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Madonna has described the show in a statement as “the journey of a soul from darkness to light,” and perhaps it is. Near the beginning, after tolling church bells and chanting, a gun-toting Madonna is besieged by assailants from all directions, dispatching them in self-defense as giant spatters of blood fill the video screen. In that opening segment, she sings about jealousy, divorce and, in “Revolver” — with images of guns and ammunition — about sex as a weapon.
Yet the bad-gal nastiness soon gives way to more generous impulses, trading violent shock value for flamboyant showmanship. By the end, she’s sharing a big dance party. And the concert is less a story than an excellent excuse for extravagant, perpetually surprising production numbers involving more than three dozen performers, while it turns some of Madonna’s past hits inside-out.
Madonna, at 54, isn’t giving in to pop obsolescence. The concert is a display of energy and nutty inventiveness, with Madonna costumed as everything from baton-twirler to folk dancer. Featured among the musicians is Kalakan, a trio of Basque singers and drummers who bring medieval and folky elements to various songs, including a version of “Open My Heart” that arrived as a kind of Basque jig, with Madonna dancing and singing alongside her son Rocco.
“MDNA,” the album that supplies nearly half of the show’s songs, strove to connect Madonna with the latest highly commercial wave of electronic dance music. (The disc jockey and producer Laidback Luke opened the show with a set that remixed Madonna tunes alongside current dance floor staples.) But Madonna’s spectacle doesn’t confine itself to clubland; its aspirations go further.
On this tour, Madonna’s usual steely determination shares the stage with a new warmth and acceptance. One song has Nicki Minaj, on video, declaring, “There’s only one queen, and that’s Madonna,” and there’s also some sly professional rivalry; performing “Express Yourself,” Madonna slips in an excerpt from Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” pointing up its very similar melody and cadence. But the show soon veers away from self-promotion. In a mid-concert interlude, Madonna spoke about returning to America after touring Europe, going on to reaffirm the importance of freedom of speech; she cited the jailed Russian punk group Pussy Riot.
While Madonna flaunted her toned physique — in “Human Nature,” she stripped down to lingerie, with “No Fear” written on her back — she didn’t hide her maturity. Gunplay aside, the concert’s most startling moment was its new take on “Like a Virgin,” a hit from 1984. Backed by a piano player wearing a top hat, it became a waltz in a minor key, with Madonna singing in an uncharacteristically low, slightly scratchy register: her Lotta Lenya voice, unassisted. A song that had been a chirpy claim to easy renewal became, instead, a memory of distant innocence. “Hung Up,” a more recent song that was originally catchy enough for a phone commercial, was reworked as something ominous and obsessive.
Madonna may never have an impressive voice, only an adequate and tenacious one. Perhaps its limitations help her write melodies that are easier for the vast pop audience to sing. Backing vocals and electronic effects often help her along onstage, though she does dare to expose her voice for part of the show. And Madonna still looks silly when, as she did in “I Don’t Give A,” she slings an electric guitar and makes rocker-chick faces; it’s odd that someone so physically disciplined can’t fake better guitar moves.
But Madonna and her team do know how to dazzle. Her male dancers bounced on web tightropes in slacklining routines, twisted themselves in scary contortions and even wore some high heels. “Vogue” placed Madonna at a decadent party with a chandelier overhead, surrounded by dancers in angular black-and-white costumes, while she struck her own poses in a latter-day remake of her old conical bra, now as a black-ribbed exoskeleton. As Madonna sang “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” a large drum corps in band uniforms pattered away, suspended in midair. It’s hard to guess what “I’m a Sinner” has to do with a video train ride zooming through India, or how “I’m Addicted” connects to a group martial-arts ceremony, but both productions easily transcended the clichés in the lyrics.
Madonna’s set started nearly an hour later than planned, the result of last-minute adjustments for its American premiere. After apologizing, she said, “I wanted the show to be perfect for you, because my fans deserve it and quite frankly I deserve it.” The details have always mattered to Madonna, and in this new extravaganza they add up; the effort is visible, but so is the delirious impulse behind it.
“In my country, we have freedom of speech, freedom of expression,” she told the crowd at the sold-out Wells Fargo Center. “Never forget how lucky you are to live where you live.”
