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By KRISTINA DORSEY
Day Arts Editor
For all the wild costumes (an octopus bustle! a DayGlo-by-way-of-anime confection!), for all the aerobic choreography, for all the falling confetti and pulsing lights, Lady Gaga’s Saturday concert at Mohegan Sun Arena left the biggest impressions with two less over-the-top moments.
When Gaga sat at the piano to belt a power ballad version of “Born This Way,” she mentioned that her family was in the audience and that her sister had just graduated from college with a degree in fashion.
First, Gaga joked, “You filthy old bitch,” but then segued into a kind reflection on how her sister is “so, so smart and beautiful.” The camera cut to Gaga’s sister, wiping away a tear.
Gaga proceeded to sing the hell out of “Born This Way.” With that, she managed to do what all the visual outrageousness can’t: be emotionally moving.
Then, on her last number, “Gypsy,” Gaga saw a fan who was probably 7 or 8 years old and knew every line. She pulled the girl up onstage and sang with and to her. They ended by holding hands and jumping around onstage, both looking as though they were having the time of their lives, and then they happily walked offstage together.
Yes, Gaga is quite the show-woman — a drama queen who’s perfected the art of misfit-as-diva. All her Little Monsters adore her for being the leader of the outsiders’ pack.
She clearly knows her role. She told Saturday’s crowd, “Tonight, I want you to be 1,000 percent yourself.” Everyone, she said, needs to celebrate who they are.
As for the music, Gaga packed the concert with selections from her latest and, alas, least interesting album, “ARTPOP.” She front-loaded the night with more than a half-dozen new tunes, which are short on something that Lady Gaga herself never is: personality. Gaga then, though, finally rewarded fans with a one-two-three punch of pop perfection, with “Just Dance,” “Poker Face” and “Telephone.” It was like a shot of adrenaline, even if she shortened each of them.
While the occasional “ARTPOP” number did play better live, like the bass-thumping “G.U.Y.,” it was disappointing she focused on those at the expense of, say, “Edge of Glory,” “Judas” and “You and I,” all of which she omitted. She wouldn’t dare leave out “Bad Romance,” and that tune remains her songwriting pinnacle so far. Some would argue that Gaga’s talent for attention-getting is her greatest gift, but I’d contend it’s her songwriting.
Of course, Gaga never ignores the look of things in performance. Her outfits sparkled and morphed, with a skirt pulled off here, a jacket added there. She clearly likes showing off her weight-loss results — witness the sea-shell bikini and half-moon leotards. A clever conceit: she did one costume change onstage, accompanied by three helpers.
Gaga made full use of the catwalks that snaked around the floor, bringing her close to her Little Monsters all over the arena. Beyond that, the stage set was like a Rorschach test; what do you see in the white swells and shapes? Something out of “Dr. Zhivago”? An ode to icebergs? A reference to houses in Greece? Are those stalagmites surrounding Gaga’s keyboard?
Gaga had some funny moments — pig-like snorts during “Swine” — and uttered her fair share of amusing comments. Leading into her first hit, “Poker Face,” she said, “Can you believe how long we’ve been together?” That would be all of five years.
Later, she said, “I’m really, really proud to be a pop star.”
Giggle-inducing, but then she expounded: “We believe that pop music can be something very powerful.”
It can, she said, be smart and fun, and women can be taken seriously as real artists.
And while she didn’t say it, here’s the truth: Lady Gaga is living proof.
Quick note: She also happens to be a heck of a pal — although it’s questionable how many audience members were happy about it. Gaga had good friend Lady Starlight as an opening act, and, instead of amping up concert-goers for Gaga, Starlight’s techno beats created a drone zone.