Venue

REVIEW: Lady Gaga Denver Pepsi Center show

Lady Gaga performs at the Pepsi Center on Aug. 6, 2014.
Lady Gaga performs at the Pepsi Center on Aug. 6, 2014.

NOTE: Lady Gaga isn’t allowing photographers into her “ArtRave” tour. The above picture was taken on a cell phone. We also made GIFs of her fans.

Lady Gaga uses the term “art” twice in the official title of her tour, “ArtRave: The Artpop Ball.” She yelled the word repeatedly at her Pepsi Center crowd on Wednesday in Denver. It’s in the title of her latest album, smashed together with another word: “pop.” She flashed #artrave on enormous HD screens above the stage. But it wasn’t until nearly halfway through her set that Lady Gaga showed any hint of the idea. And even then it was only a brief flash.

This moment of brilliance at Lady Gaga’s show on Wednesday didn’t come in the form of elaborate costuming or confetti or glow sticks or guys in trench coats with flashing pacifiers, it was when she sat at the piano and actually sang.

During “Do What U Want” a pillar lifted Gaga into the air and back to the ground on an inflatable throne. Gaga stood up from the throne and suddenly the heavy backing tracks and the thick abrasive riffs from her band cut out and she moved into an R&B refrain of the track. Alone on the neon, EDM bridge that extended over the crowd, Gaga finally sang. She bounced up to the high notes, dug deep into her girthy register, and you could finally hear that singer who gained early admission into NYU’s musical theater program. Then Gaga made her way to a piano to play a beautiful and honest “Dope.” Here, including when she ran out of breath halfway through, Lady Gaga seemed almost real. With nothing to hide behind, Gaga belted the first half of “Born This Way.” She had emotion, she had a purpose. Her voice filled the venue and lifted the crowd of wigged and painted partiers. That is, until her leather backing dancers came back on stage to shoot neon rods and confetti at the audience.

The all too brief piano interlude was sandwiched by an expectedly outrageous spectacle from Lady Gaga. The stage looked like a tacky, rave version of the ice castle in “Adventure Time.” A cold, white bridge extended over the crowd into the middle of the arena where Gaga spent most of her time on Wednesday.

And yes, she had some crazy costumes.

Here’s a quick rundown of what she wore: The Tantric Sex Butterfly Costume, The “Blade Runner” Plastic Neon Top/Skirt, The Blue Tentacle Creature With a Seahorse Keytar (kind of looks like the singer at the end of “The Fifth Element”), The Green Haired Leather Stripper Number, The Ice Bride, The Grunge One (plaid, without pants), Blonde Amy Winehouse Wig/Makeup.

As her backing tracks played and the band hammered away, Gaga awkwardly moved around in these costumes, trying to pump up the crowd like a desperate spin class instructor. Only about five songs into the night, she haphazardly threw out “Paparazzi,” “Poker Face” and “Just Dance.” Who would have thought some of Lady Gaga’s biggest hits from her groundbreaking years as the Queen of Pop would be tucked into a parenthesis early into the set?

In 2010, when Lady Gaga played the Pepsi Center these songs marked the peak of her success. Back then, she was getting early comparisons to Madonna and Britney Spears. We even ended our review of that show with a challenge: Gaga could hold the title of biggest pop star in the world if she “plays her cards right.”

Well, that didn’t mean play the same hand over and over again.

Returning four years later, Gaga seemed tired (edit: Turns out she had altitude sickness), dragging around a confused mess of a show that was hardly art, shakily pop and mostly rave. As that passionate and lonely midsection on Wednesday proved, she’s a talented musician and powerful performer. But, looking around at the fuzzy hats, glow sticks, booty shorts and pasties, you have to wonder if anyone would have bought a ticket to see Gaga alone at a piano.

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