Leave it to Lady Gaga to barely move a muscle during a performance of “Just Dance.”
Her feet remained firmly planted in one spot Friday night (August 19) at Boston’s Fenway Park as she vogued her way through her anthemic breakout hit, all while an invisible pedestal rotated her 360 degrees. What, did you expect some bedazzled keytar action? Maybe that approach worked for every show from 2008 through Gaga’s glitzy Las Vegas residency, but The Chromatica Ball is different beast altogether. Gaga even dubbed the tour a traveling “Museum of Brutality.”
And her static delivery was the first artifact on display.
Lady Gaga arrived preserved in stone: Wedged into a piece of avant-garde fashion that folded her arms and legs inside a statuesque boulder. Gaga’s robust pipes could shatter that sucker into cinderblocks if she willed it, but she remained immobile, even as “Bad Romance” blared to open the show. Slowly, her sarcophagus splintered into pieces, breaking down as Gaga vocally bulldozed through her holy trinity of early smashes: “Bad Romance,” “Just Dance,” and “Poker Face.”
Come the final notes of the latter, she’d successfully pried her way to freedom. But it was too late; once the music halted, her neck jerked to the side, and her limbs fell slack like an unplugged android, as if to say “I’m already out of juice.” Sure, even those sudden, jagged movements are rehearsed, but that doesn’t make her metaphor any less honest. That fashionable embrace of stone isn’t just another Gaga-level-gaudy ensemble. It’s a weighty symbol of the physical pain, stiffness, and spasms that have tormented her life for years.
As Lady Gaga sashayed through similar mini-acts at Fenway, she preserved pieces of her past that most artists might prefer to sweep under their Grammy cabinet. In 2013, the Born This Way Ball collapsed overnight when Gaga broke her hip from overuse (her show scheduled for TD Garden was among the casualties). In 2017, she persevered through two sold-out Boston shows, but cancelled the majority of her European dates when her fibromyalgia flared up unexpectedly.
Given that track record, it’s not surprising that The Chromatica Ball could be filed under “exhibitionist body horror.” While fleshing out memories of her physical limitations last night, she plunged one barbed monster claw into an open wound and spilled her guts across a brutalist stage. The vibrant jewel tones of pink and green that colored Chromatica’s rollout don’t exist here. Video screens projected the bleak texture of cement walls onto Gaga’s surroundings, constructing a factory-like workshop where she could hammer out the hells of her past.
“Could you pull me out of this alive?” she cried during “Alice” while splayed across a slate resembling an operating table. Fake blood dribbled down her chest and stomach, smeared between the cutouts of a tattered crimson gown. She rocked and writhed with a wince that sent a clear message: This wriggling isn’t sexy, it’s excruciating. As the first track of Chromatica, “Alice” posed a vague, danceable cry for liberation. In Gaga’s museum, it shifted to a plea of desperation.
Like “Alice,” most of the relics in Gaga’s museum took form as excerpts from Chromatica. “This is my dance floor / I fought for,” she exclaimed with pride on “Free Woman,” a nod to her own mental and physical endurance in the pop industry. Other artifacts are less subtle, like the hook in “Babylon” that demands listeners “battle for [their] life,” as Gaga claims she did when recording the album. (In other news, the song’s enigmatic line “bodies moving like a sculpture” finally makes an iota of sense, given Gaga’s opening look).
Her program swiveled between the intensity of grief and relief for two frenetic hours. For every mind-numbing moment of pain — like when Gaga snapped into a monotone trance to perform “911,” a vulnerable account of her experience with anti-psychotic medication — there was an equally potent outburst of pleasure. After “Replay” dredged up the lasting trauma of sexual abuse, “Stupid Love” and “Rain On Me” scrubbed away the damage with sugary pop. The final crescendo of “Shallow” provided one-song-fits-all catharsis, and rabid A Star Is Born fans were also treated to the film’s second-place (but stadium-ready) ballad “Always Remember Us This Way.” “Born This Way,” “Fun Tonight,” “The Edge of Glory” and the Chromatica deep cut “1000 Doves” rounded out the subset of stripped-down piano songs.
“It was not that long ago that my Joanne World Tour stopped very near here,” Gaga recalled while perched at her custom piano bench, which resembled a knot of tree roots. “I left it alllll here at this park, at Fenway. I made it through Fenway. You don’t know this, but you got me through that show.” The fact that she subsequently cancelled the rest of the Joanne tour due to “severe pain” remained unspoken, but understood.
Yet for all the times that Gaga wrestled with her physical and mental well-being last night, her finale acknowledged there’s one body part that has yet to betray her: Her hands, often crumpled into menacing claws, now reaching out for a chance at healing. She closed the show by launching into “Hold My Hand,” her original contribution to the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack.
“Why’d you take so long to tell me you need me? / I see that you’re bleeding / You don’t need to show me again,” she bellowed in the pre-chorus, clutching the mic stand with a taloned glove seemingly straight from Tim Burton’s imagination.
After everything Fenway witnessed last night — and hopefully, now understands — Boston could lovingly tell her the same thing.
Featured photo of Lady Gaga at the MetLife Stadium (New Jersey) by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images.