TEL AVIV — Standing in Yarkon Park’s massive, open-air arena Saturday night, with Lady Gaga sauntering on stage in nothing more than two sequined, breast-cupping shells and a pair of floss-grade, floral-embellished black thong panties, it was easy to forget that a just a few short weeks ago, Tel Aviv was under rocket fire and our date with pop’s most promiscuous provocateur was nearly cancelled.
Gaga, the multi-platinum, multi-hued, multi-talented artist formerly known as Stefani Germanotta, was the first big-name star to confirm a show in Israel after this summer’s 50-day war with Hamas forced the cancellations of Neil Young, The Backstreet Boys and Lana Del Rey.
And Gaga, who last played Tel Aviv six years ago, put on a show that was so big and bright, it almost made up for those cancellations. Sauntering on stage at 9:40 p.m., in the first of several blonde wigs and sequined, space-age like bodysuits, she launched into “ArtPop,” her world tour’s signature track, before belting out “G.U.Y. (Girl Under You),” as a bevy of bare-chested male dancers gyrated and convulsed around her.
Gaga is an anomaly among pop stars; an unpretty, unapologetic performer with genuine vocal talent, raw sexuality, and dance and staging that is equal parts glittery and grotesque. “artRave: The Art Pop Ball,” as her world tour is titled, is the most extreme and subversive of her shows yet.
But despite the multiple costume changes, the latex bodysuits, green wigs and twisted, acid-trip mermaid stylings of her sets and backup dancers, Lady Gaga pulled off a particularly impressive feat in Yarkon Park: In front of more than 23,000 fans, she let her personality and pipes propel the show.
The highlight of the evening had been predicted by die-hard “monsters,” as Gaga’s fan base is called: A cameo performance by Tony Bennett, who will perform Sunday night in his own Tel Aviv concert and with whom Gaga recently recorded the upcoming duet album “Cheek to Cheek.”
In a lovely quiet moment for an otherwise psychedelic show, the pair sang “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” together, with Bennett holding Gaga’s hand. The number, which Gaga performed in a massive black afro wig and a ladylike pink evening gown, was also a chance for the star to highlight her admirable vocal range and control.
Like many of this summer’s pre-war musical acts, including The Rolling Stones and Justin Timberlake, Gaga sprinkled bits of Hebrew into her show, opening her performance by telling the crowd “Ani ohevet othem” (I love you) and closing off several of songs with the words “Todah Rabah” (thank you very much).
The show was everything Gaga promised and everything fans have come to expect from her — loud, florescent, sexually explicit and mind-numbingly bright. While the middle of her set featured some of the more bubble-gum pop tunes (“Paparazzi,” “Poker Face,” “Just Dance”) that propelled Gaga to fame, the show was bookended by her newer tracks including “Manicure” and “Venus” — songs that are harder and more acid-tinged, and complemented the Hannibal Lector masks, the whips, chains and acrylic accessories of her back-up dancers.
Gaga was both elaborately costumed and refreshingly naked on stage; at one point she ripped off a colored wig to reveal her own sweat-soaked black hair, and at another she allowed a team of dressers to perform a costume change live on stage, which meant she stripped down to nothing more than underwear and a duo of bright green nipple pasties. But for Lady Gaga, showmanship has always been about pushing the boundaries of performance art, and creating a musical act in which her very body is part of the artwork’s canvas.
Acts at Yarkon Park have a strict 11:15 curfew due to noise ordinances, but as Gaga and her team took a theatrical-style curtain call after her final track, “Swine,” and an encore of the piano ballad “Gypsy,” the singer was crying on stage that it was over.
“Put your hands up and cheer for yourselves,” she told the crowd. “You are strong, you are brave, you are confident, and I f*cking love you, Israel.”
Her words, no doubt, were part of her much-heralded campaign for equality and self-confidence. But after a summer of relentless rocket fire, Gaga’s color-drenched love fest was also a much-needed pick me up for a weary Tel Aviv.