"The Monster's Ball will set you free, London! Tonight we're gonna be super freaks!" And so begins an evening in the company of the world's biggest pop star.
The Monster Ball tour began in November 2009. So far Lady Gaga has completed a staggering 156 shows, taking her to four continents. When it wraps in May, the tour will have made an estimated $200m. Not that the slightest sense of ennui pervades the show, which is as energetic and fresh as it is theatrical.
The evening – imagine a Tim Burton-directed musical with the cast of RuPaul's Drag Race – is everything a great show should be: shocking, funny, even moving. The extravagant sets and camp routines that accompany those oh-so familiar pop songs are all present and correct. And at the centre of it all is the Lady herself. Swearing, titillating us with lurid tales, beheading a Santa, casually throwing out one-liners, getting covered in blood: she does it all.
It's not without its lulls. At two hours long, the show has its fair share of filler. No matter how much Gaga has influenced, even dictated, the cultural landscape over the last two years, she has released just one album proper. Her back catalogue doesn't stretch to that of the seasoned performers who usually fill these arenas. While no one would suggest artists must wait for their bus pass before taking on venues of this size, it does mean plenty of lesser-known songs and dubious guitar solos. And while the outfits are great, they are also disappointingly familiar. Part of the reason to come to a Gaga concert is to see what she will put on (or not, as is often the case).
Still, she manages to combat the impersonal nature of the arena show with stories and jokes directed at different groups in the audience. She even tells us reviewers to dance and go get a drink (OK, Gaga!)
It's hard not to be touched by the sincere way she talks to her fans. And when you find yourself becoming cynical at the incongruous nature of someone who has nominated themselves as a mouthpiece for every freak and outsider, in front of an audience of 23,000 people, you shake it off. Because an evening in Gaga's theatre of excess is such good fun. And, really, isn't that the point?