Like the music, style, and persona of Lady Gaga or not, you have to admit, she knows exactly what she's doing and she's really good at it. Whether it be her real personality or not, she's discovered an untapped schtick and is going to milk it for as long as she can. Living in a mostly conservative region, I had no clue until I watched this Blu-ray to whom exactly she appealed. Almost everyone I know around here that enjoys Gaga likes her because of her music, not her character's crude attitude, wild costumes, and constant vulgarity. Before watching this Blu-ray, I thought the world liked her because of her catchy pop tunes – but now I know why a lot of people really go ga-ga for Gaga.
The theme of The Monster Ball tour was to give all the "freaks" (as she puts it) a place that they can escape to and be who they really are. When you watch the 'Monster Ball' Blu-ray, you see that's exactly who she appeals to the most – those who still aren't 100 percent accepted into society yet because of their race, class, gender, or sexual preference – and that's who has flocked to Madison Square Garden to see her play five sold-out shows in a row. Truthfully, I've always thought that she was being a "freak" for attention, but after learning this about her – that either this is who she is and she has the best intentions of inspiring others or she's faking it because she's found an audience that isn't openly pandered to yet – I can't help but admire her a little bit.
Although I don't fit into the demographic that she's appealing to – I'm a 31-year-old straight white guy who hasn't faced much persecution and doesn't lean right nor left – I've got to admit that she puts on one hell of a show. I've seen U2 put on highly theatrical and visual shows, but nothing compares to what Gaga does here. It's like she's putting on a Michael Jackson-esque show with the flare of Madonna. If you love Lady Gaga, this is one Best Buy exclusive Blu-ray that you'll want to get immediately.
If you land in the category of Gaga fans that surround me – those that really only know and love the music – then you might be shocked when you see what she gets away with on stage. When I was a kid, it didn't matter what age you were, you were let into pop shows and it was totally appropriate. New Kids on the Block were open for all ages, but you can't expect the same from Gaga. Not-so-Lady-like Gaga drops foul language, flips of the audience, grabs the crotches of a few back-up dancers and takes the stage wearing nothing but see-through clear plastic costumes, the tiniest white panties and strategically placed tape that covers her nipples. She even takes stage in metallic bra and panties that shoot nipple and crotch sparks. Printed on the cover art is the iconic parental advisory warning for "explicit content" and they mean it. Not only does it show her being naughty onstage, but backstage we see her during several risque costume changes. She's not afraid to show anything. I don't care how much your kids love listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks cover Lady Gaga songs – do not let them watch 'The Monster Ball.'
I'm an iPod guy. The only time I listen to the radio is when I'm in studio doing reviews on Friday mornings, so the only Gaga songs I'm really familiar with are those that have become instant pop culture hits (it's shocking to see how many of her songs have already made that list). To date, all of the Lady Gaga songs that I've known are techno dance tracks. It's refreshing and enlightening to see her sit behind the piano and play a few non-dance tracks that are actually really good songs. Had I heard "Speechless" or "You and I" before now, I never would have guessed they were Gaga. Not only do those back-to-back tracks during the show highlight her ability behind a piano, but also her strong soulful voice. During the closing credits, they show Gaga and her back-up singers perform the entire track "Born This Way" a cappella and it sounds better than anything else she does onstage. For those who don't like Lady Gaga because of the way that she appears in front of the the media, seeing and hearing what she's capable of in this show will make you at least appreciate her musical talent.
The 19-song setlist for the show is as follows: "Dance in the Dark," "Glitter and Grease," "Just Dance," "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich," "The Fame," "Lovegame," "Boys Boys Boys," "Money Honey," "Telephone," "Speechless," "You and I," "So Happy I Could Die," "Monster," "Teeth," "Alejandro," "Poker Face," "Paparazzi," "Bad Romance" and "Born This Way."
Another thing that impressed me about seeing Lady Gaga perform live was the fact that she never once appeared to be lip syncing – not even when she rushes backstage mid-song for a quick costume change. As her costumers are strapping on odd garb, she is still singing her heart out into her mic. At one point during the show she even addresses the issue with her audience, saying that she'd never charge people to listen to a pre-recorded performance. When she's doing her goofy dances down the catwalk, you can hear it in her voice – the heavier-than-normal breathing pattern of someone jostling around stage while trying to belt one out.
