On Tuesday night, two of Willamette Week's most venerable music critics, Jay Horton and Robert Ham, attended the Lady Gaga show at the Rose Garden Arena. Let's just say that neither of them fit the show's core demographic. Afterward, they sat down, had some drinks, and tried to make sense amongst themselves of what they just saw. Here is a transcript of that conversation.
Jay Horton: I understand having the 18-year-old [Parisian DJ Madeon] coming out remixing The Killers and Blur to get the kids dancing...which did not seem to work...
Bob Ham: This is Portland after all. And no one was there to see the 18-year-old French guy play these hits using a bank of electronics. They were there to see the main act.
JH: One has to think that they're the children of privilege, these diehard super fans had saved their allowance for a year to see this, and who are not going to have the best connections to Ecstasy. Were this $20 at the Roseland, you would have a different crowd and have people who were there to dance rather than just to genuflect. We don't have those kids. I just have to assume proper cities had the bodies to justify the 18-year-old DJ. And the hour of Mozart.
BH: The hour of utter downtime, with Mozart and advertising for her fragrance and Skype and...
JH: That their hero is important enough to advertise that, means that somehow their brushes with greatness and conjoined fame means they, too, smell good. A whiff of greatness.
BH: I would be interested to have been at the Tacoma show to see how the crowds compared.
JH: As of last night there were no immediate reviews, although Googling "Tacoma, Lady Gaga," there were numerous articles on how Tacoma was just named the gayest city in America by [The Advocate], and it was actually very meaningful that Lady Gaga played there rather than the Key Arena.
JH: The first moments seemed very much a conscious pastiche of "Express Yourself."
BH: I think she was doing that as well in the last big production number [the song "Scheiße"] with the Gaultier-like suit with huge shoulders.
JH: It's impossible to imagine this without Madonna. [Reading from Wikipedia page about tour] "The show begins with "Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)" accompanied by an extended intro, which Gaga performed while atop of a mechanical horse..."
BH: A mechanical horse being operated by three different people.
JH: I was hoping it was an actual horse that was as doped up as the kids in the front. Three-story medieval castle...it was effective. As these props show, it was the most effective.
BH: I have to say, of all the spectacle-ridden arena shows that I've gone too, this was one of the most spectacular. I've never seen a stage set up on that scale.
JH: There's definitely something effective because one of the reasons that so many of the "rock tours" use post-apocalyptic stage dressing is because it is so easy to manufacture from night to night rather than creating what is supposed to be a commanding edifice. I think people are afraid of the Spinal Tap effect.
BH: There was a bit of that going on! The motorcycle that she rode in on for "Heavy Metal Lover" stopped moving at one point and the dancers had to push it offstage. And then right before the encore, they couldn't get the castle to close all the way.
JH: The schlock imagery being manufactured for pseudo-intellectual effect to the delight of 12-year-olds leaves much room for interpretation. For example, [during the intro to "Born This Way"] was that consciously made to look like a turkey? Was this a forebear of the meat imagery at the end? I truly, honestly, hand-to-God thought "Born This Way" was metaphorical. She said that one of the very few things she said that had the ring of truth, was when she talked about her crisis of conscience, her closest confidantes were her mother and her record label. That just sounded a little weird. Someone before record label, maybe? Frankly, I think that's dating her a little bit. How many people in that crowd know what a record label is?
BH: Not to mention that introducing "The Queen," she referred to it as a B-side, which is a concept that's gone by the wayside for most people.
JH: They may not know why it's called a B-side. In 20 years they will have to look up the derivation of B-side, but they'll still use it.
JH: The way she attempted to almost rationalize everything that was happening on stage came across as almost defensive. Can you imagine Madonna at that period ever talking about her artistic choices? Why are you going to bring the Hustler cover image up? Who is that playing to? Clearly just the 50-year-old women. The kids aren't going to know what Hustler is.
BH: They're definitely not going to know who Larry Flynt is.
JH: It seems that it was almost like part of a different stage. It didn't seem to fit with anything else.
BH: That and the threadbare narrative that she tried to thread through the whole show to allow her to have breaks to change costumes and rest up for a moment.
JH: It's almost a rule that it's become such a part of the modern diva performance people feel shortchanged without that.
JH: When she rode out on the motorcycle, saying, "Portland, I'm your vehicle: Hop on and ride me," I didn't find that to be ironic at all.
BH: Nor was the woman simulating sex with her on the bike.
JH: The lube job!
BH: The tune up! I also wanted to throw out that I was expecting her to be a much more fluid dancer than she was tonight. Her movements were very herky-jerky, very disoriented. Especially in comparison with all her dancers on stage with her.
JH: That's why she also did the "I'm singing every note" thing. Because if you're Britney or Madonna, there's no way you can sing full blast and move like they do. It's one or the other. The outfits and the choreography played with that. There was a nervousness about the show. There was no confidence. There was a feeling that she needed to explain all the stuff going on.
BH: That's a modern conceit, to overexplain things to a detrimental level. My feeling is that she's so indebted to so many other aspects of the art and music world that she's eventually going to reach an endpoint. That she will have to create something of her own, whole cloth, either on her own or via the people that she hires to work with.
JH: What does she want to do? Would you be that surprised once she was acclaimed as not a flash in the pan, but a meaningful force in the culture? One more album and one more tour.
BH: I think so. I think the next cycle she goes through will be the making or breaking point of her career.