By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; C01
The most commanding moment in Lady Gaga's riveting Tuesday night concert at Verizon Center had nothing to do with the arsenal of angular, asymmetrical frocks that aggrandized the superstar's teeny-tiny frame.
It came during the crescendo of "Telephone" when she ordered her fans -- she affectionately calls them "little monsters" -- to tuck their camera phones back into their Levis and get in the moment.
It was a retina-searing spectacle -- a two-hour pop bacchanal that utilized buckets of fake blood, spark-spewing bustiers, head-banging harpists, a flaming piano and plenty of esteem-building speechifying. Lady Gaga didn't bring her "Monster Ball" tour to Washington to be reduced to a snapshot.
She aspired to be that encouraging little voice stuck in your head, and carpet-bombed her set with numerous micro-sermons about empowerment and acceptance. (As if singing the songs that have been stuck in our head for the past three years wasn't already enough.)
"Don't leave loving me more," she urged the capacity crowd, hundreds of whom came dressed as their idol. "Leave loving yourself more."
Having already altered the definition of pop stardom, the 24-year-old is apparently taking a crack at the definition of feel-good music, too. Her genius lies in buttressing those euphoric, big-tent pop songs with a hyper-eccentric, outsiderish sense of style. At a Lady Gaga concert, the misfits and the masses somehow become synonymous.
"I want to be a Washington, D.C., star," Gaga declared before "The Fame," and without mentioning the words "cupcake" or "Salahi," she sauntered across the stage, evoking an entire constellation of pop stars that came before her. As her ambition grows, her Madonna-debt shrinks, but onstage at Verizon, she also managed to summon Grace Jones's aggression, Annie Lennox's steeliness and Prince's superhuman ability to dance for two hours in stilettos heels.
Amid the touchy-feely blither-blather ("I want you to let go of all of your insecurities. . . . You're a superstar!"), there were touchier-feelier moments in a more literal sense. At times, Gaga grabbed anything within arm's reach: her crotch, her backup dancers' crotches, a light-spangled sorcerer's staff, a giant keytar shaped like a mutant honeycomb.
She played the latter during a lumbering version of "Money Honey," proving that her better songs warranted even better outfits. (For this lurching tune, her black plastic get-up appeared to have had metastasized from an old Missy Elliott video.) For the pulsating "Love Game," she posed as a nun in a latex habit and sang of having her tush "squeezed by sexy Cupid." For "So Happy I Could Die," she donned a winged fairy's dress made of cellophane. Each garment looked wildly imaginative and rather uncomfortable.
But she wore next to nothing during "Speechless" -- and proved anything but. Seated behind a grand piano that belched flames from its soundboard, Gaga frequently digressed to lash out at the U.S. military's don't-ask, don't-tell policy and discrimination against the gay community writ large. "I'm not going to prance around in underwear and a bra and not stand for something," she quipped. And for fans who didn't agree with her politics, she offered a consolation: "At least I sing live at this show."
So sing she did, into a homestretch-turned-hit-parade that included ubiquitous singles "Alejandro," "Poker Face," "Paparazzi" and "Bad Romance." Each felt bigger than the tune that preceded it -- and between songs, her breathing sounded like an obscene phone call.
It was Lady Gaga huffing and puffing into her headset microphone, sucking oxygen and reminding her flock that the icon behind these marvelous muumuus and smears of fake blood wasn't some abstract spectacle, but an actual living, panting human being. Cooler than Darth Vader, and with better capes.