Lady Gaga exploded in 2008 with a simple mantra: Just dance.
Through sublime singles, meat dresses at MTV Video Music Awards, egg hatchings at the Grammys, an Oscar win, duets with Tony Bennett, and oh so, so much more, Gaga has (purposefully) muddied that mantra.
Gaga’s current tour – The Chromatica Ball, which stopped at Fenway Park on Friday night – does get back to the dancing. But instead of just dance, it’s dance and think, dance and cry, dance and marvel at the P. T. Barnum-on-acid spectacle of it all. And, in its best moments, it’s sit down and just listen.
Like in the past with Gaga, that spectacle can threaten to crowd out the pop. Towers of fog, a dozen dancers, video screens as tall as the Green Monster, more pyro than Motley Crue, Gaga singing while enveloped in a cocoon straight out of Tron and stuck on a slowly rotating lazy Susan. This was the first song, “Bad Romance.”
The spectacle was one of the biggest, boldest ever put on in Fenway. But it only works because it stands on such glorious music. In a tiny club or eyes closed, these songs make you shake your hips. Early on, Gaga crammed the set with thumpers: “Just Dance” (naturally) into “Poker Face,” three of the top boogie tracks from new album “Chromatica” crammed together (“Alice,” Replay,” and “Monster”), and the banging double shot of “Telephone” and “LoveGame.”
The hour-plus of the two hour show leaned hard into the dance party. It seemed she’d forgotten her deeply introspective stuff – sadly tracks from “Joanne” were nowhere to be found. Then Gaga sat down at a piano – on a mini stage on the field right where Dustin Pedroia used to stand – and abandoned the disco enormity.
Coming out of “Babylon,” a track that screams out to be compared to Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” Gaga proved (once again) why the Madonna comparisons are tiring (if not flattering). Minus the video walls, fire and lasers, without the backing tracks and poor pacing that comes with costume changes every four songs, Gaga and 35,000 little monsters got intimate with her songs.
She transformed “Born This Way” into a piano power ballad. She delivered all the tenderness “Shallow” demands. She awesomely took “1000 Doves” – another one of those slamming club tracks from “Chromatica” – and restored it to what it was when she wrote it: a melodically magnetic, lyrically vulnerable little gem framing one of pop’s all time great voices (the range! the force! the visceral magic of it!).
Gaga returned to the bombastic dance numbers – “Stupid Love” and “Rain on Me” standing out and reminding everyone that “Chromatica” is a killer LP. But it’s key that she always indulges that part of her that doesn’t want to just dance, that wants to just listen.