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MUSIC REVIEW

Lady Gaga offers sparks, self-love, and star power at Garden

As outlandish as ever, Lady Gaga managed to anchor her show around her star power last night at the TD Garden. As outlandish as ever, Lady Gaga managed to anchor her show around her star power last night at the TD Garden. (Associated Press/File)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / July 2, 2010

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The last time Lady Gaga came to town, she brought a show so hulking, it nearly swallowed her whole. Her ambition and tenacity were on full display, but the skill wasn’t quite honed. You admired her performance more for its ideas than its execution.

That was in December, for two nights of sold-out shows at Citi Wang Theatre. Just six months later, at the TD Garden last night for the first of her two shows there, Gaga proved she’s finally capable of anchoring a larger-than-life spectacle.

Except, oddly enough, this new stretch of her Monster Ball tour is short on genuine spectacle. Sure, she’s playing bigger venues and the outfits are just as outlandish (hello, pointy bra shooting sparks!), yet the show is notably limited in scope with more of a trained focus on its star.

That plays well to Gaga’s strengths as an entertainer who’s slavishly devoted to her fans. Her every freeze-frame pose was cause for primal screams, and she dispensed more self-love (“The Monster Ball will set you free!’’) than your typical episode of “Oprah.’’

That mutual adulation is the root of Gaga’s appeal. Where most pop stars suggest we’ll never be as fantastic and glamorous as they are, Gaga’s message is more potent: I’m a freak just like you. When Gaga, seated at the piano, launched into “Speechless,’’ which is still the emotional climax of her live show, she seemed on the verge of tears as the sold-out crowd commandeered the ballad. Gaga suddenly stopped to reminisce about her early days playing in bars where not even five people knew the words to her songs.

It was hard to resist that kind of genuine connection. “No pop singer will ever love you as much as I do,’’ she said at one point, and you believed her.

But it was just as hard to shake the feeling that this new tour is far too devoted to album scraps, as if Gaga is dictating what she hopes will be her next hits. She front-loaded the performance with so many B-sides (“Dance in the Dark,’’ “Glitter and Grease,’’ “Vanity’’) that the energy was static until she revved up with “Just Dance’’ and “Love Game,’’ both of which came within the first hour.

After “Alejandro,’’ her signature songs — “Poker Face,’’ “Paparazzi,’’ “Bad Romance’’ — came fast and furious in the final stretch. Unlike her last Boston shows, Gaga was in regal form and voice till the very end, striking a pose and whipping about that lemonade-yellow hair you see only in comic books. Only then did it feel like what we all came to see: a real spectacle.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

LADY GAGA
With Semi Precious Weapons
At: TD Garden, last night (repeats tonight)