Lady Gaga in Tel Aviv: A Spectacular Psychotic Cabaret

Lady Gaga’s Saturday night concert was like sex without love, in the best sense; her genre spectrum ranged from club-house to metal to Broadway.

Shuka Cohen

Lady Gaga is mid-way between Kylie Minogue and Madonna. She is Madonna’s successor as a provocateur smart enough to cross precisely those lines that can be crossed without losing her status as a superstar, with one small difference: Madonna pioneered something that contributed to the discourse. She also had 50 more songs with perennial value.

Musically, Lady Gaga is more like Kylie, who built her high status (both as a gay icon and as a household name, with gold hot pants and a 1940s-style dress) on a small number of key hit songs (even though “Your Disco Needs You,” her best song aside from “Confide In Me,” was not even a single).

And with all my respect for Die Antwoord not letting Lady Gaga use them as a warm-up act and instead making fun of her in a brilliant way, I would have loved it if they had started for her on Saturday. In the meantime, the advertisements on the screens were replaced with the title of her show "ArtRAVE," as screams echoed throughout the park. Jeez.

At 8:30 on the dot, a DJ known as Lady Starlight (if I understood the text on the video screens properly) got onstage and began playing monotonic electro-house music that was fierce and excellent. Then the music morphed into freaking techno. Lady Starlight does spin records; she plays on a battery of 1990s-era machines. She says that we’re an amazing gene pool and that she’s available. She’s excellent.

There are mothers here accompanying their 10-year-old daughters. Hey, even my mother told me today to give her regards to Lady Gaga.

I haven’t been to a show at Hayarkon Park since Mashina’s farewell performance almost 20 years ago. Back then, I was covering it for the local paper Tzomet Hasharon.

A screen comes down on the stage. The stage looks like a sci-fi winter scene - a cross between the work of French-Israeli artist Meir Eshel, known as Absalon, and the Teletubbies. Breathtaking dancers. Lady Gaga, in a costume with golden wings, is carried to the stage. Jeez. A leotard with a blue orb protruding from her chest. Pardon me if I do not name the songs, but there were guitars in the second half. Noisy, cacophonic, efficient like clockwork. Glittering.

Lady Gaga in during her concert in Tel Aviv Saturday night. Photo by Shuka Cohen

But here is where Lady Gaga differs from Kylie and Madonna. Lady Gaga was born into the dance nation that they established. Hers is a beat-based pop. Oh, but there is a metal solo with a synchronized dance I’ve never seen anything like. Who is this guitarist? I haven’t done my homework. Excuse me.

Quiet! Here’s “Manicure,” “Just Dance, Poker Face.” I’m open-mouthed like I haven’t been since my third-grade ice-skating trip at Yad Eliyahu Stadium. And now here’s “Telephone,” with its flavor of local children’s festival songs.

Provocations? Forget about them. The joy of Lady Gaga’s show is like the pure joy a child might feel as he experiences a stage spectacle that becomes a turning point in his life.

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett in Tel Aviv. Photo by Shuka Cohen

And here is Tony freaking Bennett! We knew he would be there! Bennett goes off-stage and Lady Gaga comes back with “Paparazzi.” She is dressed up as an octopus. Back in the day, I saw Ofra Haza perform “Flash” live, and now I realize that the only thing lacking there was a costume of some creature from the deep.

Forget what I said before about beats. This was a psychotic cabaret show with a genre spectrum that ranged from club-house to metal to Broadway. Now Lady Gaga’s sitting on the piano, which is surrounded by icebergs from the planet Krypton, like some version of Freddy Mercury, singing “Born This Way” as a ballad.

Ah, before that she told us how great it was that we were all dressed like her and believed in equality, just as she did! Fine, great – it’s obvious that she is a grasshopper next to Freddy Mercury, but she gives of herself and we forget the facade, and when her dancers shoot teddy bears from cannons at us, we wave our hands to Lady Gaga’s manna.

Then comes “Alejandro,” and then a costume change onstage, and then “Bad Romance.”

I had planned to end with a Woody Allen quote about how while sex without love is an empty experience, as empty experiences go, it’s one of the best. But then Lady Gaga said that all the noise and bells and costumes come from pain and frustration, and began singing “Swine.” During the song she went as wild as a 16-year-old raver. So I believe her.

Lady Gaga did “Gypsy” for her encore. Then everybody bowed, and she cried.