First up Sam passed her first work probation. I an extremely proud of her for working so hard over the last few weeks since she has been unemployed for over a year. It really makes a world of difference for us, both mentally and finacially.
This weekend we had the joy of going to Manchester to see Lady Gaga. It was awesome. I post here my wife's review as I cannot sum it up any better.
Lady GaGa has now finished the first leg of the tour which took place in the US and Canada before Christmas - and after doing so, she completely trashed her original set design and started afresh for the world tour (she will be returning to the US again later this year with it). The scary thing, as I learned last week, was that our show in Manchester was the very first one of the new tour - which meant that we were the first to see this incarnation of the Monster Ball. It was fairly secret, and I knew nothing about how it would look compared to the old one. But I was not disappointed in the slightest.
First though, the hour or so leading up to the main event. The first support act, Semi-Precious Weapons, have been touring with Lady GaGa since 2006. They are a joyous, anarchic and camp outfit, dirty glam rock 'n' roll. The guitarists kick and roll around on the floor during their nightmare-like punkish riffs and get ceremoniously thrown around by the lead singer, who is flamboyant, filthy and unapologetic. Last night he was dressed in only a t-shirt, underwear and stockings with stilettos. Oddly enough much of the audience seemed bemused by this choice of support act - to us Semi-Precious Weapons was the perfect taster for GaGa.
The second act was a different matter entirely. Alpha Beat, who I've honestly never heard of but may have heard one of their songs on an advert or something, were pretty dull. A lot of the people in the crowd appeared to know all the lyrics however. I just found them pretentious (in the bad way) and as Kris pointed out, they didn't seem to fit at all and were probably only there because they're on the same record label, etc. They ruined the mood a little bit. Nothing much more to say about these vibe assassins,since I've wasted a paragrah on them already!
Then the moment came, rife with anticipation - the Michael Jackson tracks that had been playing out at full volume since Alpha Beat left the stage were halted. Fragmented electronica leeched from GaGa tunes boomed from the speakers, and images were projected onto the closed curtain with a countdown of 00:59 seconds. The screams were deafening; I don't think I've screamed at a gig since I was a teenager! Once the countdown got to 00:05, the whole crowd counted down to zero. And the intro sounds of Dance in the Dark filled the arena.
It was the most intense and beautiful opener. The Queen herself, stood on top of a flight of steps and partially obscured from our view by the scaffolding that was part of the set, retained an air of mystery during this first number and didn't venture too far out into the wider stage. Soon, she broke into Just Dance which allowed the back screens of the set to be lit up with psychedelic madness and an array of dancers joined in.
From there, the show became a twisted modern fairytale, wherein GaGa explained to us that she and her friends were trying to find The Monster Ball but had gotten lost along the way.
The set began as a hellish cyberpunk fantasy dystopia (with a 'climbing frame' for the dancers lit up with LEDs) and only got more insane as time went on. At the beginning GaGa's car (a totally fucked up Rolls) 'had broken down' and so they 'went on the subway.' This involved dancers and GaGa gyrating inside a disconnected and battered subway car during Lovegame.
Other incredible highlights along the way included an excellently choregraphed version of Teeth, which is one of my favourites, and Alejandro - an impassioned display which took place before a fountain graced with an angel statue and punctuated with two pairs of dancers performing an exotic tango.
One moment of pure insanity was when GaGa stood at the end of the catwalk that stretched into the standing crowd, joined briefly by two dancers carrying a change of costume for her. A sweet little-girl music-box tune began to play, as a huge circular screen descended from the ceiling to enclose GaGa. When the screen came back up, the dancers were gone and GaGa was stood alone dressed like a Marie Antoinette-esque doll - big white hair and Rococo gown with panniers (but a short skirt). The floor below her began to rise up, jack-in-the-box style, until she was stood fifteen feet up on a platform to perform So Happy I Could Die.
