Review: Lady Gaga's Joanne tour at Birmingham Arena ★★☆☆☆

Lady Gaga

Can the 15,000 adoring Lady Gaga fans who packed out the Birmingham Arena on Wednesday night be wrong?

Can all the positive reviews that followed from well-informed critics be ill-judged?

Is it possible that the Lady who gave us Perfect Illusion wasn't actually that good on the night?

These are the questions that have been running through my mind from the moment Gaga's gig finished with her singing Million Reasons on a small, beautifully lit, piano stage towards the back of the auditorium.

At that point she had put in a full-on two-hour shift of song and dance and costume changes (seven, I think), which would be impressive under any circumstances, but particularly so considering she is only just coming back after a debilitating bout of chronic pain caused by the condition fibromyalgia.

Image copyright Brian Samuelson
Image caption Lady Gaga performing in Birmingham, as part of her Joanne World Tour

She strutted, cavorted, head-banged, and powered her way from stage-to-stage crossing walkways lowered from the ceiling.

She belted out her back catalogue (including a very good Bad Romance), introduced her more recent work from the 2016 Joanne album (the title track is a nice ballad which she amped up a bit too much), and demanded everybody stand and party.

The crowd loved it.

Arms were raised and swayed for just about every number, smartphone torches were held en masse for Edge of Glory, and roars of approval echoed around the Arena when the singer took time out to champion equality, individuality, and friendship.

Image copyright Lady Gaga
Image caption Lady Gaga tweeted this photo of the audience, that she took from the stage

And yet. And yet.

And this is what bothers me. Unlike all those fans and all those knowledgeable critics, the whole thing left me as cold as a spring holiday in Skegness.

It seemed to me the physicality of her performance compromised her singing at times, a problem compounded by the stadium speakers which made the top register of her voice decidedly screechy.

The show itself was disappointingly ordinary.

I've always admired her as a singer and a writer, but more than that, I rated her highly as an artist. There was a moment when she really did seem to be taking up the art-pop baton handed on by the likes of Bowie, Roxy Music, Grace Jones, and The Fall.

Image copyright Brian Samuelson

I was looking forward to the show, to seeing how she had developed as a performance artist, checking out some funky new contemporary choreography, and having my eyeballs sent spinning by an array of extraordinary costumes.

Image copyright Brian Samuelson

In these respects the show was a let down, for me, at least.

Gaga has gone conservative.

She has retrenched into a typical pop superstar serving up a conventional, commercial show in which the hits are belted out, accompanied by some run-of-the-mill dancing, and outfits that sparkle in the lights but not in the soul (the nod to Leigh Bowery was underwhelming).

The intelligence and courage that marked her out as a remarkable talent, that marrying of high art and pop culture, has been glossed over with a mechanical show that is not an exciting leap forward, but a step back to the bygone days of Hot Gossip.

Image copyright Brian Samuelson

And then there were the tedious and preachy monologues, the constant and unsubtle promotion of her latest album, and the totally uncool yelling of instructions as if we were toddlers who needed to be told how to act and what to feel.

Maybe it was my position high up in the gods that killed the vibe and explains why my experience is so far removed from everyone else's. Perhaps it was the middle-aged bloke in front of me scrutinising the football scores on his phone all night, or the old bloke behind me with ear buds inserted while assiduously making notes.

I don't know.

I suppose I was expecting something more unconventional from a performer who spent the evening telling us how different she was.

Setlist: Lady Gaga in Birmingham

  • Diamond Heart
  • A-Yo
  • Poker Face
  • Perfect Illusion
  • John Wayne
  • Alejandro
  • Just Dance
  • LoveGame
  • Telephone
  • Applause
  • Come to Mama
  • The Edge of Glory
  • Born This Way
  • Bloody Mary
  • Dancin' In Circles
  • Paparazzi
  • Angel Down
  • Joanne
  • Bad Romance
  • The Cure
  • Million Reasons

UPDATE, 3 FEBRUARY 07:45 GMT : I'm extremely sorry to hear that Lady Gaga has had to cancel the rest of her tour because of her ongoing condition and that she is suffering from chronic pain. Although her show didn't quite hit the spot for me, there is no question that she gave 100% of her energy to it. It was just great to have her back and I know she'll be devastated not to be able to perform in front of her hundreds of thousands of fans, 99.9% of whom I'm sure would have given her a thumping five-star review. Get well soon, Gaga.