When you’re the first woman to headline a show at Fenway Park and you also happen to be Lady Gaga, there’s only one way to express your excitement on stage: By yelling “Welcome to the motherfucking womb.”

The singer clutched the microphone in her petite hands on Friday night (September 1), panting from the exertion of performing rough n’ tumble tune “John Wayne,” holding her shoulders square with well-earned confidence.

“I couldn’t believe this when they told me — they told me I’m the first woman ever to headline Fenway Park,” she said, eyes comically wide in disbelief. “Thank you Boston. I feel so honored, but at the same time, I have to tell you, I’m sorry that you all had to wait over 100 years for a woman. Cuz that’s a shame, really. So on behalf of all the great women who deserved to be here before me — welcome to the motherfucking womb. I will give birth tonight to each and every one of you.”

After her soliloquy, she steamrolled into Born This Way jam “Scheiße,” her most stormy ode to modern feminism to date.

Yet somehow her speech and feminist tribute weren’t the sole takeaway of the show.

When Lady Gaga launched her career almost 10 years ago, her entire schtick was to prove that she, an oddball pop savant on the brink of stardom, was just like you. It’s a message and attitude that every high school outcast and otherwise self-described “bad kid” has clung to, absorbed, and embodied since Gaga first pursed her lips to stutter p-p-p-poker face. But with her new album Joanne, Gaga’s goal has been tweaked slightly; instead of just strengthening her bond with her little monsters, she’s now out to prove that she has something in common with literally everyone.

And that common experience is grief.

When Gaga took the stage at Fenway on Friday, all of her usual elements were in place, emboldened with the gusto and budget of a stadium tour: Disco sticks, a prismatic piano, sequin-clad bodysuits. But what hung in the air that evening was a communal sense of mourning, and that — not the pyrotechnics, nor the costume changes, nor the 19 different choreographed dance numbers — is what impressed the masses gathered at Fenway that evening.

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As her hot-pink show countdown on the jumbotron hit zero, her intro medley cooed “Don’t call me Gaga,” (an old “Monster” lyric), followed by Gaga screeching “Call me JO-ANNE!” representing her quasi-jarring switch from pop raver to all-American country girl.

“Good thing I know what I’m worth/Want a good thing? Put the money down first/Better get a good look baby /Cuz soon I’m breaking out of here,” she belted on opening track “Diamond Heart,” a nostalgic look back on her days of go-go dancing for the money in New York City dives — ultimately a grand “told ya so” gesture as she recounted her pre-Gaga days to a sold-out crowd of 37,000 people.

Gaga sprinted through some Joanne tunes (biker bar romp “A-Yo,” disco single “Perfect Illusion,” hippie love “Come to Mama”) and peppered in her biggest hits (“Poker Face,” “Just Dance,” “Telephone”), leaning to and fro as her stage separated and titled in different directions like a Rubik’s Cube. During “Alejandro,” she wailed the dramatic intro, stripped off her own pleather skirt burlesque-style, and let her head dip off the edge of the stage, her technicolor hair lolling overboard, full theatrics on display. Later in the show when she performed “Bad Romance” bedecked in a corset-like ruffled leotard and moth-esque feather mask, her VMA-worthy choreography reminded everyone how she blew up as a starlet to begin with.

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But the bash came to an abrupt halt when Gaga took a seat at her catwalk piano, where she turned her attention to her late friend Sonja who passed away from cancer this summer. “Nobody knows this,” she said from her piano bench as she began to describe the day when she got a troubling call from one of Sonja’s friends while she was on the set of A Star Is Born.

“I dropped everything to get there as fast as I could,” she continued, “but I didn’t make it in time.” She let the crowd fill in the blanks of the story before she performed a slower, stripped-down version of “The Edge of Glory,” her lips slightly puckering into a mournful frown. She revved the show up again afterwards, slipping into LGBTQ+ anthem “Born This Way,” but after a costume change it was back to quiet reverence on “Angel Down” — a song that references the shooting of Trayvon Martin — and the title track.

“I want you to go back to that place where life blasted you so fucking hard you couldn’t remember what happened,” she said before playing “Joanne,” acoustic guitar in hand. She broke down the generational grief that comes from the name — that of her late aunt, who died at 19 from lupus. When making Joanne, she shifted her focus deeper into that very nook of her family’s mourning — something she had never been able to grasp growing up — and blossomed it into an entire album. Eyes in the stands started to water, and not because of the usual star-struck reasons; Gaga had reached a new emotional common denominator with everyone present. For a woman so often written off as another vapid assembly-line pop star, she had established the common ground she had set out to conquer.

“Sometimes it’s important to try on somebody’s else hat to try and understand,” she said, placing her new signature pink hat on her microphone stand at center stage after her encore (“Million Reasons”) before leaving for the night. It was simultaneously the most climatic and anticlimactic way possible for her to end the show.

Featured photo by Victoria Wasylak; follow her on Twitter @VickiWasylak.

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