It wasn't without careful consideration that Lady Gaga chose to begin her Dive Bar tour in Nashville. While strategically situating her back in humble pubs like the spots where she started her career, the three-city trek is ultimately designed to preview new music from the recently announced Super Bowl halftime performer's forthcoming full-length album Joanne, which bears a more than a trace of Nashville's creative input.
The arrival of a superstar like Lady Gaga in Music City does not go unnoticed, however, and by Wednesday afternoon a sizable crowd had gathered outside East Nashville hang the 5 Spot, around the corner from where a small fleet of trailers was taking up most of the block. Fans lined up several rows deep along police barricades in hopes of getting a glimpse. VIP and media guests were wanded at the door and all phones were confiscated, ensuring that Lady Gaga's Facebook Live stream of the event was under her control. Prior to the event, she pulled up to the venue's front door in a black Ford Bronco and walked over to the barricade to greet fans.
On the inside, the 5 Spot's normally unassuming interior had been transformed, a velvet curtain now draped across the stage and virtually every surface covered with the logo of tour partner Bud Light. Hit songwriters Cary Barlowe, Liz Roze and Lori McKenna all milled around the venue along with Nashville Mayor Megan Berry, in possibly the surest indication that Gaga's presence in town was slightly out of the ordinary. A few lucky fans streamed in, wearing expressions that showed a mixture of confusion and ecstasy.
Shortly after 9:15 p.m., Lady Gaga made her dramatic entrance through the 5 Spot's front door, wearing a rhinestone-festooned jacket and pink hat. She pushed her way through the crowd to the stage for her performance, which consisted of just four songs: "Sinner's Prayer," "A-Yo," "A Million Reasons" and lead single "Perfect Illusion."
"Sinner's Prayer" felt like a marriage of Ennio Morricone's ominous spaghetti-Western work welded to one of the Talking Heads' polyrhythmic grooves, starting with minor chord strums on an acoustic guitar before giving way to a hypnotic walking bass line. "A-Yo" was the clear party jam of the bunch, an attitude-heavy rocker built on power chords and sex appeal.
"If you could do me this favor," Gaga said, pausing between songs. "Tonight if you could just call me 'Joanne.'"
Songwriter Hillary Lindsey, who co-wrote Little Big Town's "Girl Crush," played an important role on Joanne, composing three songs for the project, including "A-Yo" and the plaintive ballad "A Million Reasons." She joined Gaga for "A Million Reasons," adding high harmonies to the piano-driven tune's searching choruses. In a repeat performance around 1 a.m., Gaga tacked on Joanne's moving title track, written for her father who, it turns out, was in the crowd.
In accordance with Gaga's inclusive nature, a group of 15 hearing impaired individuals representing Not Impossible were present. Each song was performed in sign language from side stage and each person was wearing a custom vest that vibrated in time with the music.
Gaga wrapped up this all-too-brief encounter with the ecstatic "Perfect Illusion," hurling herself into the crowd and twirling her microphone like Morrissey while dancing erupted around her.
"We can't give away too much tonight, so we'll see you next stop," she said, concluding her set with a literal microphone drop and handily paving the way for her next Dive Bar tour stops on October 20th – the day before Joanne becomes available – and October 27th.