Review: Lady Gaga lights up Little Caesars Arena

Packed with an arsenal of hits, Gaga wowed a sold-out crowd at the new Detroit arena

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Lady Gaga sparkled at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday, singing and dancing her way through an explosive two hour and 10 minute dazzler of a show.

Lady Gaga performs onstage during the "Joanne" World Tour at The Forum on August 8, 2017 in Inglewood, California.

“I heard this is a brand new arena,” Gaga said to the sold-out crowd after opening with “Diamond Heart” and “A-Yo,” the pair of songs that kick off her 2016 album “Joanne.” “I can’t wait to break it in for y’all.”

She did a pretty swell job, as the show offered up the most adventurous staging the new arena has thus far seen. Stages in the front and back of the arena were joined by mini-stages on the floor, connected by bridges that lowered from jellybean-shaped pods in the rafters. The main stage was broken up into several pieces that lifted on hydraulics and tilted in opposite directions, sometimes resembling a discotheque version of a “Donkey Kong” game board.

Lady Gaga performs onstage during the "Joanne" World Tour at The Forum on August 9, 2017 in Inglewood, California.

Gaga, who just two months ago sacked a European tour due to “severe physical pain,” was in strong shape physically and vocally, never slowing on her choreography or her live singing. She was adamant about not relying on backing tracks, at one point singing into a microphone that was held in front of her by one of her 10 dancers as she wailed on her keytar and marched around the stage during “Just Dance.”

Backed by a five-piece band, Gaga worked her way through a 22-song set that was centered on “Joanne” but wound through her many hits, from “Telephone” to “Alejandro” to “LoveGame” to “Applause” to “Bad Romance.” Those hits were offered up in full, not in medley form, a fallback for too many pop artists these days who try to cram in everything but wind up short-changing their fans in the process.

Gaga proudly wore her status as an LBGTQ icon, waving a pride flag as she introduced “Come to Mama.” “Everybody is welcome here!” she said, greet her fans across the spectrums of race and sexual orientation. “Why we gotta put each other down when there’s more than enough love to go around, Michigan?”

Lady Gaga performs onstage during her "Joanne" World Tour at Citi Field on August 28, 2017 in New York, New York.

She teared up as she dedicated “Edge of Glory” to her best friend Sonja Durham, who died in May after a bout with cancer. “Anyone who’s lost someone this year, I’m right there with you,” she told the crowd.

It was one of several moments in the show where Gaga connected with her fans beyond the usual chit-chat stage banter. She was present, stopping songs and inserting comments in the breaks, and at one point late in the show reading a letter tossed on stage by a fan in the front row. Gaga jumped down and hugged the young man before returning to the stage for “The Cure.”

Gaga’s last Detroit visit came during a 2014 stop on her “Artpop Ball” tour, an outing which found her in a creative slump. In the years since, she has retooled, drawing back from the pop rat race and finding a more steady groove. She’s not playing anyone else’s game, and most importantly, she’s no longer in a situation where she’s trying to outdo herself. The game of shock is not a path to career longevity, and she was able to hop off that train before it ran her over.

Lady Gaga performed during her "Joanne" world tour at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada in August. On Tuesday, she brought the show to Little Caesars Arena singing, dancing and shimmering her way through an explosive two hour and 10 minute dazzler of a show

Tuesday’s show was short on stunts, but there was one bit that wowed, when she ducked out of sight and changed costumes on one of the bridge set pieces as it raised to the ceiling, emerging in a shimmering new outfit as it lowered back to the stage. Elsewhere, several of her costume changes slowed the show’s momentum, as her band was forced to fill in the gaps with extended vamping. The first few times were fine, but by the end those segments dragged.

Yet Gaga was dynamite throughout the night. She sported a floppy pink hat, just like the one she wears on the “Joanne” cover, intermittently during the show, telling the crowd it helped get her in character for the album. But this time around, the character is herself, or the closest we’ve seen yet to the real life Stefani Germanotta.

“I just want to be remembered as brave, that’s it,” she said after performing “Joanne” solo on an acoustic guitar near the evening’s end. But brave is just the beginning for Gaga. As she proved on Tuesday, there are many more chapters on her yet to be written.

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