Lady Gaga’s reputation will always precede her. These days, she is saddled with the burden of overcoming it or at least equaling it.
Monday night, she headlined a show at the Sprint Center, two and a half years after she brought her spectacular Monster Ball Tour to the same arena — her first headlining show in Kansas City. That show was an extravagant spectacle, a garish and gargantuan two-hour dance-rock opera that followed a loose narrative about monsters and evil. She gave herself a hard act to follow.
Thirty months later, Lady Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) isn’t quite the pop-culture phenom and force she was in 2010, and there’s evidence of that. Her latest album, “Born This Way,” has sold half as well as its predecessor, “The Fame Monster.” And the crowd of about 11,000 on Monday night was more than 25 percent smaller than the 15,000 who showed up at the Sprint Center in August 2010.
Nonetheless, the second time was a charm, too. Gaga gave the crowd a show that was every bit as extravagant, excessive and energetic as the “Monster” show. It was also 30 minutes longer.
There was a storyline to this show, too, but it was vague, and following it was an unnecessary option. Instead, the focus was on the headliner, her music, her troupe of 12 acrobatic dancers, her live band, the three-plus-story Medieval castle that took up most of the stage, the video screens that beamed images from around the arena, the blizzard of costume/wardrobe changes and the other props and gadgets that rolled and wheeled around the runway-stage that encircled the several hundred fans who scored spots in the pit, directly in front of the main stage. Among those props: a unicorn, a monstrous and cartoonish representation of a pregnant woman’s loins and a three-wheel motorbike. The neon-and-glass electric chapel was also a visual distraction.
This wasn’t a show for the prudish. F-bombs were tossed around like candy at a parade, and there were some simulated sexual acts. There was also plenty of sincere preaching about being who you are and not caring what others think about you, as long as you’re true to yourself.
The music for the most part was a relentless salvo of throbbing and melodic disco-pop anthems, most of which had the happy mob in the pit bouncing all night. She would cut a few songs short, like “Judas” and her finale, “Marry the Night.” And she stopped several times to deliver a homily on her main themes, especially equality. She also phoned one fan in the crowd, crowning him the winner of a backstage pass after the show. Twice, she invited people from the crowd on stage to join her on a number.
But mostly she managed to sustain a pace that nearly became exhausting to watch. Gaga has plenty of talents, as a singer and a musician (she played piano, guitar, keytar). But just as notably, she can run and dance in high-high heels. Her stamina was impressive.
She ended the extravagance 150 minutes after she started, and the end felt almost like relief. The assault of physical feats and flashy visuals and thunderous dance beats was over. This spectacle may not have been as polished or coherent as its predecessor, but it sure didn’t look like many people were feeling shortchanged as they left the place.
Set list: Highway Unicorn (Road to Love); Government Hooker; Born This Way; Black Jesus / Amen Fashion; Bloody Mary; Bad Romance; Judas; Fashion of His Love; Just Dance; Love Game; Telephone; Hair; Electric Chapel; Heavy Metal Lover; Bad Kids; The Queen; You and I; Born This Way (solo piano); Americano; Poker Face; Alejandro; Paparazzi; Scheibe. Encore: The Edge of Glory; Marry the Night.