It’s been a quiet few months for Lady Gaga since she announced in March that she’d be not be participating in any more interviews or TV appearances for the foreseeable future.

It was a canny move for a pop star who was in real danger of overexposing herself (she’s visited Australia five times in four years now), and it meant fans were especially eager to see their idol at last night’s AllPhones Arena show, the first of four Sydney concerts she’ll perform over the coming days.

Like The Monster Ball before it, Gaga’s Born This Way Ball is an intense, sometimes grotesque mix of sci-fi visuals, jaw-dropping theatre and dirty pop.

With a stage dominated by an imposing gothic castle, the costume design this time around seems heavily inspired by H.R. Giger, as Gaga spends much of the concert encased in a variety of Alien-esque masks.

The music matched the visuals, as she eschewed much of the sunnier, simpler pop of The Fame to focus on the altogether more complex tracks from Born This Way.

Sometimes the mythology of the show felt a little half-formed — we doubt all the between-song trilling about GOAT, a ‘Government-Owned Alien Territory’, meant much to anyone beyond the hardcores in the monster pit. And there are times when Gaga’s a bit too literal for her own good (she started Born This Way by emerging from the vagina of a giant, pregnant mannequin — geddit?).

But far more often than not, the wonderfully bizarre spectacle on stage felt more like performance art than pop concert. Gaga and back-up singers glided around as ghostly, seemingly floating figures for the ethereal highlight Bloody Mary, while for Heavy Metal Lover, she was wheeled on stage literally fused into a motorcycle in an incredible live-action recreation of that divisive album cover.

And, more importantly, there’s genuine heart behind all those potentially alienating costumes and masks. Taking a break to sit at the front of the monster pit mid-show, Gaga found herself pelted with flags, teddy bears and — in a true testament to her fans’ devotion — several wallets and iPhones. She even introduced the lovably cheesy power ballad Hair with an impassioned speech about gay rights, telling the arena “We’re in a new age of being gay” and “I want my kids to know that their future can go as far as the person next to them”.

INFO: Lady Gaga plays Sydney’s AllPhones Arena, June 21, 23 and 24, Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, June 27, 28 and 30 and July 1 and 3, and Perth’s Burswood Dome on July 7 and 8. Tickets through Ticketek.

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