Those freedoms are needed for her “MDNA” tour, which she rehearsed at Nassau Coliseum throughout May, with its dark, violent opening that gives way to dance party joy, with cheerleader chants and a high-fashion “Vogue,” as well as a serious video tribute to young men who died after being bullied.
Before the concert, Madonna released a statement asking that parts of her show not be taken out of context and that they be seen as “the journey of a soul from darkness to light.”
The pop icon told the crowd Tuesday night they should “never forget how lucky you are to live where you live and to have the freedom that you have.”
She made the comments after talking about the arrest of three members of the punk-rock female band Pussy Riot. The women were sentenced to two years in prison after performing a “punk prayer” at Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral in which they called on the Virgin Mary to deliver Russia from its leader, Vladimir Putin.
“In my travels around the world the one thing I truly witnessed is we in America have freedom of speech, freedom of expression,” the singer said.
Madonna, who toured most of Europe from June to August, has called for the Pussy Riot members to be freed. Paul McCartney and Peter Gabriel also have spoken in the women’s favor.
“I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that I’m in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed,” Madonna said at the Wells Fargo Center to nearly 20,000 fans. “We are in the land of democracy.”
Russian activists recently sued Madonna for millions of dollars, claiming they were offended by her support for gay rights during her show in St. Petersburg. A law passed in February makes it illegal to promote homosexuality to minors, and the author of that law has pointed to the presence of children as young as 12 at Madonna’s concert on Aug. 9. (Minors also attended Madonna’s U.S. show.)
When speaking about Pussy Riot, Madonna said that about 80 gay men were jailed in St. Petersburg because of their sexual orientation. She told the crowd that the arrests were unfair, and they booed in her support.
Then the 53-year-old told the U.S. audience: “Don’t get fat and lazy and take that freedom for granted.”
Madonna kicked off her concert late on Tuesday, apologizing to the crowd, who began to boo before she hit the stage around 10:30 p.m.
“We had many changes to make from Europe to America, and I wanted the show to be perfect for you because my fans deserve it and quite frankly I deserve it,” she said.
She performed for nearly two hours, starting in a skin-tight black ensemble with a gun in hand as she sang the song “Girls Gone Wild” from her latest album “MDNA.” She transitioned to “Revolver,” as she and her background dancers held guns and bullets appeared on the backdrop. (Madonna posted on her website that she does not condone violence or the use of guns and she’s using fake guns in concert as a metaphor for strength.) During the next song — “Gang Bang” — she shot a man and spat what appeared to be liquor in his face, while blood splatters and bloody hands appeared on the screen.
The dark mood escaped as Madonna changed into a red and white marching band get-up, singing “Express Yourself” and “Give Me All Your Luvin'” as a marching band played to the crowd. She sang some of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” pulling up her skirt to reveal her red shorts.
Madonna’s performances of “Celebration” and “I’m Addicted” were also colorful, as laser lights beamed and the venue became nightclub-like. Madonna’s best vocal performance, though, was during “Like a Prayer,” which featured more than 30 back-up singers in robes. She got the best response from the crowd when she performed “Vogue,” as the dancers and Madonna — now in a corset, long gloves and her hair pulled back — strutted in black and white onstage.
She got racy during “Like a Virgin” and “Human Nature,” taking off her shirt to reveal her bra, and revealing her thong (she wore fishnet stockings).
“Sometimes it’s easier to show your (butt) than show your feelings. Maybe tonight we can all live dangerously,” said Madonna, who had the words “No Fear” on her back.
Tuesday night Madonna brought her controversial act to the United States for its big U.S. leg debut at the sold-out Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“It’s so good to be back home,” Madonna said midshow. “One thing I witnessed and now appreciate is that in my country we have freedom of speech. We have freedom of expression.”
Most of the audience was more outraged by the long delay than they were by the swearing, stripping and violence or the fake guns, gas masks and images of torture in the act.
The room was first filled with booing at 10:23 p.m. with no sight of Madonna. The tickets said the show started at 8 p.m.
Finally, with a religious themed entrance featuring monks, an incense canister and a crucifix, she took the stage.
