Forget about the aqua-marine-with-pink-polka-dots calamari costume, the green-as-grass wig and the near-constant confetti canons. The real Lady Gaga emerged during stripped-down moments Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.

Sitting at a keyboard surrounded by mock icicle-like stalagmites, she talked about a fan named Emma whom she met last year at her St. Paul concert. They bonded, Gaga explained, with Emma telling her she wasn't famous anymore, but a friend. "Thank you for being my friend during my surgery," Gaga said to Emma, who was sitting at the foot of the stage.

Gaga added that Emma has been in a wheelchair her whole life but has a better attitude than "99 percent of the people I know." The famous star then dedicated "Born This Way" to her friend. And Gaga sang it like she meant, easily her best vocal of the night — especially since all her production/dancing numbers found her lip-syncing.

That was just one such Gaga moment Tuesday. A fan named Jose tossed a handwritten note onstage about how his sister had been abused by her man, with a shove down the stairs forcing the premature birth of a child. Jose requested a song for his sister and Gaga instantly responded, a cappella, with a verse and chorus of "The Queen." And then she invited Jose to see her afterward so she could autograph the vest made by his sister (who couldn't come to the show) because "a sweet boy like you belongs backstage with a Diet Coke and a smile."

Yes, Lady Gaga, 28, the pied piper of misfits and the misunderstood, has an extraordinary connection with her fans, one like no other pop star on the planet. Never mind that her 2013 album, "Artpop," was a commercial dud and that only maybe 11,000 of the faithful turned out at the X. (In February 2013 she drew 14,000, while about 30,000 turned out for two nights in 2010.)

Never mind that material from "Artpop" — she did all but one of the tunes on the album that was neither artful nor pop — dominated Tuesday's nearly two-hour performance. Never mind that she did only one song, the title track, from "Born This Way," her second album. (Where were "Edge of Glory," "You and I" and "Marry the Night"?)

Because, despite a dearth of quality songs, this was arguably the best of Gaga's three Twin Cities arena performances. There was none of the ridiculously trumped-up story line of the Monster Ball Tour or the high concept and complex production of the Born This Way Ball Tour. To be sure, there were plenty of wigs (from a Katie Couric blonde bob to a Shakira-like mane on steroids) and colorful costumes (from a sparkly gown with a long, long train to the calamari get-up that would make Ursula in "The Little Mermaid" envious).

There was plenty of playful choreography with inflatable plants exploding all over the stage and dancers dressed like sea creatures. And there were plenty of irresistibly danceable moments, including "Bad Romance" and "Applause," the lone hit and frankly redeeming song on "Artpop."

But what mattered were the quietest, most intimate moments — like Gaga's spoken intro to her final song: "The world won't always understand you. And it certainly won't understand me. But we will always understand each other."

Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719