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Friday, Sept. 3, 2010

Lady Gaga @ The Bradley Center

Sept. 2, 2010

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Misted with sweat following a taxing dance routine for “Telephone,” Lady Gaga sat at a piano bench as the stage cleared and reached into her studded, black leather bra. “I don’t believe in plastic surgery, so some things just must be done,” she told the crowd as she pulled out handfuls of tissue from under her cleavage, discarding them at her feet. She looked relieved to get rid of them. She had told the crowd before the dance number that they had been bothering her, explaining that the stuffing was necessary to cover for her shrinking bust, the result of weight she’d lost over her lengthy “Monster Ball” tour.

Gaga’s performance Thursday night at a near-capacity Bradley Center had dueling objectives: to provide the spectacle expected of the eccentric pop star, but also to humanize her, breaking down the wall between the woman and the entertainer. At two hours long, there was plenty of time to do both. Outlandish costumes, rotating set pieces, arty video sequences, musicians dressed like living “Guitar Hero” avatars, chiseled dancers, fake blood and a literal fame monster filled the stage, but Gaga offset these theatrics by addressing the crowd extensively between songs, often in the empathetic tones and personal anecdotes of a motivational speaker. She twice assured the crowd they could be whoever they wanted to be.

“I wasn’t very cool in high school,” she confided. “In fact, I used to get made fun of every day … I was just like you, sitting in the audience, watching some fucking slut who I wanted to be.” It’s a difficult pitch to make, a ubiquitous pop star sympathizing with outsiders and outcasts, but it had weight coming from a woman taunted by vitriolic rumors that she’s a hermaphrodite, and it was appreciated by an audience eager to fly its freak flag. Fans arrived costumed in wigs, boas, face paint, wings and yellow caution tape.

Gaga made repeated, extended calls for gay rights and tolerance. After soliciting donations for a charity for homeless LGBT youth, promising to match contributions up to $25,000, she phoned a gay audience member from the stage and complemented his courage. Later she introduced a bisexual backup dancer, likening him to Jesus in that he loves everybody. These interludes slowed the pace of a concert that was already chatty, but they also gave the performance a sense of purpose. Few singers of her stature so thoroughly commit themselves to a cause on stage.

Of course, Gaga’s interest in gay culture extends beyond politics. “They used to tell me my music was too gay and I would never fill an arena,” she gloated, rallying her bare-chested dancers for a joyfully frivolous routine set to “Boys Boys Boys.” “All my Milwaukee gays!” she shouted. “This one’s for the boys! Gay pride!”

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