The lady was tardy to the party. An hour and twenty minutes to be exact. But when a resplendent Lady Gaga peeked in at the audience from a corner of the Roseland stage, all seemed to be forgiven. Wearing a sequined one-piece outfit and a headdress seemingly outfitted with two glittering pine cones, Gaga was in a teasing mood. She winked at the audience and pouted suggestively. And when she started playing the piano and growling "Born This Way," the revelers went wild. They cheered, stomped and applauded. Gaga, as the lyrics to one of her songs points out, lives for the applause. In this the first of seven shows closing down the legendary Roseland Ballroom, Mother Monster proved to be in fine form. If Gaga is over, she clearly didn't get the memo.
For almost an hour Gaga tore her way through selections from "Fame Monster" and "Born This Way" only singing three of the songs from her latest ArtPop album. "Thank you so much for sharing my birthday with me," she screamed from a neon-lit stage festooned with garlands of roses. It was her 28th birthday and clearly she was in a celebratory mood. "I love you, Roseland," she shouted. Hardly stopping for a breath, Gaga danced and belted her way through a litany of greatest hits. No canned tracks here or lip-synching. A live rock band accompanied the singer as a dozen dancers shimmied in boa-like costumes behind her. The show had an almost Vegas feeling to it rather than other-worldly like her previous concerts. This was a Gaga giving her audience razzle-dazzle, rather than high-brow artsy posturing. Could it be she was responding to critics? Some have blasted "ArtPop" and questioned recent performances as misguided and perhaps a little weird.
In mid-March, Gaga received bad press for a show at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. In front of a stunned audience, performance artist Millie Brown stuck her hands down her throat and threw up green liquid all over the pop star. The bad publicity came in the wake of sluggish sales for her latest album, ArtPop. Opening week sales were down 75 percent from the debut of 2011's Born This Way. Sales dropped 81 percent in the second week. Earlier there were reports of the break-up of Gaga's relationship with long-time manager Troy Carter over "creative differences." Back in February of 2013, Gaga tore soft tissues in her hip and joint forcing her to cancel the rest of her Born This Way tour. During her recovery she worked on ArtPop. After the disappointing sales caused some to dub the album "ArtFlop," Gaga seemed to have a lot to prove. Was she losing her mojo or simply growing into a different artist?
At Roseland, fans like Ashlee McKinnon, a dance teacher from Baltimore, Md., bristled at the suggestion that Gaga is over. "She's evolving and constantly changing," she said. "As an artist myself, I admire that." Earlier thousands stood in stifling heat inside the ballroom waiting for Gaga to appear. Among them, 73-year-old Joan Carr who bought tickets for herself and her 18-year-old granddaughter. "I love her music," said Carr. "She has such energy and I love how she sings." Emily Sandoval, 21, caught a flight from Denver to see her idol perform. "Her die-hard fans are her best fans and if you are only in it for the top-40 hits, you're in it for the wrong thing."
On this night Gaga seemed eager to demonstrate her performance chops. She masterfully deconstructed her early hit "Poker Face." She sung it as a mournful ballad and as she emphasized the words "oh, oh, oh," she struck an emotional chord with the audience. The same was true of her rendition of "G.U.Y" from ArtPop -- a song whose video was just released to much fanfare. Gaga sang the song on a set featuring a subway train and neon signs. The audience shouted the lyrics back to her. This was not a disengaged artist going through the motions. She seemed fully committed in every moment. Gaga made frequent references to Roseland, mindful of the history behind the legendary ballroom. In an interview leading up to the show with NYC's 93.3 Now's DJ Toro, Gaga spoke about how she felt closing up Roseland after 95 years.
"I'm excited, I don't feel like I'm just leaving my legacy," she told Toro. "I feel like I'm leaving the legacy of many artists that have played on the stage and it's important to acknowledge the history." And Gaga acknowledged it with a series of costumes that featured roses as part of their design. There was even a neon purple rose on the subway set.
Gaga ended the evening with a passionate rendition of her top-10 hit "Applause." As she twirled and kicked with her dancers dressed in white and sporting a lustrous Lady Godiva-styled wig, there was no hint of the hip injury that sidelined her. She brimmed with confidence. As the blue and purple lights flashed and the confetti flew, it seemed clear that Gaga was living for more than the applause. She was living for the chance to show she was hardly over. This Gaga wanted to show she was here to stay.