Nine years, nearly 20 performances: Lady Gaga and Las Vegas, as snug a fit as the former’s curves-smothering stagewear.
Since making her first Vegas appearances at Krave Las Vegas in 2008, Gaga has graduated from packing nightclubs and theaters to selling out arenas in multiple-night stands.
She’s joined then-Vice President Joe Biden at UNLV, sung standards with Tony Bennett and thrown down with The Police (one of them, at least).
With Gaga bringing her “Joanne World Tour” to town this weekend for the first of two stops at T-Mobile Arena (she’s back Dec. 16), let’s take a look back at a few of her many memorable Vegas performances:
Dec. 17, 2009, The Pearl at the Palms
What we said back then: “This was less a concert than a night of heavy-breathing pop performance art, alive with carnal choreography and more lewd come-ons than could be heard at a dozen construction sites.”
With a tongue as sharp as the remnants of the shattered glass ceiling above public displays of female sexuality, Gaga wielded her libido like a police baton amid a full-on riot. “Tonight, I’m feeling particularly slutty,” she panted at the outset of her first Vegas headlining concert. As Gaga has become an increasingly high-profile advocate of the LGBTQ community over the years and her shows now draw more and more younger fans, Gaga’s between-song banter has become less oversexed, more understanding. But this was vintage Gaga at her most ribald — even with her dad in the house, she didn’t hold back on the sex talk. We cringed in unison, Papa Gaga.
Aug. 13, 2010, MGM Grand Garden
What we said back then: “Gaga gigs are kind of like a Broadway adaptation of ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul,’ enhanced with hydraulic beats, F-bombs, fake blood and lots of chiseled fellas dancing menacingly in their underwear.”
Because sometimes we all need a little pep talk from a lady outfitted in a spark-shooting brassiere. Attempting to raise eyebrows and the crowd’s self-esteem at once, Gaga got her Stuart Smalley on during the first of many high-watt headlining shows at the MGM Grand Garden arena. “Tonight, I want you to let go of all your insecurities,” she instructed the sold-out house. “I want you to dismiss any rejection. I don’t want you to leave loving me more, I want you to leave loving you more.” In an elaborate stage presentation broken down into a series of vignettes, Gaga battled the “fame monster,” a gyrating, tentacled beast, as she sought to come to terms with the demands of her newfound superstardom in a show that aimed to pair high art with low inhibitions.
Sept. 24, 2011, MGM Grand Garden
What we said back then: “With her long-winded between-song banter, simulated masturbation and endless exhortations, Gaga’s set initially felt a little been there, done that.”
There was a slightly bemused-looking Sting, dueting with Gaga on a cover of The Police’s “King of Pain” during her headlining set on the second night of the iHeartRadio Music Fest. This after the duo performed an a cappella version of “Stand by Me.” It wasn’t a natural fit, these two, and Gaga’s performance as a whole felt a little stilted, like maybe she needed break from the road lest the road break her. But then the show was jolted to new life with a palpably emotional performance of her torch song “Hair.” Gaga dedicated the number to the then-recently-deceased Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old from New York who committed suicide after relentless bullying. “I just want to be free,” she sang, choking up a bit, the crowd momentarily struggling to sip their cocktails with all those lumps in throats.
Jan. 25, 2013, MGM Grand Garden
What we said back then: “And so it went for the next two-plus hours, which registered as a sci-fi self-help seminar complete with a loose narrative about aliens and humans birthing a new race, though said plotline was no more central to these proceedings than the dialogue in a skin flick.”
This was an evening of grand entrances: Gaga took to the stage on horseback and later came out dangling from a meat rack next to two sides of beef before performing “Poker Face” inside a giant meat grinder. This later set piece was intended as a critique of the male gaze, of women being seen as pieces of meat, and this whole show was perhaps Gaga’s most outspoken display of feminine assertiveness. Her larger point was that she couldn’t be objectified if she did so herself on her own terms, stripping any would-be objectifiers of their power. “Blond high-heeled feminist enlisting femmes for this / Express your woman-kind,” she sang over a beat as outsized as her ambitions.
Aug. 3, 2014, MGM Grand Garden
What we said back then: “With a set design suggestive of an arctic snow castle, Gaga led her phalanx of dancers in a fun, physical routine, playing a seahorse-shaped keytar, donning flowing blue and pink tentacles and dry-humping a piano amid confetti levels suggestive of a ticker-tape parade in honor of returning war heroes.”
Late in what was her seventh performance at the MGM Grand Garden, Gaga read a letter from a fan. “I dance, and I instantly feel better,” he wrote, explaining how her music helped him get through hard times. This sentiment defined Gaga’s “ArtRave” tour, which was less about the overt messaging of past tours and more tilted toward the liberation and self-expression inherent in losing oneself on the dance floor. “You better grab a glow stick or shut up,” she thundered at the audience, who needed no arm-twisting to heed those commands, twisting countless hips instead.
Contact Jason Bracelin at email@example.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.
Who: Lady Gaga
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: T-Mobile Arena, 3780 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Tickets: $55.14 -$305.84 (702-692-1600)