“I’m not having fun tonight,” Lady Gaga sang to a packed MetLife Stadium on Thursday (Aug. 11) night. No, Mother Monster wasn’t putting down her 54,000 exhilarated fans at the East Rutherford, New Jersey stop of her Chromatica Ball Tour; she was simply delivering the declarative lyric from her wistful breakup anthem “Fun Tonight.” Even so, the opportunity wasn’t wasted on one fan: “WE ARE!” he screamed in response. That unexpected levity during a collective emotional pause was exactly the kind of moment that makes the joy of live music so impossible to replicate. And when a supermoon popped its shining face above the rim of the MetLife Stadium as Gaga segued into “Enigma,” it reminded you how amazing it is to finally have concerts back in our lives.
The Chromatica Ball Tour was initially slated to begin in 2020 but was quickly postponed a year due to the pandemic and then once again until 2022. For most artists, pulling off an all-stadium tour this summer in support of a two-year-old album would be a total non-starter, but in a lot of ways, the timing has benefitted Gaga. Chromatica served as a return to her art-pop weirdness and dancefloor roots, something that many longtime fans had been waiting years for. Despite the (Oscar- and Grammy-winning) quality of her material in the meantime — and even if you Stan Joanne and Tony Bennett duets — there’s no denying that after two years of lockdown, people are ready to get out and dance. And from the deliciously bratty “Sour Candy” to the whirlwind catharsis of “Rain on Me” to the diva house delight “Babylon,” Chromatica has emotionally resonant dancefloor bangers that stretch from ancient city styles to sci-fi chic.
Gaga’s millennia-spanning Chromatica mood board was beautifully conveyed by the Chromatica Ball stage design, which melded the stone-slab elegance of ancient civilizations with shades of Fritz Lang’s German expressionist classic Metropolis (1927), particularly during a moment where a mob of her dancers are pressed against a concrete wall, stretching toward an out-of-reach Gaga dancing above. (Given the significance of Babylon to that silent classic and Chromatica, it’s probably not a coincidence.)
Of course, the Chromatica Ball is far from exclusively new material. She opens with a one-two-three punch of her early dance-pop classics: “Bad Romance,” “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” – i.e., the songs that made O.G. Monsters fall head over forked tail in love with her in the first place. But even while giving her audience the setlist wish list-topping tracks at the start of the show, she smartly holds back a bit, building anticipation by performing “Romance” while encased in an angular robotic cocoon. When she’s released, her mobility is dictated by the constraints of a sharp-shouldered outfit paying homage to art-pop pioneer Klaus Nomi, making her movements deliberate and mysterious (the choreographer brilliantly brings her “Babylon” lyric “moving like a sculpture” to vivid life on the Chromatica Ball stage). All this has the effect that by the time we’re just three songs in, Gaga has put on a hell of a spectacle while barely moving from one spot, yet the audience is still losing their minds. When she finally does join her dancers for the full pop choreography experience on fan-favorites like “Monster” and “911,” the ecstatic release is palpable.
Truly, there are no “grab a drink/hit the restroom” moments during this show, but the standout portion is the piano segment of the evening, where she moves to a smaller in-the-round stage and sits behind a piano that looks like H.R. Giger got his hands on some old tubes and a gnarled tree and went HAM. Make no mistake – Gaga’s vocals were fully audible and impressive from start to finish, but during this part of the show, we’re treated to the depths of her substantial pipes and her deep attachment to the energy of the crowd. Plus, it was smartly balanced: Instead of dialing down her delicious oddities and making it a detour into exclusively acoustic material, she gives us the best of both worlds. “Born This Way” begins as a cabaret piano sing-along before morphing into the full dance-pop version, followed by her declaration that “if this country comes for gay marriage, you know what’s gonna happen.” And while “Shallow” is a vocal showcase by nature, she belted it out with a purple insect apparatus covering the top half of her head, which – as a credit to her remarkable taste level – somehow didn’t detract from the emotional impact one bit.
As for the New Jersey setting, the Manhattan native gamely called out both her Jersey and New York fans throughout the night while shouting out Bruce Springsteen and a mutual collaborator, the late Clarence Clemons. Clemons, an essential E Street Band member, brought his sax to Gaga’s soaring Born This Way single “The Edge of Glory” back in 2011; he died two days after the music video’s premiere.
“All I ever wanted was a video on my fire escape,” she laughed, noting that the “Glory” clip gave her the chance to check that item off her bucket list. Citing it as an example of dreams coming true, she encouraged her fans to follow theirs – but it’s safe to say for about 54,000 folks, at least one of those dreams came true on Thursday night thanks to her.