In the 12 years that Wrigley Field has been hosting concerts, Jimmy Buffett has brought Margaritaville and cheeseburgers to the stadium on more than one occasion, Pearl Jam has said “Let’s Play Two,” and Billy Joel practically lives at the park. But there has never been a single female headliner to take the stage on the field. Until Friday night.
“Someone told me today I have the great honor of being the first woman ever to headline Wrigley Field. I’m so proud to stand here tonight,” Lady Gaga remarked about crossing the proverbial threshold, before putting the talent bookers in their place. “But you know it is a real shame you haven’t had a woman here in over 100 years. Welcome to the mother——- womb!”
With a two-hour spectacle that was sensual, emotional and lovingly communal, Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) celebrated her headlining milestone amid joy and tears. Currently on her Joanne World Tour, there were two women clearly on Gaga’s mind on this night: her late aunt Joanne Germanotta, who died of complications from lupus in 1974 (the person who inspired Gaga’s latest album and tour name), and close friend Sonja Durham, who passed away from cancer in May.
The singer, fighting back tears, announced that some of Durham’s ashes were scattered at the park earlier in the day. “So actually I’m not the first woman to headline; Sonja took the stage before me,” Gaga said, looking up to the heavens. She then barreled into an incredibly moving and nearly operatic version of “The Edge of Glory” as she sat stoically behind a glass piano situated on a thrust stage amid a throng of transfixed fans whose detailed costumes and wigs vied for attention.
The song was part of Act IV of the carefully curated performance (which was broken into several themed segments), and it was arguably her strongest. She began with the modern disco hit “Applause,” dancing her way through the crowd before taking her perch at the piano. After throwing a custom Cubs jersey over her dress, she segued into “Come to Mama,” followed by “Glory,” then lightening up the mood with stadium-raiser “Born This Way,” which even had several security guards busting a move in the aisles. “As someone that used to live in Chicago, I’m offended if you’re sitting down on a Friday night,” she roared to a round of cheers from the crowd.
Gaga is not only the first female headliner, but also the first to turn the ballpark into a 41,000-person nightclub, emboldened by the techno glitterati of a sophisticated stage setup with decks of strobe lights, go-go platforms and tilting stages that gave the dancers — and Gaga herself — a challenging obstacle course. The singer, though, was a shadow of her former dancing self, relying on years-old choreography and struggling to keep her balance on “Bad Romance” (though in fairness she may not have been able to see clearly through the plume of feathers in the awkward masquerade mask she sported).
Though her vocals were nearly pitch-perfect for the majority of the concert, displaying a dynamic range that goes beyond that of most pop stars, there were also uncharacteristic off-key moments including a rough start on “Telephone” and stumbles on “Poker Face,” which she chalked up to fighting back emotions. “I’ll be damned if I spend my whole career without you seeing my mascara bleed,” Gaga quipped. “I just hope my voice was good; I sang through so many tears tonight.”
Gaga has gone through many phases in her relatively short career; perhaps the “Joanne” stage is her most personal and conversational. Before playing that title track on acoustic guitar, she opened up about the intergenerational pain and addictions she worked through in recording sessions with producer Mark Ronson, and the struggles with her father, who was present in the crowd. She also admitted missing the person she was before she was famous, though, as her song “Applause” declares, she lives for the limelight, at times almost pageant-like with superfluous, long drawn-out stares, runway struts and rounds of hand-blown kisses to the crowd. Few artists would dare wear the costumes Gaga does, which on this night were a mix of Dolly Parton-esque fringe, Liza Minnelli-like rhinestones and Madonna in her bondage phase.
With lavish costuming, skilled interpretive dancers and several set breaks with a live band that hinted at Gaga’s heavier rock leanings, and accompanied by provocative film vignettes that took visual cues from her days on “American Horror Story,” the night felt like one, large, interactive art installation. It was a first for Wrigley for sure, but just another testament to Gaga’s star power.
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.
Come to Mama
The Edge of Glory
Born This Way