9th and Red River had a much louder buzz than a usualThursday afternoon as it was the day Lady Gaga would be gracing the Doritos Bold Stage at the SXSW Stibbs outdoor venue. Thousands of fans who completed the challenge Doritos (advertised in order to win the golden ticket into the performance) waited hours to snag a spot. Once doors opened, fans dressed in Gaga’s signature looks rushed in straight toward the small stage, immediately taking every and any spot they could.
Doritos offered free bags of their classic chips around the venue for concert goers to munch on. The atmosphere felt very Texas with Texas BBQ pulled pork available everywhere.
First band to go up were The Dirty Pearls from the Lower East Side of New York City. On stage they look like a rock ‘n roll band right out of the seventies– sound and look aligned. With Gaga’s stamp of approval the crowd seemed to receive the band well; however, it was with their cover of Billy Idol’s 1983 hit “Rebel Yell” that got the crowd really rocking and grooving.
Next was none other than Gaga’s other half from her earlier hustling days, Lady Starlight. She kept up beats and catchy synthesizers to get the crowd bouncing. It was a humbling event to see Lady Starlight opening for her best friend and to know how they used to perform together at small bars in NYC. Now they’re both performing a very high profile showcase at SXSW.
Finally, it was the moment hundreds of people were waiting for in and outside of the venue. A simple wooden chair was placed center stage as a direct spotlight shone on the empty seat.
Decked in all black and an apron, one of Gaga’s dancers strutted to the chair and proceeded to consume BBQ ribs. For several minutes she proceeded to consume the meat and pour BBQ sauce into her mouth. It was well known that Gaga’s showcase, although smaller from her usual large venues, was still expected to deliver the type of performance art everyone anticipated.
The dancer continued to pour BBQ sauce into her mouth. She seductively ate the sausage links while licking her fingers as something moved behind the curtain. She continued to antagonize the audience, throwing food into the crowd.
Before you knew it the curtains parted, revealing the band as the actress still paraded the stage eating the sausage. Carried out tied to a stake like a swine was the queen herself, Lady Gaga. Fog filled the stage and she looked naked, bounded by all fours. Spanish guitar rang threw the speakers as she whipped her long, blonde dreads back and forth. This was Gaga. This was performance art. Two of her dancers poked and prodded her like a pig. While still hanging upside she successfully belted the opening song, “Naked Lover.” She twisted and turned on the skewer until dancers unhooked her from her bonding restraints.
Her presence was immediately commanding and compelling. She wanted your attention and whether you wanted to look or not, your eyes were directed her way. She immediately took control of the stage and her dancers, dressed only in a sports bra, undies and tights pulled high waisted.
After the opening Gaga was immediately receptive with her fans. She wished the crowd a good time before proceeding to the next song.
The style of the second song, “Manicure,” was more rock in comparison to it’s more pop sound on the album. Mic swinging and all of her dancers parading around the stage, you could tell she was making sure to expel every ounce of energy she had to deliver a high energy performance.
The hip-hop sound boomed through the speakers for “Jewels and Drugs” after Gaga took a seat on the keyboard. Her actions on stage were borderline trying to mess with the audience by partaking in showering her fans with talk cans of Lone Star Texan beer or connecting with them by advocating to stop with the social media and just enjoy the show.
Nevertheless, there’s always something to one-up whatever she is doing on stage. Without missing a beat, Gaga put an apron on and introduced her friend, artist Millie Brown, onto the stage. Gaga also introduced the next song, a song about rape and rage. She continued to preach on how to turn rage into the most beautiful poetry if you allow yourself to. Her words of advocating art and your own ability to turn negative to a positive were beautiful and obviously affecting to her fans.
A florescent sign lit up with an outline of a cartoon pig face reading “Lady Gaga House of Swine.” A large prop that had been hidden under a sheet for the beginning of the show was finally uncovered. A large, exaggerated mechanical bull was revealed. However, the traditional bullhorns were replaced with a large, weathered slab of plywood, making the mechanical bull look like a large rotating crucifix.
Changed into a white mesh crop top and black x’ed pasties, Brown and Gaga climbed on top of crucified mechanic bull. Throughout the rendition of the song, “Swine”, Brown and Gaga straddled each other as they spun around. While belting and spinning, Brown pulled out a large bottle of black blood, drank it and then began puking it back up on Gaga. Still rotating, the two women continued to projectile vomit black blood on one another until they laid still, acting dead on the crucified bull.
This embodied what performance art was about. This is what Gaga is about. Limits were pushed and art had been delivered, but it was questionable if Texans got it.
The crowd watched Gaga quietly dismount the bull and move towards the keyboard to introduce the piano version of her next song, “Dope.”
Gaga’s performance proved to the audience that she can still deliver a touching, A-grade set even though the venue was was maybe a tenth of the side of her typical venues. She proved to be innovative and was able to put on a show that was just as theatric as her larger venue concerts.
It was a nice tribute to the Southern roots of Texas when Gaga called out fiddler Ruby to join her on stage. They transitioned into a country rock version of “Bad Romance,” which pleased the crowd with a small throwback.
After a high energy set, Lady Gaga invited The Dirty Pearls, Lady Starlight and Semi Precious Weapons onto the stage. She hugged and embraced them. It was a beautiful moment to witness– friends giving each other gratitude and appreciation for their support and presence in one another’s lives– even in the mainstream realm of the music industry. Lady Gaga then continued to show gratitude for having such support on her tour and at this showcase by performing an a capella rendition of “Monsters for Life” to her band of friends.