Live Music Review: Lady Gaga Joanne World Tour (and what we learned about the power of music)
The very first time I went to a General Admission concert was in 2015. Christina Perri at the San Diego County Fair. My friends and I got there about two hours early, ended up being second row, and enjoyed a wonderful night of signing with Mama Penguin. That had also been my last GA show… until last Monday at least. A few months ago, I secured coveted GA tickets to Lady Gaga, one of my favorite artists for a good part of my life (The Fame Monster took the world by storm when I was in fifth grade, and I’ve been in love ever since). I was excited and incredibly nervous, because I knew this show was going to be unlike anything I’d ever been to. I’ve been in awe of Gaga’s spectacular live theatrics for years. I remember begging my parents to take me to The Born This Way Ball (as they shifted uncomfortably at the thought of their twelve year old attending a show where the headliner was known for sexually provocative performances and wearing raw meat dresses to award shows). Gaga is one of a kind. She’s provocative and original and wonderful. She also has an enormous fan base of wonderfully dedicated people. Although I never once thought that her fans would be malicious, I did know Little Monsters are very passionate about getting close to Gaga, and I was a bit uneasy about being pushed and shoved in a GA pit. I definitely lacked experience handling myself in that department because, let’s be real, the atmosphere surrounding Christina Perri is completely different than the raw energy of the Joanne World Tour.
When the day arrived, everything went much smoother than expected. My boyfriend and I arrived about three hours before showtime, waited for our credit card to be swiped (my first time using credit card entry went off without a hitch, although I still prefer good ol’ fashioned paper tickets) and our wristbands stuck on. We ended up being some of the first GA attendees on the floor, not counting the VIP’s with early entry. The Forum was illuminated in pink light, bouncing off of three stages. The main stage, set up with the band’s instruments, and already surrounded by an abundance of people, and two smaller “bubble stages”, one located in the middle of the floor, and one near the back. From the looks of it, they appeared to be great places to see Gaga up close and personal, without having to deal with the fuss of people swarming the main stage. We chose to go to the middle bubble stage, and ended up being barricade there. We played the waiting game for two hours or so, observing the wide variety of people in attendance. The diversity in the crowd was awesome. We saw people of every age, size, shape and color. Some were painted head to toe in ARTPOP inspired looks, some were rocking full on Fame-era outfits like Gaga’s bubble dress or white lace bodysuit, others were wearing handmade Born This Way denim jackets, Joanne hats and tour t-shirts, and some (like us) took a more casual route. It didn’t matter what anyone was wearing though, because every person there had an outfit that made them feel comfortable and confident, and the self-love that radiated through every person (and overheard through stranger’s compliments) was wonderful and very representative of the accepting atmosphere of a Lady Gaga show.
Around 8:30 pm, the lights went down. Screams erupted from the audience as a large pink countdown timer projected on the screen. As soon as it hit zero, smoke emerged behind the screen and a familiar voice cried out, “Call me Joanne!”. The building guitar strings of “Diamond Heart” started up as the screen began to lift, showing Gaga’s silhouette on an elevated platform behind the smoke. Wearing a bedazzled pink cowboy hat, she focused all her energy on belting the opening number flawlessly as the flashy lights and visual effects raged on around her shadow. It was a fitting way to open the show, as her performance was focused, energetic, and strong, just like the album she was trying to promote. Her signature moves and flawless dance team arrived on the next song, “A-YO”, which really got the party started. Thankfully, there was no shoving or pushing, but I did get to enjoy screaming all the words alongside thousands of fans at this sold-out show. This tour featured a varied setlist, and it was a hit. Newer songs from Joanne were mixed in with early favorites like “Just Dance”, “Poker Face”, and “Telephone” to the crowd’s content. Gaga also featured some lesser known cult favorites off like “Scheiße” and “Bloody Mary” off her earlier albums. The extravagant costumes and flawlessly synchronized choreography from her and the large group of Haus of Gaga dancers were a treat. These older songs fed the early 2010’s nostalgia, reminding the audience that even though the night belonged to Joanne, Mother Monster was still alive and thriving.
