Gaga’s Monster Ball sets fans free

At 24, Lady Gaga is ruling the world. When The Monster Ball came to Buffalo's HSBC Arena on Friday night, 18,000 little monsters – the young, the old and the expressively costumed – did not hesitate to answer the call of Mother Monster. She did not disappoint them.

The Monster Ball was led by an incredibly entertaining, energetic opening act: The Scissor Sisters. They were great despite the fact that, by their own admission, most people not "gay or British" hadn't heard of them.

Part demented pop and dance concert and part musical theater, the show was a The Wizard of Oz-style spectacular. The show loosely followed Gaga and her friends after their car broke down and they were forced to wander deranged, fantastical lands in search of the path to the Monster Ball.

"But what is the Monster Ball really?" asked one of her friends. A valid question to the uninformed, but for many, the answer was simple: the epitome of a stellar performance.

The show itself, after all, was brilliant. The concert's repertoire covered the majority of the Fame Monster discography and included throwbacks to her debut album and the inclusion of two new songs: "You and I," performed on a burning piano, and "Born This Way," the show's closing act.

Though the whole show clocked in at under two hours, each and every minute was overflowing with vitality, stunning vocal prowess, quick costume changes, mind-blowing visuals and shocking displays of theatricality. Beneath all the glitz and the feathers, though, there was an undercurrent of real heart to what Gaga was doing.

Gaga was personal during the concert; she was connected. She was not afraid tell her own stories of victimization, to draw attention to homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth and to encourage her monsters to use their paws to send a message to New York state Sen. Mark Grisanti, who represents Buffalo, in support of a bill to legalize gay marriage statewide. Sometimes all she did was pause to compliment someone's wig. All of it together created a concert experience that was welcoming, nonjudgmental, completely comfortable and oddly intimate.

Perhaps that's why it rang so true when Gaga stalked out, in all her outrageously-clad glory, to the middle of the runway stage and shouted her own answer to her friend's question: "The Monster Ball will set you free."

Looking back at the carefree dancing, elaborate dress and complete absence of self-consciousness in her audience, the Monster Ball did as Mother Monster dictated. Gaga worked to transcend musical, social and political boundaries, all while giving others the confidence to do the same.

Never have these propensities been clearer than at this stage in her career. Look no further than the music video for "Born This Way." Is it a surreal, birth-obsessed foray with possibly disturbing amounts of vaginal imagery? Partially, but in many ways the video and the song it accompanies are symbolic of exactly who Gaga is as an artist.

Like "Born This Way" and its video, Gaga is extreme, controversial and a storyteller; she's original and referential, empowering and potentially offensive all at the same time. Yet, what the three share, more than anything, is the ability to get inside listeners' heads and stay there, whether they like it or not.

Before the Ball ended, Gaga told all her fans, "Don't leave loving me – leave loving you." As the last few notes of "Born This Way" faded and the dancing slowly stopped, what was truly powerful was that most of us did just that.