Following on from successful European and US legs of the Joanne World Tour, Lady Gaga kicked off the UK run of arena dates with a sold-out show at the Arena Birmingham. These shows have been a long time in the making for Gaga’s UK fan base: it’s her first arena tour across the pond since 2014 and the original run of UK dates in support of the 2016 album Joanne was rescheduled due to a flare-up of Gaga’s fibromyalgia.
In lieu of a support act, Gaga instead chose to screen Gaga: Five Foot Two: the much-acclaimed Netflix feature that documented her during the recording of Joanne and her performance at the Super Bowl LI halftime show. Despite the obvious conclusion to make that it’s a convenient way to avoid the extra effort required in scheduling and putting on a support act, it did serve well as a prelude to the evening. The intimate setting within the documentary and the portrayal of Gaga interacting with her loyal fan base gave you an impression of personal connection to an international pop superstar that would hit the stage barely 20 minutes after the documentary concluded.
The two and a half-hour set was, to say the least, an audio-visual spectacle. With elaborate choreography, lighting and pyrotechnics throughout, Gaga has clearly thrown everything possible at the production of this tour. Most of the first hour of the show was focused on the main stage with a giant video screen and tilting platforms, Gaga being accompanied throughout by her stunning backing dancers. From ‘Applause’ however, a set of three ‘bridges’ descended and ascended when required over the arena to connect the stage with two circular platforms within the audience and the B-stage at the back. Typically for a Gaga performance, the set was separated out by frequent costume changes complete with interlude videos screened around the arena.
What separates Lady Gaga from her contemporaries though is that she can balance visual eye-candy with an incredible vocal delivery. She handled key changes and technically difficult stretches with absolute ease, in particular during ‘Perfect Illusion’ and her utterly captivating acoustic rendition of ‘The Edge of Glory’. Gaga gave 100% and that translated into dedicated enthusiasm from the audience as they hung on every line. The diversity of the setlist also helped: while it heavily focused on the latest album with only two songs from Joanne not aired, all of her familiar early hits such as ‘Poker Face’ and ‘LoveGame’ were present much to the fans’ delight. The Born This Way track ‘Scheiße’ brought out an atmosphere similar to a Berlin dark techno rave, even if it had to be repeated due to the stage malfunctioning.
An incredibly touching moment of the show came when fans on the barrier threw letters addressed to Gaga on stage after ‘Bad Romance’. Gaga paused and read out one of the letters – from a fan called Connor who had travelled from Belfast – and jumped down from the stage to meet him at the front, his joyous reaction broadcasted around the arena.
Before a performance of the eponymous track from Joanne, Gaga very accurately described the tour to the audience as ‘reverse Alice in Wonderland’. She doesn’t just put on a show, she invites the audience into this elaborate world she has constructed in memory of the aunt she never got to meet. Gaga is one of the few superstars capable of complete reinvention both in her music and her live performances, and this makes her a live act that you can’t afford to miss.