What happens when a platinum-selling artist goes on tour behind her least successful album, the first one not to yield a handful of hits? That was the question going into Lady Gaga's show at the TD Garden on Monday night.
No pop star is a consistent hitmaker, but Gaga's run in the sun has been impressive since emerging in 2008 with anthems ("Just Dance," "Poker Face") that helped define the pop landscape. "ARTPOP," released last year to mostly tepid reviews, stalled on the charts, and there has been a noticeable lack of buzz surrounding her tour — and around Gaga, in general.
Some of that lack of enthusiasm seeped into the first half of her Garden performance, even with a full house of Little Monsters, as her fans are called, roaring in delight and dressed in versions of Gaga's garish guises.
It was hard to pinpoint what was off during the first portion, which felt hollow as Gaga skimmed from her latest album and treated the new songs as accessories. Her heavy reliance on backing tracks didn't help matters. Neither did her choice of opening acts, the lovable but one-note Korean girl group Crayon Pop and the relentlessly tedious DJ set by Lady Starlight.
This being Gaga, there was plenty of spectacle — see Gaga brandishing a fake guitar and a giant nest of equally fake hair; hear her read fan mail from the stage and reduce the diehards to tears — and there were singalongs galore ("Bad Romance," "Just Dance," "Paparazzi"). To be fair, this tour demands a lot of its star. She moved in synch with a sizable dance troupe, and the stage was bigger than in previous productions, sprawling across a two-pronged runway that took her deep into the audience. It's no wonder she sometimes seemed winded as she tried to hit all her marks.
When she didn't have to, she hit her stride. With "Born This Way," she got to the core of what makes her such a natural entertainer: Beneath all that shock value beats the heart of a nurturing and kind person. She turned that ode to self-acceptance into a torch song about the human condition. Alone at a piano, she recited its verses with bluesy inflections and slowly so that the words sank in, peppered with daily affirmations: "When you leave tonight, be good to one another. We're all we have."
That is perhaps Gaga's greatest talent. She believes in herself, in her fans, and in the importance of that relationship. On a parting note, she brought onstage a fan and dubbed her "my gypsy princess Jamie." In matching weaves and sparkly ensembles, they sang "Gypsy" together: Gaga into the microphone, with Jamie by her side and the entire venue in her pocket.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.