A show beyond words from an irrepressible artist
The crowd walking towards Toronto’s Rogers Centre to see Lady Gaga grew thick a good 15 minutes away from the ballpark. Speed walking through revealed likely the most diverse concert crowd I’ve ever seen, representing drag queens to grannies to downtown hipsters to suburban dads on pre-teen chaperone duty. Blended with the day’s 40°C heat was an energy and excitement from thousands of fans poised for worship. Their pilgrimage took them to this concrete temple where there are no worries, only acceptance absolute. Where dressup is de rigueur. Where everyone can be themselves. Or anyone else.
Lady Gaga has always had a special relationship with her fans. With unconditional love, she has always created a safe space for her Little Monsters. ‘Little’ but not few as they number enough to have bought each of the fifty thousand tickets. Not only in Toronto but wherever this tour will appear. Named The Chromatica Ball after the 2020 album on which Gaga is touring, her sixth full-length release is a concept album. Work started on Chromatica in 2017 and was finished just prior to the pandemic. Luckily, its release wasn’t postponed like many were but the tour was postponed twice. For the fans, the third time’s a charm. The Chromatica Ball’s first leg started in Dusseldorf on July 17, 2022, and leapfrogged every few days to hit Stockholm, Paris, Arnhem and London (twice) before landing on Canadian shores.
Walking into the Skydome, the show had already begun, though Lady Gaga was still 90 minutes from appearing. House music from a previous decade filled the ‘room’. No doubt to limber up the crowd for a night of dancing. Surely of the fifty-odd thousand attendees, at some point pre-show, not a single one who could, didn’t find themselves moving to the building beat. The enormous stage spanned the width of the outfield and stood high toward the closed roof. Concrete slabs formed walls that recessed back to a wide balcony while a pair of thrusts extended out into the audience. The lights dropped and the slabs revealed themselves as massive LCD screens as they played abstract images of stars and lights, sparks and explosions while ominous music played. The visuals were striking but words are mediocre to describe them. A quick Google search will bring the entire show on YouTube.
The song portion of the set began with Lady Gaga’s most recognizable hit, Bad Romance. Gaga sang it from the balcony mostly entombed in a sarcophagus-like statue. She remained there through the entire song while almost all of her team of 14 dancers performed on the stage. Lady Gaga’s band was surprisingly minimal with a pair of guitarists, bassist, keyboardist and drummer. This makeup and most of the musical arrangements lacked multiple layers of backtracks, drum loops and samples. Kept sparse but full of energy and grit, it was clear that this was a rock show. Before starting the second song, she introduced it by telling the crowd that it was her first ever number one song and appeared on a Canadian music chart. Just Dance made the entire venue do just that. The first act closed with yet another chart-topper as Poker Face followed. Afterwards, strapped to what can perhaps be described as a skyjack surgical table, Gaga sang Alice, the first song on Chromatica. Descending to the stage halfway through Replay, another of the 11 songs from the Chromatica-dominated setlist, Lady Gaga finally planted her feet on the stage to properly dance. The dancing continued with Monster from 2009’s The Fame Monster. The show was broken into 4 acts and a finale to allow for a quick gulp of oxygen and a costume change, the second opened with one of the new album’s gorgeous instrumentations composed with Friend of the ADDICTED Music Dept., Morgan Kibby. 911 and Sour Candy (minus the contributions of BLACKPINK) covered the act’s Chromatica numbers, which also included Telephone and LoveGame. Act III as well started with a pair of Chromatica songs in Babylon and Free Woman, which apart from the first sight of the stage offered the big reveal of the show. Gaga left the stage and danced through the crowd to a B-stage on top of the front of house area. She and her crew just freely and joyfully shook it without choreography.
Another video played allowing Lady Gaga to don an insectoid headpiece and take a seat at her piano, which was encased in a tree from an alien planet. One of her guitarists strapped on an acoustic and strode to the lip of the A-stage to begin Shallow. Likely not the cause of the first trickle of tears but surely the reason for the trickle turning into a river. Taking a moment following to speak to the audience, Lady Gaga spoke of the last couple of years to celebrate our collective courage as she played into Always Remember Us This Way. She made a mid-song dedication to everyone we lost and that moment was when this reporter teared up. A Thousand Doves and Fun Tonight wrapped the Gaga and Piano portion. The band joined her to rock out the end of Fun Tonight. As her piano descended down into the B-stage, she turned to face the stage as the band kicked into Enigma. She hit every rock pose imaginable until she walked her way off the roof, joined a pair of dancers as they strutted their way back through the crowd and onto the stage. With a seat close to one of the thrusts, we got not only a view of Gaga’s venture through the crowd but one back as well. Shortly after Lady Gaga climbed back onstage, her team of a dozen or so hair, makeup and costume techs trailed behind to set up for the next inevitable outfit change. The band played her off the back of the stage, for a vitamin B-12 shot, a wheatgrass and ginseng shot and another costume change. A pre-recorded video showed three Gagas on three screens reciting a poem at times in chorus. Chromatica’s second song, Stupid Love rocked the set towards its close.
Taking a breather lying on her back, the opening notes of Rain On Me began. Kicking through another dance performance with her whole crew center stage, the song closed with the lights dropping. Allowing Lady Gaga a quick meditation, a sip of a cold Yerba Maté Lemon Elation and an outfit change, she returned to the stage’s apex with her three guitar-based band members to sing Top Gun: Maverick tune, Hold My Hand as a chevron-shaped fire lit behind them. Ironically, Gaga donned a pair of gnarly talons which didn’t really encourage anyone to hold those particular hands. The thematic arena shutdown number, while new, was a fitting close amid bursting towers of flame and Gaga using the stored vocal energy to belt out the hardest and highest notes of the night after 27 songs. Closing the song, show and night with a leap over the flame to the front of the stage, Hold My Hand crashed to a finish as the stage fires burned. She came out to form her whole performance team of 20 – band and dancers all for a bow.
Eleven more shows follow in the US till the end on Sept. 17 in Miami, apart from a couple of nights at Tokyo’s Seibu Dome. Where or if the next leg starts is unknown, which the latter asks if it’s too expensive to continue on the road or if it cost so much to devise that it needs more dates to recoup. That question, by the way, is a crass method of raving about this show. It’s a stadium-sized theatrical performance of music, dance, film/video, stage and audio design, technical execution, FX and pyro. However, the true appeal beneath the audacious and, at times, overwhelming stimuli is a warmth and emotion that comes straight from the artist. As the biggest pop/rock star on the planet, Stefani Germanotta is pretty fucking authentic. The times she took to speak to the crowd rarely felt rehearsed or like programmed patter. However, she harassed the audience continually to put their hands up and jump. The nerve.
Taking the last bow solo, Lady Gaga pulled a final dance move and raised her claw into the air as the lights fell leaving only firelight on the massive stage. In the brief moment between the exit and an ecstatic cheer from the audience, I heard someone say “Holy shit!”, an ineloquent, but perfect summation of the Chromatica Ball.
Photos by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation