Lady Gaga - Birmingham LG Arena
Kylie better have a good grip on her 'Showgirl' mantle because Stefani Germanotta has her teeth bared. Little more than a year has passed since the alien sex robot we now all know as Lady Gaga landed on Planet Pop, and so the scale of the Monster's Ball tour is, to downplay it, a considerable achievement.
The sold out LG - from hen night lasses and wide-eyed kids to dancing queens and Gaga-alikes - is kept waiting for over an hour from scheduled start time, yet sleazy glam troupe Semi Precious Weapons and eternally bouncy Alphabeat help the clock tick quicker by getting a palpable party atmosphere on the go.
Eventually, Gaga is a-go-go. From the moment she appears for Dance in the Dark's neon lightshow through all five 'acts' of her overtly theatrical show, this Lady is making a bold statement that she's the only popstar we'll need this decade. Whether that is the case remains to be seen but, by putting so much energy (and money) into proceedings, the night lives up to the Monster's Ball theme by proving a behemoth.
While two new songs threaten to break the juggernaut pace, the rest of the setlist is one big singalong. Just Dance is dispensed with quicksmart, as is her first costume - the purple leotard is in no time replaced by various oddities, from rubber nun getup to a dress that possesses free will. These frills, whether elaborate subway sets or unhinged dancers, suit the excesses of Gaga's high energy pop tracks and a loose narrative that involves Gaga's quest to reach the mythical Monster's Ball and be 'set free'.
The journey is rarely less than a blast, clocking in at just under two hours and feeling like a lot less. Highlights include a deliciously vampy Teeth, Beautiful Dirty Rich (Kesha, go home) and Boys Boys Boys which, with its multitude of willy-grabbing male dancers, is camper than Christmas at Liza's house. For all the big budget bluster though, it's a mid-set interlude where Gaga takes to the piano that impresses most. Admittedly, it's a piano that's been set on fire, but vocally flawless renditions of Brown Eyes and Speechless offer some stripped-back respite (that can be taken literally, considering she's sat at the piano stool in her bra and knickers) from the vacuous thrills of her biggest hits.
Fabulous is as fabulous does though, and Gaga is determined that every one of her little monsters has an insanely good time. Her in-between song banter, while most likely scripted, is endlessly quotable - personally, it's a toss-up between 'You look ravigant. That's ravishing and extravagant combined' and her description of the Ball as 'where all the freaks are outside and I locked the fucking doors'. When the personality is this big, the elaborate dance routines and 'shocking' VT clip of Gaga drinking blood almost feel unwarranted.
After so much razzle dazzle, the best is saved for last as Gaga fulfils her mission. After fighting off a tendriled mechanical monster during Paparazzi, she emerges from an orbiting gyroscope and announces that she has reached the Monster's Ball. And then? 'Ra-rah-ah-ah-ahh, Roma-ro-ma-ma'. Yup, claws held high in the air, the LG go nuts for last year's best pop song and all the freaks go home happy. But, of course, every blockbuster has a sequel and Gaga will dance again soon - wearing an animal or household object on her head, most likely.
* Photos courtesy of TMF photographer Steven Burnett, who attended the Monster's Ball in Cardiff.