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Lady Gaga rules Roseland Ballroom

Lady Gaga performs on Monday, March 31, 2014

Lady Gaga performs on Monday, March 31, 2014 at Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo

Lady Gaga isn’t backing down.

Her record-setting string of shows that will serve as the finale for Roseland Ballroom, set to close after 95 years of entertaining Manhattan, is as brainy and fierce as the “Artpop” album that spawned it. And on Monday night, the third concert in her seven-show run, Gaga fired up her faithful Little Monsters from the moment she took the paper-rose-covered stage in her massive brassy-blonde wig, impossibly high-heeled boots and, well, not much else.

“I love my life,” she said to roars during the opener, a slowed-down version of “Born This Way.” “I love this Roseland.”

Gaga is at a crossroads in her career. She can either try to recapture the superstardom that came with “Born This Way” or continue pursuing the more avant-garde artistry of “Artpop.” With the Roseland shows, she seems to be doubling down on the “Artpop” course.

From Roseland’s second stage, designed like the front of an F train subway car, Gaga looked out on the sea of smartphones taking her picture. “Those iPhones look like hats from here,” she said. “It’s like the Philip Treacy show I never wanted to see.”

Because the Roseland shows are separate from the massive extravaganza she is planning for the “ArtRave: The Artpop Ball Tour,” which starts May 4 in Fort Lauderdale and returns to New York at Madison Square Garden on May 13, the 70-minute set’s focus was on older material to keep her treatment for the newer songs under wraps.

The piano-driven versions of “Born This Way” and “Poker Face” showed how the hits can thrive even without a thumping dance beat. And her piano ballads “You and I” and the emotional “Dope,” which she dedicated to the doctor who replaced her hip, served as the concert’s centerpiece, showing off both her big voice and her even bigger performance persona.

Those songs – even more than the high-energy “Bad Romance” or the recent hit “Applause” – are what make the backlash against Gaga so puzzling. She’s clearly dancing and singing live, as the heavy breathing she does while talking between songs attests. That’s something few artists attempt, much less handle well, especially on songs that they wrote themselves, the way Gaga does.

In the end, that’s why she can shrug off talk about being “too theatrical.” After she did a fun version of “Just Dance” with her full troupe of nine dancers, she talked about how people said, “I wonder how long she’ll last.”

“It’s not nice to make me angry,” she joked.

Then she was off to the next hit. (She plays Roseland again Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and, for the final show, April 7.)

SETLIST: Born This Way / Black Jesus + Amen Fashion / Monster / Bad Romance / Sexx Dreams / Dope / You and I / Just Dance / Poker Face / Applause // ENCORE: G.U.Y.

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