The crowd erupted in applause as Madonna raised a fake gun and shouted,”What’s up, Philadelphia?” during her opening song Girls Gone Wild.
Courtney Kasser, 35, of King of Prussia, Pa., brought her sister, Ashley Davis, 29, of Scranton, Pa., to the concert as a wedding gift. “People are waiting to see what she is going to do,” Kasser says. “I think everyone expects controversy from Madonna.”
During one song giant screens on the stage featured images of Occupy Wall Street, members of the Westboro Baptist Church holding “God Hates Fags” signs and headshots of teens who have committed suicide including Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who killed himself after his roommate broadcast Clementi’s intimate encounter with another man.
Dawn Zappasodi, 54, of Cherry Hill, N.J., brought her daughter Anna, 22, to the concert and said both of her sons wanted to go, as well. “They grew up listening to Madonna,” Zappasodi says.
Anna says she doesn’t think the show could be too outrageous for the venue. “Madonna will fit right in in Philadelphia,” she says. “Look around.” There were neon tight shorts on men, scandalous clothes on women, wigs and crazy shoes.
Olga Malycheva, 32, of Philadelphia, came to see the show with her husband. “This is our first time seeing her and it’s supposed to be a great show,” she says.
Expecting controversy? “Well yes, I mean there has to be!” Malycheva says.
And, yes, Madonna did get a little racy during Like a Virgin and Human Nature, stripping off her shirt to reveal her bra, and pulling down her pants to reveal her thong and fishnet stockings.
“Sometimes it’s easier to show your (rear) than show your feelings. Maybe tonight we can all live dangerously,” said Madonna, who had the words “No Fear” on her back.
She began her hour and 45 minute set by scratching the religious itch she’s had for nearly 30 years now. In front of a projected backdrop of an imposing cathedral, men in red hooded ecclesiastical robes rang a church bell, chanted and swung a censer back on forth, filling the stage with eerie smoke. The screen parted, and out floated Madge, backlit in silhouette, on a levitating confession booth, her brief monologue about forgiveness all but lost to the loud and emphatic cheers. Her tardiness was forgiven before she’d sung a note or struck a pose. (Still, she apologized later in the set, saying there’s a lot of changeover from the European to American sets and she wanted the show to be “perfect” for her fans.)
The first act of MDNA is heavy on violent imagery, and Madonna has taken some heat for her use of gun props. During the first three numbers – “Girls Gone Wild,” “Revolver” and “Gang Bang” – she toted a gun around the stage. On the last, she holed up in a cheap-hotel setting, besieged on all sides by men dressed in black and wearing ski masks. She shot each one with a pistol, spraying flashes of blood across a giant screen behind the set. The guns aren’t the only part of the show that has raised eyebrows. She bared her breast in Muslim Turkey, stamped a swastika on an image of the right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen in Israel and, most notably, she pledged her support to the LGBT movement and jailed punk band Pussy Riot at separate concerts in Russia.
She voiced support for Pussy Riot in Philadelphia, too, after telling the crowd how good it was to be back home. “America’s got its fair share of problems,” she said. “But we have freedom of speech. We have freedom of expression. Never forget how lucky you are to live here.”
The second act pepped things up quite a bit. Ditching the all-black outfit she wore for the first songs of the set, Madonna reappeared in stunning white alongside majorettes and a levitating drumline suspended from the ceiling. She cheekily blended “Express Yourself” with Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and then took a shot at the young starlet, singing, “She’s not me!” a few times.
Madonna cranked up the bombast with even more drum majors on “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” which featured a videotaped rap verse from Nicki Minaj. M.I.A.’s verse was (not so) curiously absent. Things quieted down for drum-heavy acoustic turns on “Open Your Heart,” “Sagarra Jo” and “Masterpiece.” The singer stripped during “Human Nature,” exposing a giant tattoo on her back that read “No Fear.” “Sometimes it’s a lot easier to show your ass than show your emotions,” Madonna said before showing both with a bizarre rendition of “Like a Virgin,” sung in half time accompanied only by piano.
