TACOMA, Wash. — Lady Gaga introduced her performance of “Joanne” at the Tacoma Dome here on Saturday night with a long disquisition on what she called “generational grief” and how it shaped this song, the title track from her latest album. She dedicated the performance to people who have been affected by a pain so long-running, they can’t remember a time before it, and let them know that they were not alone.
She performed it on acoustic guitar, eventually joining two of her bandmates, also playing guitar, for a maudlin, Eagles-like effect that punctured the sharp vulnerability with which she opened.
After a short interlude, she returned to the stage, in a white outfit with winged glasses, for “Bad Romance,” from 2009, one of her biggest pop hits. Her performance here was the total opposite: energetic, precise, committedly plastic and fiery.
The juxtaposition was disorienting. This show, the first United States stop of her new tour, highlighted the tensions that bedevil Lady Gaga, especially at this stage of her career. She is titanic when it comes to huge smears of feeling, and also to pulverizing disco-pop. She radiates rawness, and is facile with costuming. But all of these things don’t always go hand in hand, and often Lady Gaga finds herself in various tugs of war with herself — sincerity versus artifice, extravagance versus asceticism, and so on.
Ostensibly this was a tour to celebrate “Joanne,” her fourth proper solo studio album, which was released in October and has been her least successful. But the songs from that record were among the least effective here: the messy rock theater of “A-Yo,” the drowsy “John Wayne,” the awkwardly jaunty “Dancin’ in Circles.” They were also among the least characteristic. Lady Gaga thrives at the extremes of theatrical contrivance and stone-cold intimacy, and those are the modes in which this performance succeeded.
The concert’s first half was disjointed, shifting styles and attitudes seemingly at random. But about midway through, Lady Gaga struck a rhythm, after three bulbous pods hovering near the roof of the arena cleaved to reveal footbridges that descended to the floor, forming a path she could traverse, with stops at two small circular platforms along the way, from the main stage to a smaller one at the far end of the room.
That stage had a piano, and here Lady Gaga was at home. She gave “Come to Mama” from “Joanne” a hokey Broadway-cabaret arrangement, but redeemed it with thick Mama Cass singing. She followed that with “The Edge of Glory,” an older anthem, sung solely with piano, which she introduced with a story about the death of a close friend.
There aren’t likely to be many more bracing displays of vocal verve in an arena setting this year, or any other. Her performance was tragic and yet full of hope, warm, wounded and ecstatic. It embodied this singer at her best, serving as a conduit for profound feeling. That continued on two later songs from “Joanne”: “Angel Down” and “Million Reasons,” which she sang at the piano, and sometimes standing atop it.
Lady Gaga made her name with ostentation, ironic flamboyance and pseudo performance art. That strangeness once gave her centrist disco-pop real teeth, but it has long since decayed. Throughout the night, during her most effervescent hits, she was flanked onstage by a dozen or so dancers, who largely served as a kind of visual starch, frenetic but undistinguished, moving a lot but communicating little.
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