Lady Gaga has been the talk of the town since it was announced she would perform and also be a keynote speaker at this years SXSW in Austin, Texas. In order to attend her ARTPOP show you had three barriers to overcome to get a ticket. First off, you had to have a SXSW badge or wristband to qualify. Then you had to perform a mission sponsored by Doritos. Missions varied but fell under the theme of doing something "bold" in honor of their new flavors and products of chips. For some that I met in the crowd that included getting your head shaved. For me, it was simple. I had to tweet something I did that was "bold" growing up. The third thing you had to do, was win a drawing from all those who completed a mission successfully. Somehow I won, as media was not invited to this performance.
Winners were contacted by email with info and instructed to race up to the Austin Convention Center to pick up a special pink wristband (see pic) that would score them a place with an estimated two thousand other winners to see her perform her ARTPOP show at The Stubb's venue.
This being my first live Lady Gaga performance and seeing her up-close and personal with just two thousand rather than her 18,000 plus arena shows, made me feel like I had won the music lottery. Whether you like her or not, she's one of those performers that you just have to see regardless such as Prince, Madonna, Elton John etc. You know the show, or theatrics are going to be entertaining regardless of how you feel about the music.
After watching the opening performance from the New York based group "Dirty String Of Pearls" which wasn't half bad, the singer could carry a tune when he wasn't screaming into the mic, and the guitar solos were dynamic, I still wanted them to get off the stage so I could see Gaga but I was to be denied. After two hours of standing in line (even though I had a guaranteed ticket), and then fighting my way (didn't fight that hard) to be within 20 feet back from the stage out came a second opening act.
The performer known to those who follow Gaga was none other than Lady Starlight, who has worked with Gaga for many years before she was famous, helping her create interesting pieces of wardrobe and performance art. Her mini-show consisted of her creating beats and and deep base rhythms that took the crowd on a journey that started out interesting, but after 20 minutes got me annoyed. Generally love this type of music and can get into it, but not this time. Lady Starlight wore a red robe and pointed ears, clearly a Star Trek inspired Vulcan cosplay, that all those standing around me failed to recognize. Her costume and expressions she made while performing were intriguing to me but after twenty minutes of boom boom, high hat, booooom, I was over it. She continued for what felt like hours of the same, pressing buttons and turning knobs smiling occasionally at the crowd. However, in the end, I was more entertained by the Stubb's house DJ who played fantastic, soul stirring House Music in between acts. Her stuff just got boring and monotonous despite the enigmatic looks she threw the crowd from time to time.
After Lady Starlight departed with her Vulcan robe flowing behind her, a crew worker nonchalantly placed a simple chair center stage. Momentarily, a thin, dark-haired lady, barely clad, came out on stage. I asked myself, "Is that Lady Gaga," the world renown performer who wears the crazy costumes on stage and sings her guts out?
The performer proceeded to sit down on the chair and dive into a large sized, tinfoil pan of Texas Barbecue. She began by taking a link of three sausages and dangling them from above her mouth. She provocatively began eating them while constantly adding sauce from a squeeze bottle. She consumed ribs making sure to lick every single finger when finished and then threw some of it at the crowd. Was this her homage to Texas Barbecue, because by now I had figured out it was Gaga and not a back up dancer, but the one and only? Honestly, to open her show like this was it ARTPOP, as inspired by her latest CD, and furthermore, was it interesting to watch a world renown performer munch down on brisket? Not really. I believe it was lame. I know good art, performance or otherwise should stimulate some sort of thought, and mine was "how stupid."
After consuming the food she bowed and walked off stage and crew members uncovered a huge mechanical bull, stage left and dropped a curtain that had been hiding the rest of the stage. In the background was a huge neon sign that said "Lady Gaga Haus of Swine" with the face of a cartoon pig that was reminiscent of "Porky Pig" (see pics). Finally, the real show was about to begin and it did with Lady Gaga being tied to a spit and turning over a make-believe fire as if roasting. She sang "Aura" as she flipped over, round and round being careful to untangle her massive blonde wig of dreadlocks each revolution. Not to be vulgar, but as she was unharnessed from the spit her bikini-like bottom had somehow rode up-between her legs exposing that private bit of area and all those on the right side couldn't have missed that. Perhaps this was ARTPOP too?
After several songs, in which she paused between each one to dole out advice about living in the moment and telling fans to not post this show, -there was no media to be seen anywhere, and to really feel the music, she introduced a friend she called "Millie" from London. Millie proceeded to consume a big bottle of green stuff as she pranced around the stage. At first I thought it was some of that healthy green machine drink that I consume daily but after a few minutes it became apparent what it was.
Gaga began to sing her song "Swine" after lamenting to the fans about "Rape," "Rage," and the good that can come from it. She then said something like "this is going to get dirty" and put an apron on (like the ones you wear when you barbecue). Millie and Gaga proceeded to climb up on the spinning mechanical bull, entangle each other's legs, and it didn't take long... Millie puked all over Lady Gaga. It was disgusting. More performance art? She got the puke all over her arms (see pics), her face, etc. all the while singing away. Some on the crowd thought it cool. Her die-hard fans next to me (all had their heads shaved) jumped up and down pumping and waving their hands with the Monster inspired -claw like - gesture. By that point, regardless of how good her singing is, I had to get out. Too many people that close up, pushing and shoving, to many camera phones in my view, so I headed back to the bar and was fascinated to see a large amount of people just hanging out, drinking and paying absolutely NO ATTENTION to the show.
Her performances included "Bad Romance" performed part country / part bluesy (nice), with a fiddler that tore it up. Her piano balled "Dope" was heartfelt. Her onstage visitor performer was "Twista" who sang a verse of "Jewels and Drugs."
Literally, the show stopper was the vomiting performance, and for me I soon lost visual interest and joined the folks in the back consuming Doritos and vodka. For more info on SXSW or other Pop Culture please follow me on Twitter at KaBoomSeattle.