She ended the set with a raucous, choir-assisted rendition of “Like a Prayer” and the cathartic, upbeat “Celebration.” MDNA, she said, is meant to explore a “journey from darkness to light, from anger to love [and] from chaos to order.” From the show’s violent opening to its celebratory close, she’s certainly succeeded at that.
“Girls Gone Wild”
“Papa Don’t Preach”
“I Don’t Give A”
“Express Yourself/ Born This Way”
“Give Me All Your Luvin'”
“Turn Up the Radio”
“Open Your Heart”
“Justify My Love”
“The Erotic Candy Shop”
“Like a Virgin”
“Nobody Knows Me”
“Addicted to Your Love”
“I’m a Sinner”
“Like a Prayer”
“In my country we have freedom of speech. We have freedom of expression,” she began in a mid-show breather, referencing her world tour, which began May 31 in Tel Aviv, Israel. She made a string of relevant references, from jailed homosexuals in St. Petersburg to a show of support for the recently imprisoned Russian punk protestors Pussy Riot. “Don’t get fat and lazy and take that freedom for granted.”
Being a socially conscious 53-year old performer capable of championing the MDNA Tour’s theatrics, Madonna is setting a pretty good example. The first American performance of her ninth world tour was a show of strength for the pop star, as she and her ensemble tore through nearly two-dozen cuts from her ever-deep catalog. She generally avoided her earliest albums (with a somber piano rendition of “Like a Virgin” and “Papa Don’t Preach” the main exceptions) and crafted an eclectic mix of highlights from her post-1980s material.
Special attention was of course paid to “MDNA,” which debuted atop the Billboard 200 in early April, especially in the early going.
With the stage temporarily transformed into a cathedral, Madonna emerged amongst a legion of clergy-clad dancers to the tune of “Girl Gone Wild,” her new album’s second single.
A song later, the EDM-flavored album cut “Gang Bang” made an appearance, with an armed and dangerous Madonna temporarily ditching the religious imagery to fight off potential assailants from her ensemble. Though she’d wind up wielding her guitar a bit later on, there’s a good chance she spent just as much time wielding various firearms over the course of the evening. This set the tone for most of the performance — one that was energized, jarring, and unafraid to push the pop envelope.
Song choices echoed this feeling as well. Though time was taken for a few tender, sentimental moments, passion and consciousness prevailed throughout the majority of the night’s performances. On one end, Madonna took advantage of message-minded songs like “Express Yourself” to drape them in contemporary issues, and on another, she invigorated her more innocent fare with violent, striking dance numbers. In “Hung Up,” the singer literally hung herself, which helped liven up the 2005 hit, with its memorable synth hook edited out from much of the mix.
Madonna also continued the tour’s tradition of inserting a partial cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” into “Express Yourself.” The elder singer hasn’t been shy about pointing out the 2011 song’s similarity to her own, which to the ire of Gaga.
Two artists on board (in spirit) were Lil’ Wayne and Nicki Minaj, who appeared via jumbotron to perform their parts in “Revolver” and “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” respectively. Madonna’s son, Rocco, also made one of his now-routine appearances, dancing with his mom during part of the set.
Handling opening duties was DJ/producer Laidback Luke, who offered roughly thirty minutes of dance remixes in the early going. Madonna did not come onstage until well after ten o’clock (which she later apologized for) though the audience was understandably quick to excuse her tardiness.
The MDNA Tour marks Madonna’s second concert tour under her current 360 deal with Live Nation Entertainment. It makes its next stop Aug. 30 in Montreal, Quebec’s Bell Centre and continues through 41 more North American dates before a final 12 in Latin America. Click here for remaining dates and cities.
Where to begin?
Where all things Madonna must, of course — with her original nurturing place and nemesis: the church. “MDNA” kicks off in a shrouded cathedral, exuding ritual, mystery and no end of judgement.
That the star herself blasts into the scene miming her zippy electro-dance gem “Girl Gone Wild” may sound cheeky and even giddy, but she comes in bearing a gigantic gun — one which, before long, she points directly at the audience.
Those who like their art confrontational may consider this a (literal) bangup start. Especially since it’s followed by Maddy mouthing “Revolver,” which treats sex as a deadly lure, animated by images of ammunition raining down from the heavens.
