There were two Lady Gaga shows happening Sunday night at Toyota Center.
One was the pop spectacle behind current album "Joanne." There were raised platforms, lots of cowboy hats and too many costume changes. (Seriously, she left the stage every three or four songs.)
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"Now you know how I feel about this place. Last time I was in Houston we were playing the Super Bowl, thank you so much," she told the crowd.
"Get on your motherf***ing feet. You had one hell of a year with that Hurricane Harvey."
The second, however, was much more somber. Gaga dedicated much of the show to Sonja Durham, her best friend from Houston who died in May of breast cancer. She mentioned her frequently and often said she was near tears.
"I'll never forget looking her in the eyes and her saying, I'm gonna live forever.' I knew she was gonna die," Gaga said during a piano rendition of "The Edge of Glory. "But we were on the edge together."
She turned the end of the show into a full-on tribute. Gaga clutched a photo of herself and Durham as she sang "Grigio Girls," a song she wrote for her friend. She also turned "Million Reasons" into a posthumous dedication.
"She fought like hell – to her last breath," Gaga said between verses.
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It was a dark, uncomfortable sequence of events. Some of the crowd sang along. Others cheered. Clapping didn't seem like the right thing to do.
But that place of discomfort is where Gaga so frequently lives. She's used her pain, in music and in the Netflix doc "Gaga: Five Foot Two," as a way to connect with fans.
For newbies, the procession may have felt exploitive. But for Little Monsters, it was another reason to love her even more.
As a live performer, Gaga is at her best when she isn't trying so hard. She's not the most natural dancer. There were too many long pauses for dramatic effect. But she was in good form during hits "Poker Face," "Alejandro" and "Bad Romance" in a feathered mask.
Vocally, she's only gotten stronger, the rasp in her voice adding layers of emotion to the lyrics. There was lots of fringe, expressive dancers and an intricate series of risers and bridges that carried her to a smaller stage at the back of the venue.
The strongest sequence came during her fizziest hits: "Just Dance," "LoveGame" and "Telephone," still her best single to date. There was no pomp, just super-pop.
She espoused equality, of course, and reminded the crowd that "There is nothing more powerful in the world than kindness."
That sentiment played into a moment when she read aloud a letter from a fan near the front of the stage. He called Gaga "my cure" just before she sang – surprise – "The Cure." So maybe it was planned. But the look on his face, like that of so many in the crowd, was one of pure joy....Read more