Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 14, 2014
South By Southwest keynote speaker Lady Gaga urged a subdued Stubb’s audience to put their phones away, live in the moment, and follow their dreams in a short show that was big on spectacle.
"Don’t take my picture," Gaga instructed, moments after hurling sausage links into the crowd. "Just have a good time. The best part of South By Southwest is seeing people get lost in the music."
It wasn’t the easiest advice to take. Gaga arrived on stage Thursday night strapped to a roasting pole by black bondage belts. Not long after wiggling free, one of her many theatrical sidekicks, a woman named Millie, was straddling Gaga on a bucking mechanical bull and repeatedly vomiting green and black liquids onto the performer’s face, shoulders, and apron.
Some fans stood on their tiptoes to make sure they weren’t imagining things. ("Is the girl in black sequined hot pants really gagging herself all over Gaga?") It was as repulsive as it sounds.
But during less grotesque moments, fans bounced and cheered as lights flashed and confetti fell. "She’s amazing!" a woman gushed early on.
"That was one hell of a show!" a guy said to his girlfriend at the end.
"She only did three or four songs!" the girl replied. (It was more that, but not much.)
Gaga’s sparkling sets and strange sidekicks likely translate better in big arena shows. In the relatively intimate Stubb’s setting, Gaga was at her powerful best when her show was stripped down, just the petite singer alone at the piano. In those moments, the strength and passion of her voice rang through the night, and she seemed like an Elton John for the next generation.
Unfortunately, toward the end of the hour, a backing track dominated "Applause," and Gaga frequently gave up singing all together to clap along with the track.
Another notable moment: Austin fiddling sensation Ruby Jane joining Lady Gaga for a countrified rendition of fan favorite "Bad Romance."
Gaga dedicated her one-song encore, "Gypsy ," to the victims of the fatal drunk-driving accident that occurred the night before, just two blocks north of Stubb’s. The tragedy cast a pall over the night and made Gaga’s calls to toast to our problems—"put ‘em in that cup and down ‘em!"—painful for some.
Still, she always circled back around to heartfelt inspiration.
"When you leave the earth, no one is going to care that you tweeted or how famous I am," she said. "They’re going to care how you touched people. Fight for your dreams every day. Don’t think they can’t happen. It’s happening right now for me."
Getting tickets to Thursday’s show required fans to win a lottery or complete a mission assigned by sponsor Doritos, in addition to having costly SXSW badges or wristbands, so the crowd vibe was notably more corporate than crazy. Anyone hoping to be immersed in wildly dressed Little Monsters, as Gaga’s most hardcore fans are known, must have been disappointed.
Much like crowd fashion, Thursday’s opening acts were surprisingly bland. The Dirty Pearls, from Brooklyn, went on at 8 sharp and played pop-rock that mostly served as background noise for the drink lines. Frequent Gaga collaborator Lady Starlight followed at 8:50 p.m., looking sharp with long, shiny brown hair, thick, blunt-cut bangs, and a fire-engine red shift dress. She bopped enthusiastically behind her synthesizer but Starlight’s set sounded like an hour of introduction to a song that never actually started.