Here’s What Happened When Lady Gaga Played A Tiny Sydney Club In 2008

Tickets were $24, and the mosh was filled with shitty digital cameras.

Lady Gaga Oxford Art Factory

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Looking back now, it’s wild to think how low-key the lead up to Lady Gaga’s first Australian performance was. As we all waited in line outside Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory on Wednesday, September 24, 2008, none of us had any idea the woman we were about to see would go on to be one of the biggest game-changers in music.

In fact, I actually only knew a couple of her songs: ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Poker Face’ were all over the radio, having become instant hits when they were released a few months earlier.

But I really had no clue who this person was; I’d agreed to come to this concert with my rather new boyfriend and his most-recent ex-girlfriend, partly out of interest in Gaga but also partly to ensure that this dynamic between us remained in my favour.

The author (right) and his boyfriend at Lady Gaga. A decade later, they’re still together: thanks Gaga for inventing love.

The tickets were only $24 or something, so I wouldn’t be wasting much money if the show didn’t turn out to be worth it.

But hoo boy was that ticket worth the cost. Closeted baby-gay that I was, I was clueless about the impact this incredible performer would end up having on my life — and the lives of so many others, over the next 10 years. I remember seeing fluoro monochrome laser-printer posters for the gig on the walk to OAF from the nearest train station.

We missed the support acts (KillaQueenz and WOW, or so research tells me) — most probably we spent them getting drinks or, as was the style at the time, taking hundreds of photos on digital cameras.

Looking back at the pics, something obvious that stands out is that people in the crowd are holding up actual digital cameras and camcorders to catch a memory of Gaga, rather than today’s sea of iPhones. Oh the late noughties, how we miss you.

I remember the anticipation in the room before Gaga came on. The air was already hot, the club dark, the smoke machine pumping. Was it excitement or lack of oxygen we were all feeling?

Probably both. This atmosphere, the anticipation, was the first thing that made me really pay attention to Gaga – attention which hasn’t lapsed to this day. The crowd was so excited and keyed in, ready to see this incredible new act, and the atmosphere thrilled in a way you can only feel in small venues like the OAF.

At times you could see her yell-singing straight into the faces of the front row.

Gaga appeared onstage suddenly amid the noise of the crowd. She had only a tiny area to perform in – what seemed like about 10 metres square, crammed with a keyboard, its player, two backup dancers and Gaga herself.

That didn’t stop her from sporting her light-up “disco stick” as an accessory to her shoulder-padded leotard, fishnet leggings and studded fingerless gloves (a bit of a mashup of her looks in the ‘Beautiful, Dirty, Rich’ music video, with an added ‘Just Dance’ lightning bolt under one eye). She wore sunglasses for the whole performance.

One of the photos taken on my digital camera.

The venue exploded when she started her first song, ‘Beautiful, Dirty, Rich’ — and Gaga had no issues getting up close and sweaty with the crowd. At times you could see her yell-singing straight into the faces of the (very receptive) front row, and she even jumped up to crowd-surf during ‘Paparazzi’.

The performance was pretty straightforward, at least by the standards of her later stunts – this being pre-meat dressThe Egg and similar theatrics. It was simply a shit hot performance.

Gaga was ready for a crowd that knew her hits. She echoed the moves from her music videos so everyone could dance along — at least when they weren’t screaming along to the songs, hands in the air. If I didn’t know the songs or moves before arriving, I was soon schooled by those around me.

It’s only on looking back that I realise the gig was pretty short — the set list was only five or six songs: ‘Paparazzi’ and ‘Poker Face’ featured, as did ‘Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)’. I’ve heard since then that she actually performed more than she was paid for. She finished off with ‘Just Dance’, of course, which basically set the entire venue on fire.

We may not have known she’d become a Superbowl dominating superstar at the time, but we definitely left with some understanding that this was a Queen in the making. Gaga’s rise from that point was unbelievably fast — 18 months later she was back to perform two sold-out shows at the Sydney Entertainment Centre.

It’s hard to believe this was three whole years before ‘Born This Way’ was released – a song that would go on to be a real anthem, and one of Gaga’s biggest, especially for this gay boy and, at a decade together, his no-longer new boyfriend, who continue to be fans of the superstar a whole decade later.

Mitch ‘Alejandro’ Brook is a freelancer writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.

Lead photo via Lady Gaga Australia & New Zealand Facebook. All other photos courtesy of Amanda Montoya.