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Lady Gaga live at Winnipeg MTS Centre concert review

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Lady Gaga Artpop Ball Tour, Winnipeg, Canada, MTS Centre, May 22, 2014

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Lady Gaga made a triumphant return to Winnipeg, Man. on May 22. Playing to a sold out house at the MTS Centre, the pop superstar's fans had their first chance to see Mother Monster since the diva's pre-stardom appearance at Blush Ultraclub way back on Aug. 20, 2008.

Touring behind her third studio album "ArtPop," the "Bad Romance" hitmaker has dubbed her latest spectacle "Lady Gaga's artRave: The ArtPop Ball Tour." For those who may have caught Gaga's club performance in those formative days, the immensity of the latest production is a tribute to how far the 28-year-old native New Yorker has come.

Reviewing the controversial singer's latest spectacular is a bit daunting in that it has far more in common with a Broadway play than a music concert. The production boasts a dozen dancers, an ultra-tight five-piece band, a massive stage with catwalks extending to two smaller stage areas mid-arena, multiple costume, stage prop, and set design changes, multiple hydraulic risers, as well as state of the art visuals and sound.

Gaga made her grand entrance to deafening cheers from a hydraulic riser which lifted her from beneath centre stage. Bedecked in a shoulder-length blond wig, fishnet stockings, a sequined bodysuit bearing a blue mirror ball and sporting a huge pair of angel wings, the pop fashion queen took in the crowd's adoration to the opening strains of "ArtPop's" title track as her entourage of dancers heralded her arrival

In an overall stage design theme loosely devoted to 80's style raves (as artist Salvidor Dali might portray them), the stage was spotted with white lucite domes, from which the bandmembers performed. Gaga and troupe began slowly working their from the stage down the plexiglass catwalk, which zigzagged out to mid-arena where her keyboard sat, looking like it might have belonged in Disney's "Little Mermaid." Perched behind the ivories, she continued belting out the song while her dancers feverishly bumped and grinded around her.

In terms of music content, the setlist focuses primarily on Gaga's new album and includes all but two of its tracks - "Dope" and "Jewels N' Drugs." Given "Artpop's" lukewarm sales (at least by Gaga standards) and critical reception, the singer made a risky choice, given that she could easily have opted to lean on her huge back catalogue of hits and had guaranteed success. Though ArtPop is uneven as an album, the songs benefited overall in the live setting, enhanced by a more raunchy and stripped down sound, as well as by addition of the accompanying visual feast.

The pacing of the show was brisk as the former Stefani Germanotta pumped out four "ArtPop" tracks in succession, the title track. "G.U.Y.," "Donatella" and "Fashion," before pausing for a costume change. Mother Monster acted as cheerleader, prompting her "little monsters" to "throw your f**king hands in the air." Full marks have to given to Gaga, who sang live all night (only backing vocals were canned), busting dance moves up and down the catwalks along side her dancers, who racked up sweat equity in the gallons.

The stage setting was so massive, and the theatrics so sprawling, that they might have dwarfed a lesser performer and created a loss of intimacy with the audience. But Gaga's powerful voice, personal charisma and continual efforts to genuinely connect with fans helped offset this obstacle.

The five-time Grammy winner breached the distance by chatting often with the audience. She recounted a story about taking a picture with a couple of "too cool long-hair bad-a**es," in front of her Winnipeg hotel earlier in the day. Upon discovering they wouldn't be at the show that night because it had sold out, she gave them free tickets and gave them a shout out during the show.

A costume change into an ultra-revealing flowered thong with sparkling bra and massive hair, preceded two more "ArtPop" songs, the Abba flavoured dance number "Venus" and the sweaty grinder "Manicure." If fans missed the hits to this point, it really didn't show and Gaga rewarded them by knocking out a string of six biggies, including: "Just Dance," a mash-up of "Poker Face" into "Telephone," "Paparazzi," "Do What U Want," and capped by a piano ballad version of her "Born This Way."

On the latter number, which she performed solo at her keyboard on the remote stage amid the audience, Gaga noticed a fan in tears and brought her onstage. Remarking, "I couldn't tell if you were crying because you were happy or sad" she brought the delighted young woman onstage to sit on the piano bench beside her while she performed and to a gathering backstage afterwards.

The pop star's affection for her fans seems genuine. During another interlude, she read a letter thrown onstage by another adoring fan, who also received an invitation to join the backstage festivities.

Following the solo spot, Gaga disappeared beneath the stage to reappear clad in green wig, black leather pants and sports bra combo with a green wig for three more "ArtPop" tracks. The diva knocked out the album's opening track "Aura," invitingly sprawled herself across a red leather couch for "Sexxx Dreams" and wrapped the trilogy with the marijuana fueled " "Mary Jane Holland."

In the home stretch, Gaga returned to the hits and brought the entire house to its feet with the three-way punch of "Alejandro," "Bad Romance" and "Applause." Fans got an eyeful when her costume handlers undressed the singer onstage between songs, revealing the singer's bare derriere and a side view of her bare breasts.

Gaga ended the night strongly with a final pair of "ArtPop" tracks, beginning in true rave style with the industrial fuelled pop-rocker "Swine," and returning for a well-deserved encore, bedecked in a long white wig and a dress with a flowing white train for the Europop flavoured "Gypsy." The ArtRave tour continues on May 25 in Calgary, Alta. at Scotiabank Saddledome. For more details, check out LadyGaga.com.

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