Lady Gaga/The Darkness, Twickenham Stadium
Lady Gaga's self-invented persona and masterpieces of über pop are a lesson in how to forge our own identities
Sunday 16 September 2012
It was RuPaul who famously stated: "We are all born naked, and the rest is drag." It was David Bowie, even more famously, who sang: "We're the start of the coming race." In 2012, it's Lady Gaga, alone among famous modern pop stars, who understands the importance of self-creation. Indeed, it's the whole point of the show.
A disembodied, vaguely witchy face inside a pink neon diamond, suspended high overhead, commands our attention. We are instructed to be on the lookout for an "alien fugitive" whose objective is "to birth a new race". Our mission? "Kill the bitch." This theme of birth, rebirth and reinvention, and the paradox of an elective, inclusive elite, is a recurring thread throughout the Born This Way Ball. But before we even get to that, a different kind of rebirth is already under way.
"Hello, we're The Darkness, a rock'n'roll band from the United Kingdom!" Justin Hawkins and humility were distant strangers during The Darkness' mid-Noughties pomp, and rightly so. Therefore, when Hawkins plays the modesty card, one assumes it's a gag. After all, the Lowestoft hard rockers' comeback is going very nicely indeed.
Then again, their stint as Lady Gaga's hand-picked support act on the Born This Way Ball has taken them to places like Bulgaria where, perhaps, such (re-)introductions were necessary. Either way, we know damn well who they are. More importantly, we know what they do: deliver a shameless feel-good stadium rock show like no one else alive.
Perhaps strangely, there's only one track from comeback album Hot Cakes ("Nothing's Gonna Stop Us"), and, for that matter, only one from One Way Ticket to Hell ... and Back (the coke-crazed title track). This short, sharp set is all about the multi-platinum Permission to Land, and all about reminding everyone why they loved The Darkness in the first place. It visibly works: I see people sprinting towards the front when they hear "I Believe in a Thing Called Love".
But Justin has one or two new tricks up his wizard's sleeve. During "Get Your Hands Off My Woman", wearing an Evel Knievel jumpsuit, he executes a star-shaped headstand and conducts the crowd's handclaps by "clapping" his feet together.
Expecting that kind of stamina from the audience, however, is unfair. During the call-and-response section of "Love on the Rocks with No Ice" he asks us to hold the same falsetto note for four whole bars. By the end, Twickenham is croaking. But if you don't ask, you don't get.
Speaking of Twickenham, any stadium where you get kettled by police horses outside its hopelessly inadequate station for more than an hour afterwards is not a viable gig venue. But for the two hours Gaga is on stage, no one cares. She emerges from a gothic castle which I take to be symbolic of the theme of birth and rebirth, evoking Bram Stoker's Dracula (eternal life) and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (artificial life), and delivers a spectacular which is, if anything, even more eye-boggling than 2010's Monster Ball.
The outfits, needless to say, are astounding. At various points, La Germanotta appears as a Venusian beekeeper, a Pearly Queen version of the Statue of Liberty and the front fork of a Hell's Angel bike. The songs are masterpieces of über-pop, of which "Bad Romance" remains the pinnacle. But the most telling moments come when she calls a halt to the craziness and talks to us.
Sure, there's a lot of hokum in the form of a sci-fi subplot in which Gaga is invading Earth from somewhere called Goat, an acronym for Gaga-Owned Alien Territory. And there's a cringeworthy interlude in which she salutes Princess Diana. Worshipping a beneficiary of inherited wealth who married into power seems to contradict the spirit of the show.
But when she quotes Lady Starlight – Gaga's mentor (and tonight's opening act) – she hits the nail on the head. The New York DJ-performer once told her: "I'm sick of myself. I want to create a NEW self." That's exactly what Stefani Germanotta promptly did, and she's now unleashed a chain reaction among her fanbase. "Last time I was here, I looked out and saw people with telephones in their hair, like me. Now, I see people being themselves."
Gaga's relationship with her "Little Monsters" is a beautiful thing: she invites one girl up to sit with her and places a tiara on her head, and brings another six onstage to be her dancers, their years utterly made.
What we've seen and heard tonight is, essentially, Lady Gaga's superhero origin story. The lasting message is that we're all free to write our own. For that, she remains the only modern pop star worthy of being talked about in the same breath as Bowie, and her rivals – Rihanna and Beyoncé – aren't fit to lick Gaga's studded six-inch heels. Although, come to think of it, I can already see the video.
Planned before the death of amplification pioneer Jim Marshall, the Marshall 50 Years of Loud concert in Wembley Arena promises to be a guitar nerd's dream; the line-up includes Joe Satriani, Nicko McBrain and Zakk Wylde (22 Sep). The final Peace One Day concert, headlined by Elton John, takes place in the same venue the day before.
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