By Manning Harris
They don’t call her Mother Monster for nothing.
The emotional high point of Lady Gaga’s Atlanta concert Tuesday night at Philips Arena occurred about halfway through the show. As she sat down at a piano positioned above the “monster pit” (an area where her most rabid young fans love to congregate on the main floor), Gaga spotted a young boy with a sign that read, “Can I sit with you?” She calls her fans the “Little Monsters.”
Most superstars of her magnitude would have smiled and ignored this plea.
Not Gaga; she called him up and asked him to sit on the piano bench with her. Then, with this awestruck kid (not more than 16) by her side, she began a slow, passionate version of “Born This Way,” accompanying herself, that insanely powerful voice of hers ripping into every corner of the arena.
You could clearly see both Gaga and the boy on huge screens above the main stage. At first he took “selfies” of the two of them with his cell phone camera; then Gaga smiled, playfully took his phone and put it down his shirt, and said to him and the audience, “Let’s just be together for this.” Astoundingly, everyone around me put down cell phones, and just stood, rapt, as this force of nature called for self-acceptance in her song.
There were quite a few tears in people’s eyes. I suppose this will sound hokey to many; so be it. What separates Lady Gaga from any major performer I’ve ever seen is an emotional connection she has with her audience. I know that one 16-year-old from South Carolina will never be the same; neither will the 20,000 or so in the sold-out arena.
Her shows have a visceral impact that can best be experienced in live performance. That’s why I included the vignette of “Gaga and the Boy.” But trust me on this: There’s more to this young woman than eye-catching, outlandish costumes. She also dances extremely well.
She performed songs from her latest album “Artpop,” like “Venus,” “G.U.Y.,” “Applause,” and the show ending “Gypsy.” Still, when she reached into her repertoire with songs from her earlier work like “Just Dance,” “Paparazzi,” “Poker Face,” “Bad Romance,” and “Alejandro,” the audience was pretty much delirious with joy.
She is accompanied by a troupe of fine, lithe dancers; excellent musicians; and an all-white space age stage saved from sterility by provocative shapes and suddenly blooming flowers. She made extensive use of two Lucite catwalks that curved out into the monster pit. Gaga likes to get close to her fans. She has an endearing, sometimes slightly raunchy sense of humor and irony.
At one point she thanked her Little Monsters for staying with her as she continues to adjust to the “fame thing,” as she put it. She has just turned 28. The former self-described “teenage misfit” has achieved global fame and adulation, yet she still winks at herself, and her fans: “You know, people take everything so seriously these days,” she said last night.
Lady Gaga is a classically trained pianist; an accomplished composer and lyricist; an incredibly gifted singer who can rock out or duet with Tony Bennett, who called her the most talented person he’s ever worked with. Think about that.
As was once said about another legendary performer, Gaga carries her own spotlight. And you can’t look away.