From there, the star launches into “Gang Bang,” which could be history’s first disco murder ballad. Here Madonna blows away an army of intruders with enough relish to secure a starring role in the next Quentin Tarantino gorefest.
Unsurprisingly, scenes like this caused many critics who caught the tour’s European dates to consider the show a disturbing downer. Clearly, that made Maddy self-conscious. Right before the American leg started on Tuesday, she issued a statement spelling out the breadth of her intentions. The long-winded directive stresses that she means the show to capture the “journey of a soul from darkness to light.”
If so, that soul takes its sweet old time about getting to the light bit, and even then, it rarely stays there long. Even deep into the night, Madonna performed “Human Nature,” a song recorded during her most confrontational period, the mid- ’90s.
She animated it with a striptease that was in no way meant to be alluring — though the star, at 54, does look smashing. Instead, the move aimed to reveal the depth of Madonna’s defiant character, a role she by now occupies with unquestioned authority.
The late part of the night also included a willfully depressing version of “Like a Virgin,” which Madonna has rethought as a draggy ballad. Her Dietrich-esque vocal meant to make her sound like the most sullied, sex-weary woman alive.
With moves like this, Madonna certainly isn’t making it easy on herself — or her audience. For a marquee figure like her to do so deserves praise.
The forward push extended to nearly every aspect of her music. She played no fewer than nine songs from her latest CD, and most of the hits she included could only be heard in snippets during costume changes.
As has become common on her tours, Madonna radically rearranged much of her material. She inventively toughened up once light songs like “Candy Shop” or “Hung Up.”
For “Open Your Heart,” she featured three Basque singer/drummers to give the song some folkier and earthier filigrees. The piece also featured her son Rocco dancing along with the 20 featured pros.
While some segments appeared to be lip-synched, Madonna didn’t shy away from revealing her voice for more of the night, often with solid results.
She didn’t leave the politics in her show to implication. Yet again she announced her support for the jailed Russian art group Pussy Riot and used its members’ struggle as a way to warn American fans not to get “fat and lazy” about their own freedoms.
As everyone knows, Madonna takes a shot at Lady Gaga by melding her own “Express Yourself” with a cover of the song by the younger star that sounds suspiciously like it, “Born This Way.” In case anyone missed the point, she followed it with her own “She’s Not Me.”
At another junction, a video image of Nicki Minaj reminded us “there’s only one queen — and that’s Madonna.”
Naturally, being queen has its privileges — including being able to stage a show larded with statements and heavy on aggression. At times, such things hampered the show’s momentum, seemingly in the service of jamming in more “messages.” If all that made the show hard to adore, it also made it easy to admire.
Before the night had ended, Lady Gaga had been dissed, Russian punk activists Pussy Riot had been praised, a striptease was performed, a fake pistol and an automatic weapon had been waved around, and a fair share of hits like “Express Yourself,” “Vogue,” and “Like a Prayer” had been energetically played.
And an adoring audience had pretty much forgiven the object of their affections for taking the stage an hour after expected, and 2 1/2 hours after the time printed on the ticket.
That’s right: Madonna was in town at the Wells Fargo Center, opening the North American leg of the tour that has traveled the world since opening in Tel Aviv in May.
The still-ripped 54-year-old singer played an often-entertaining hour and 45-minute set weighted towards the electronic dance tracks from her 2012 album MDNA – an abbreviation of her name, and also seemingly a play on the scientific acronym for the drug ecstasy – as well of her 2008 album Hard Candy.
The show was focused less on the irresistibly grabby pop hits that made Madonna such a innovative superstar in the 1980s. When many of her most recognizable songs were played, they were rendered in altered form.
After disrobing down to her undies, for instance, during “Human Nature,” and revealing the words “No Fear” inked on her well-muscled back, she said, “Sometimes it’s easier to show your ass than to show your feelings. But tonight, maybe we can all live dangerously.” She followed that with a spare, effective “Like a Virgin,” performed as a waltz, accompanied only by a pianist.
In another departure, the usually aerobic earworm “Open Your Heart” was transformed into a percussive folk sing-along in a Euro-beatnik segment of the show, accompanied by the Basque musicians Kalakan.
