2018 and the first half 2019 may have been all about “Shallow” and A Star Is Born, but this year's second act marks a welcome return sorts for Lady Gaga — and her latest round gigs in Las Vegas proved it.
Gaga makes herself at home in many places, from the gutters the Lower East Side to the front row at the Academy Awards to a technological marvel a theater on Sin City’s strip. The vehicle for last year’s triumph was her feature film starring role debut in A Star Is Born, and its signature song, “Shallow,” her duet with co-star and director Bradley Cooper, necessitates its own cabinet for the number statuettes it earned at various ceremonies. The three years leading up to A Star Is Born’s release saw Gaga spending more time on screen — with a featured role in American Horror Story, as well as Five Foot Two, the candid Netflix documentary that followed her up to her 2018 Super Bowl performance — than onstage, in part due to her struggle with chronic pain that led to the cancelation whole legs her Joanne World Tour in 2016 and 2017.
Before that, she knelt on the beer-sticky floors dive bars and, in the case the Bitter End in New York, swung a leg over the lip its ro with the territorial confidence an alley cat, making a point to play these tiny joints before stadiums and arenas to introduce her album Joanne in the fall 2016. She’s as agile and at ease on a red carpet as she is the basements and lts she played before anyone knew who she was, and just as comfortable in stadiums. (As she did at the Bitter End, she got familiar with the ro NRG stadium when she launched herself from it and descended upon the Super Bowl halftime show in 2017.)
Vegas may be the only place where the pantless Gaga Rivington Street days past and the Oscar-touting Gaga the present can inhabit the same ferociously talented being at the same time — or at least it's where she has the most fun embracing every shade her(selves).
This is crystal clear now that A Star Is Born is in the rearview mirror. The first week June marked Gaga’s return to Vegas for her first run shows since her awards-season winning streak, and with it comes an acute awareness the additional space the accolades provide for her to take her art and message far and wide without having to travel the world. She’s relishing in playing whatever she wants, however she wants, on a grand or small scale her choosing: she’ll sing “Shallow” for you, sure, but she’ll also wail the chorus “Paparazzi” while careening above the crowd in an egg-shaped wire cage with smoke billowing out the bottom one night, and bring out Tony Bennett to reprise their “Cheek to Cheek” duet in sassy, brassy vintage glory the next. She's taken to popping up after her own shows at the residency Brian Newman, her longtime friend and trumpet player in her Jazz & Piano band, who's taken over the neighboring NoMad's library bar. Like those who come to see her, Gaga goes to Vegas with the intent maximalizing her experience — she just gets standing ovations, usually many a night, for doing so.
This is less a return to form and more a refreshment her roots — a brash, unapologetic, eccentric injection fun into her regular routine after her earnest and straight-laced time with Cooper and Co. Between her Thursday (June 6) performance Enigma and Sunday (June 8) Jazz & Piano showing, Gaga teased, ribbed, cackled, wept, consoled and empowered her sold-out audiences. Her banter has never been more mischievous and delightfully unhinged. (She went for the laughs as much as possible with the Jazz & Piano crowd especially, smooching married women in front their baffled husbands and sparring with “Big Bird,” the giant feathered throw she dragged across the Park Theater’s massive stage.) When she invited a group middle school kids out to raise awareness for her Born This Way Foundation’s latest effort to bring mental health programs to schools during Enigma, she dedicated “A Million Reasons” to them and proceeded to comfort one crying student who sat down next to her at the piano. She thrives on connection, and though she’s singing other people’s songs for Jazz & Piano and putting on a new, cerulean-haired persona for Enigma, she continues to approach her Vegas concerts with invigorating intimacy — even when she doesn’t have to.
Instead retreating into the private, cushy swaths fame in the wake the most lauded accomplishment her career to date, she’s getting as close to her fans as she can, and genuinely enjoying the experience she’s engineered for them and herself in the process. It’s a successful exercise that reminds you how vibrant and voracious a performer she is, and how adventurous and possible creative exploration feels when she’s rolling the dice.