The American Airlines Center in Dallas plays host to battles between hockey clubs and basketball squads when it isn't hosting concerts. But surprisingly, the Lady Gaga concert, too, started as a combination of competition and performance.
Outside of the arena on Friday night, just off the corner of Victory Avenue and All Star Way, a small but aggressive group of protesters marched with signs stating "God Command [sic] All Of Us To REPENT" while shouting ominous warnings of damnation and hellfire to those who made their ways into Gaga's concert.
The bitter judgment coming from that group was cast in opposition to the festive, accepting spirit evident once Stefani "Joanne" Germanotta took the stage. From the opening notes of Lady Gaga's first song, "Diamond Heart," the enemies of inclusive happiness were easily forgotten.
Working in "Poker Face," one of Gaga's biggest hits, early in the set kicked the energy into high gear. But it's not as though the concert was one big colorful, carefree night on Fire Island, either.
Mixed in with the explosive, electric combination of blasting pyrotechnics, art-house film clips, buff shirtless dancers and pulsing lights were heavy doses of tender pain.
As she has been doing for much of this current tour, Gaga spoke a bit of her friend Sonja Durham, who died of breast cancer, before dedicating a stunning, piano-fueled take on "The Edge of Glory" to her.
A simple look around revealed a number of people in the audience using their shirt sleeves to wipe away tears during the poignant song. Famously written after the passing of her grandfather, no other song last night landed quite the emotional wallop "Edge of Glory" did. And if the heartfelt heft of that number didn't unite the crowd, then her LGBTQ anthem "Born This Way" certainly did.
As Gaga implored her throng of fans (a.k.a., "Little Monsters") to cut some slack to the "one or two people in the audience who may not be for equality," it was clear that any bitterness from outside the AAC had failed to creep inside.
What's equally impressive is that such an extreme level of intimacy between artist and audience was drawn in the midst of a gigantic theatrical display.
The sheer size of the show makes even U2's grandiose stadium tour from earlier this year feel rustic and quaint by comparison. Gaga traversed bridges made of video screens that lowered from the rafters from the main stage to two smaller satellite stages -- all the while undergoing adventurous costume changes -- in a feat that would usually strip a larger pop production of spontaneity. But not here.
Much like how a classic Broadway production can overwhelm and amaze a Big Apple tourist, a Lady Gaga show has the ability to transform a casual pop-music fan into a bonafide Little Monster in the span of two hours.
Towards the end of the show, Gaga read a letter that had been thrown on stage. Written by a fan who is now a journalism student at University of North Texas, the letter was an emotional tribute made all the more so when her hero jumped off stage to greet her near the railing.
"You want to be a journalist, and you said your dream was to interview me, right? You got a question for me?" Lady Gaga told the fan. Wiping away her own tears, the student asked, "What gets you through each day?" Not missing a beat, Gaga answered, "I put God and friends and family before anything else, no matter what."
Taking her place again at her piano on the smaller stage on the arena floor, Lady Gaga offered a sparse, but still beautifully majestic finale with "Million Reasons." As she had throughout the night, she thanked the audience for its love and devotion and encouraged all to be kind and good.
So, if you're keeping score at home: On Friday night in Dallas at the American Airlines Center, the final score was Lady Gaga and her Little Monsters, 1, her detractors, 0. Game over.