She gave a perfect and emotive rendition of Brown Eyes on the piano before going into Speechless, which she sang while playing the keys in a madcap manner, kicking out her legs here and there and having her face scorched by the pyrotechnic flames that burst out of the lid of the piano every few seconds. This was so utterly spectacular (and dangerous) that it left everyone in awe.
In between these stunning pieces was a small barrage of lighter songs - Boys Boys Boys (complete with shirtless male dancers), Beautiful Dirty Rich and Money, Honey. I particularly enjoyed Monster as I adore it, and Poker Face was obviously eagerly anticipated and probably received one of the biggest responses of the night from the audience. There were also lots of amazing dance routines (including dancers jumping out of the floor).
Scattered through the breaks were artistic and wondrous yet disturbing images projected onto the curtain, of GaGa in various guises, wearing a latex-corseted bunny outfit and military fetish garb and gimp masks. There was also a short display on the screen, of more images accompanied by a GaGa voiceover about the nature of the Fame Monster, which was truly epic.
However, the crowning glories of the night appeared as the penultimate, and ultimate performances. The curtain had dropped again, and when it was raised, to the opening beats of Paparazzi, it was almost impossible to believe what we saw - a twenty-foot high animatronic monster, with writhing tentacles, GaGa and her friends dancing around it. I can remember the moment when the curtain rose, seeing the monster who looked insanely ALIVE, and just going 'OH MY GOD WHAT?!' It was the most pure of WTF moments, and seemed to just give everyone in the audience pause. At the close of the song, the curtain fell again as GaGa lay helplessly beneath the tentacles of the monster.
There was an agonising wait, and everyone knew that she was going to return to perform Bad Romance as her finale. The arena was dark and buzzing with excitement. After a few minutes came one of the best experiences of the night - a group in the standing crowd began to sing the opening lyrics of Bad Romance, and the ENTIRE audience slowly joined in until all that could be heard was 'Ohhhhhhh- caught in a bad romance...' and then repeat - followed by THE most crazy, cultish mass chant of 'RAH RAH AH AH AH - ROMA, ROMA-MA! GAGA OHH-LA-LA! WANT YOUR BAD ROMANCE!' until the curtain was raised again to more deafening screams and GaGa sang Bad Romance whilst performing an energetic routine with her dancers. It was a truly explosive finale and afterwards, when GaGa and her dancers had left the stage and the lights came up, everyone just sat there for a moment basking in the epicness of what we'd just seen.
I was very impressed by the show, the visuals were stunning, costumes droolworthy and as a whole it was the stuff of dreams. Lady GaGa is (as you've probably seen, i.e. the Brits) a fantastic and talented performer, she was very sweet towards the audience and thankful for the Brit awards she had won. AND she didn't fall over once whilst dancing in her heels, which sometimes happens at her shows - I was gobsmacked as I'd wagered with Kris she would fall over about six times! (Kris said twelvety).
Still on an extreme concert high, and I would say I wanted to see it again if it weren't so emotionally exhausting! Can't wait for the DVD (which will be of this set design, not the old one as GaGa feels this one, and the performances within it are more representative of the Fame Monster and the Monster Ball).
Sam looking gorgeous for Gaga
Following this we journyed to York. The weather was cold but bright, and the B&B we stayed in was pleasant and the room was massive. The Viking festival was on, we had much food to eat in a number of lovely restaurants, and we went to see the excellent Castle Museum, Fairfax house, and just generally walked around in the medieval city.
Weirdly we bumped into my ex, from my undergrad days. Needless to say I was surprised, and was really just hoping to socialize with the amazing Nix in the Evil Eye (awesome cocktails!). Fortunately she left us to it. It was just weird considering this was mine and Sam's anniversary holiday (1 year married). Anyway the rest of the weekend was excellent, good to relax, eat good food and spend time with my wife. It even snowed one day, turning the city white, making it extra magical really.
Sam next to the bridge.