Lady Gaga is a polarizing artist – you either love her or you hate her. Most of the hateful opinions are born more from her persona than her music and most of the love comes from her persona than her music (except here in Utah and maybe a few other sheltered and highly conservative places in the nation that are still oblivious to her agenda). In reality, her music is hardly what makes people love or hate her. But 'The Monster Ball' proves that she's got the vocal and instrumental capability of putting out some great music too – even if it's not her most popular nor radio-friendly tracks. Hopefully we'll get more of that Lady Gaga in the future if / when this wild one calms down.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Monster Ball Tour' Blu-ray is currently a Best Buy exclusive that cannot be purchased at any other retailer. As of now, it doesn't even have a non-Best Buy street date. You can pick up an explicit or edited copy on DVD, but Best Buy only sells the uncensored Blu-ray. The concert is featured on a BD-50 in a standard blue keepcase. Printed on a back of cover art sheet is a trashy still from the show that can be seen through the transparent case. On the opposite side of the disc, there's a 14-page booklet with still shots and credits for the concert. 'The Monster Ball Tour' offers one feature that I've never seen before on a concert Blu-ray – an option that allows you to turn on lyrics that run with the show like a subtitle track for karaoke. Have you ever wanted to jump onstage and sing with Lady Gaga? Now you can!
'The Monster Ball Tour' is presented with a strong 1080i/AVC-MPEG-4 encode in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Like other concerts presented for the MTV generation and beyond, it features quick cuts and lots of movement. The almost non-stop motion makes it hard to see just how much detail lies within the picture, but whenever the movement slows down, you'll see just how sharp it is. Those fans who love Gaga for her wacky appearance, get ready to see her better than you've ever seen her before.
There are two types of footage on this disc: first, there's the wild concert footage presented in traditional concert movie fashion, then there's the behind the scenes and backstage footage, which is shown through superb, grainy black & white eyes. The disc begins with Gaga in an NYC liquor store. The footage is impressively sharp and clean - but when the concert starts, it's temporarily soft and washed out. You see, prior to Gaga taking stage, the set was enclosed by a massive curtain that held in all of the stage fog. After the curtains lift, it takes a few songs for the fog to dissipate and the vibrant color-filled detail to start popping.
Shot by HBO, the picture looks slightly better than most concert Blu-rays I've reviewed. Each of the many cameras is harmoniously tweaked to look like the others. The colors are vibrant, the blacks (of which there are many) are deep and inky.
Edge enhancement, compression artifacts, banding and digital noise aren't present in this disc, although one shot of the huge screen behind Gaga reveals slight amount of aliasing. For a few songs, Gaga wields a Gandalf-like staff the emits a blindingly bright light. When she tries using it as a spot light on a few "monsters" (a.k.a. fans), some haloing is visible.
'The Monster Ball Tour' is presented with two lossless Dolby TrueHD audio tracks to choose from – 5.1 and 2.0. This marks the first time that I've seen lossless 2.0 audio track.
If the video quality was heightened to please the visual fans of Lady Gaga, then the audio track was mixed to please those who love her music. Absolutely nothing is lost here. Crank up the volume and get out the glow sticks because this Blu-ray is about to throw you into dance / clubbing mode.
Unlike some concert Blus, 'The Monster Ball' perfectly balances the dynamics between the channels. For example, the rear channels are not exclusively used for giving the echoey "concert" effect. No, they're constantly being used to fill the space with a wave of sound that quietly carries those same effects and serves the same purpose. As you would expect, get ready to turn the power down on your sub-woofer. If you're playing this disc loud, you're going to wake the neighbors with your rumbling shaky house.
The special features are decent, but this list could have used featurettes that reveal the effects and functionality of Lady Gaga's stage and mechanized costumes.
Whether you like Lady Gaga and/or her music or not, 'The Monster Ball Tour' will surprise you. Don't like her poppy dance music, then you'll be shocked to see what she can do behind a piano and what she can do with her voice when it's not confined to radio-friendly pop tracks. If you can't stand the crazy persona she slaps on for the media and her fans, then you'll be surprised to see how she is backstage. The cameras are still there, but she's not the Gaga that you're to. Even if it's just for a few minutes, you get a peek at Lady Gaga's real personality - Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. I never thought I'd be making this claim, but her 'Monster Ball' concert Blu-ray is worthy of becoming your next concert demo disc. The video quality has a minor flaw in details at the beginning of the show that quickly corrects itself, but the audio is perfectly mixed and full. Not being a Lady Gaga fan, I was dreading this disc, but through the show itself and the high quality of the disc, it's turned me into a fan of her talent and abilities. Recommended.