.

But things only really came to life with Just Dance, her first UK number one, and the first big sing-along of the night.

From there, the pace never really let up.

A pounding, staccato Love Game was performed inside a New York subway carriage, while Lennon-esque ballad Brown Eyes saw Gaga hammering the life out of a steampunk-inspired grand piano.

Lady Gaga, performing in New York last month
The tour kicked off in Vancouver last year

The costume changes came thick and fast, often within the course of a single song.

They were, for practicality's sake, more leotard-based than some of the star's more outrageous creations - but there were still a few eye-popping moments.

By their very nature, the garments defied description. But here's an attempt to encapsulate three of them: Muppet Wonder Woman; Joan Collins Jedi Nun; Jellyfish bride humidity disaster area.

The problem with the ridiculous frocks, however, was that they obscured the musician hiding beneath them.

The most electrifying moments of the night came when plain old Stefani Germanotta from New York sat behind the piano and displayed some good old-fashioned musicianship.

The emotional high-point was Speechless, a song she wrote for her father - "about how he loves Johnny Walker just a little bit more than he loves me."

It was a disarmingly tender performance, and quite at odds with everything that came before or after.

But then it is easy to forget that Gaga has only been doing this for 18 months. She has established herself so firmly in the public consciousness that she already has an air of permanence.

The expectations for this, her first headline tour in the UK, were up there with Madonna - who has been doing it for 25 years but who, since Tuesday, has one less Brit award.

That Gaga's grand, dynamic show lived up to that challenge was testament to her vision and ambition - but surely it must be bankrupting her?

Take, for example, the folly of the fish creature - a multi-limbed, pneumatically-operated beast from the depths of the sea that appeared for just three minutes, mauling Lady Gaga as she attempted to perform Paparazzi.

It wasn't entirely clear why this was happening, or what relevance it had to the song. But it must have seemed like a good idea to someone (presumably not the tour accountant).

Gaga survived the attack by the way, with just enough energy for a stomping, full-hearted rendition of Bad Romance, which sent the audience chanting "Ga, ga, ooh-la-la" into the chilly evening.

Execpt for one fan, who paused to tell the BBC her night had been "dead weird, but nice."

SET LIST

ACT 1: City

Intro

Dance in the Dark

Glitter and Grease

Just Dance

Beautiful, Dirty, Rich

Vanity

The Fame

ACT 2: Subway

LoveGame

Boys Boys Boys

Money Honey

Telephone

Brown Eyes

Speechless

So Happy I Could Die

ACT 3: Forest

Monster

Teeth

Alejandro

Pokerface

ACT 4: Monster Ball

Paparazzi

Bad Romance



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