After a handful of songs performed on the main stage and a couple of outfit changes, Gaga and her dancers disappeared in a puff of smoke while the screen came down to show us a short abstract video. It ended as quickly as it started, and a familiar electronic beat blared as Gaga’s dancers returned to re-introduce the singer, who was now clad in a black velvet bodysuit with one colorful sleeve. Large parts of the ceiling began to descend slowly, revealing themselves to be bridges used to get from the main stage to the smaller ones. Gaga led her parade across the first bridge and right to our (now elevated) bubble stage platform to belt out “Applause”. Because the stage rose unexpectedly, everyone at that barricade was now technically under Gaga instead of in front of her. However, the clear plexiglass floor of the stage gave us a fantastic view, and we were all still very close to Gaga, who made a point to sing at the the edges of the platform so we could get a good look. She continued on all the way back to her holographic piano to give a short speech on love and empowerment before playing musical proclamation “Come To Mama”, which preaches about unity and strength in the face of social issues. This section of the show was touching and fairly emotional, as she also sang a short snippet of “Grigio Girls” in honor of late friend, Sonja Durham, before performing a beautiful acoustic piano version of “Edge of Glory” and returning to the main stage with powerhouse anthem “Born This Way”.
As expected, Gaga showcased her amazing vocals and included outstanding theatrical elements like elaborate sets, extravagant costumes, and a small army of extremely talented backup dancers. However, I can’t say that any of this was the most impactful thing about her show. During the show, I sang and jumped alongside the person next to me, a tall young man with killer makeup and a veiled outfit that appeared to be inspired by Gaga’s look at the 2012 Grammys. We never introduced ourselves, but we’d been standing right next to each other for hours, since we both started saving our spots for the show since around 6 pm. When we were waiting, we were both on our phones a lot, going through social media just to kill time. I had noticed his lock screen, which appeared to be a senior picture of a dressed up young man, wearing a suit and tie, smiling. The person in the lock screen picture looked like the person standing next to me (at least that’s what I thought- it was a bit hard to see the guy through his veil, but he looked very similar to the photo on his phone). I didn’t think much of it, but I smiled at the self-love. I believed this guy was totally feeling himself and had set a picture of his own face as his lock screen. I thought it was great. Near the end of the show, Gaga makes her way back to the little stage we’re barricade at, and starts to sing “Angel Down” and “Joanne”. These are extremely heavy and emotional songs which deal with the murder of Trayvon Martin and the passing of Gaga’s own aunt, respectively, so there were definitely emotions in the crowd. Anger, sadness, and hope were all around me. I glanced over at the guy in the veil, and even though Lady Gaga was right in front of us, he didn’t seem to be paying much attention to her, but rather, he had his phone open, staring at his lock screen. When Gaga came over closest to our side of the stage belting the heaviest parts of “Angel Down”, he leaned over to me, showed me his lock screen, and said “my brother”. I didn’t know anything about this man, I didn’t even know his name, but in that moment I felt so hard for him. I obviously don’t know the circumstances about his brother, but I did know that he was no longer in this world, and I could understand that pain. He kept his phone on and lifted it up to Gaga so she could see it. He was now singing along to “Joanne”, and just like the spirit of the song, it was a bittersweet moment of remembering loss and experiencing therapy. When Gaga paused to talk about her own personal loss and invite Mark Ronson on stage to finish the song, I tapped Veil guy on the shoulder and told him that his brother was watching over him just like Joanne was watching over Gaga. In the whole mess of the GA crowd, he nodded, thanked me, and introduced me to his sister, who was standing right behind us in the crowd. I held her hand and told her how strong she and her brother were, and that I was sorry for their loss. And from one second to another, that moment was over
“ Bad Romance” began to play and everyone shifted gears and started to party once again. When everyone went back to having the time of their lives, I realized first-hand the real healing power of music. Lady Gaga helped to heal a hurting heart right in front of me, and she’s done the same for thousands of other fans. Her voice and her being create wonderful places of acceptance, love, understanding, and the power to bring complete strangers together, even just for a few moments.
“The Cure” and “Million Reasons” marked the end of the show, and during this time my boyfriend and I shifted around to take pictures and ended up losing our spot next to the Veil guy and his sister. When the lights went up, I told my boyfriend what I’d experienced, and he was so touched that we both searched for them to give them a hug and let them know it was an honor to stand in a sweaty crowd with them that night. We never got Veil guy or his sister’s name, but if they ever see this, I hope it finds them well, and they know how much love and support they have from all the little monsters and Gaga herself. I hope they continue to be strong and themselves, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have met them, because I learned a powerful lesson.
Lady Gaga is the musical legend of our generation not only because she is original and talented and more than a little weird. It’s because she’s a powerhouse. Of everything. She’s a fantastic performer and the icon of unapologetic being and supporting everyone and she makes sure that every person she reaches through her music knows that it is okay to be exactly who you are, and that you are never alone. The atmosphere of her space and her shows is absolutely incredible, and definitely like nothing I have ever been a part of before. It was my honor to finally see Lady Gaga live. Although I’ve been listening to and loving her music for years, the Joanne World Tour finally taught me what all the fuss is really about.