At that point, she apologized for the lateness of her appearance, to the largely female and gay male audience: “We made so many changes between Europe and America, and I want to make the perfect show. Because my fans deserve it. And frankly I deserve it, too.”
That interlude also contained a pro-democracy and free speech statement from the singer, who said how happy she was to be “back home” and “in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed.” Madonna, who recently performed in Moscow with the words “Free Pussy Riot” inked in place of “No Fear” on her back, talked about the Russian punk band’s plight and also the plight of imprisoned gays in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“Never forget that you’re lucky to live where you live,” she said. “So don’t get fat and lazy.”
Earlier, she took a cheap shot at Lady Gaga, for allegedly borrowing from Madonna’s “Express Yourself” for Gaga’s hit “Born This Way” – a shot she’s taken as a standard part of her tour this year. While dressed as a drum majorette, she mashed up the two songs, along with her own “She’s Not Me.” Not very stateswoman-like, Madge.
The staging of the MDNA tour is often tortuous and dark. There’s a whole lot of sturm and drang psychodrama attached to lightweight songs like “Girl Gone Wild.” Madonna has said that the show depicts a “journey of a soul from darkness to light.”
However, the toy AK-47 and revolver-waving in the early stages of the show – which included the singer play-acting the beating, killing, and spitting on a worthless paramour (and probable Guy Ritchie stand-in) during “Gang Bang” – served mainly as an examples of a veteran superstar overreaching for-relevance and weighing her songs down with a burden they can’t hold.
That is a portion of the dictionary definition of the word “fearless.”
I DON’T know Madonna well enough (believe it or not) to assess that she is actually without fear as a woman or a human being. In fact she has admitted to being just as, if not more, insecure, than the average person. Fame and constant scrutiny does that to a person. She is far softer and more vulnerable than her public persona suggests. I know that, for sure.
But whatever she is with her children, her man, her issues, she remains without a doubt one the most fearless and true-to-herself artists in the world.
Madonna kicked off the American leg of her “MDNA” tour in Philadelphia on Monday night. She was full of patriotism, praised America’s freedom of speech, demanded the release of the imprisoned Russian performance artists Pussy Riot and denounced homophobia, as she has been doing for the last quarter century. (Long before Lady Gaga was telling her “little monsters” that they were “Born That Way,” Madonna was exhorting her fans to “express themselves” and was in the forefront of the AIDS crisis.)
“MDNA” is what has become the standard mix for a Madonna show — mind-blowing brilliance, dazzling sets, incredible dancing. And then there’s the stuff she does because she wants to! She is intent on taking her audience on a journey. Sometimes they are not ready for it. They want to groove on the old 1980s/’90s jams, presented just as Madonna did in her famous videos. (Tough luck.) Madonna would wither and die if she had to repeat herself. She is not messing with her fans, she’s making sure they’ve grown up. Yeah, and that is despite the campy majorette outfit she wears at one point. She’s not pretending time hasn’t passed. She’s a woman still young, still full of fun. (And wait until you see her marching band, in midair, elevated above the crowd!)
In “MDNA” Madonna gives her fans classics such as “Open Your Heart,” “Vogue,” “Express Yourself” “Human Nature” and “Like a Virgin.” But, as in the case of “Like a Virgin,” she has totally transformed the chirpy ode to being “shiny and new,” into something almost unbearably dark. Is it pain? Is it pleasure? Is she suffering? Is she in ecstasy? Don’t ask me, and don’t ask Madonna. She hates to explain herself. She is far happier when the audience either makes up its own mind, or never does. Madonna considers herself a work in progress and she gives her audience the same respect. If you don’t get it, don’t worry. It’s life. Who can explain life?
THIS LATEST concert relies heavily on material from her latest album, “MDNA.” And though the CD hasn’t sold as spectacularly as her past hits, the hot (as in almost passing out from the heat), hysterical audience went mad for newer songs like her opening “Girl Gone Wild,” “Revolver” and “Gang Bang.” This is the much criticized “violent” section of the show, but many people thought it was less scary and more a pastiche on the cult of violence, not to mention getting some tumultuous feelings off her chest about her ex, Guy Ritchie. She performs a set piece in a tawdry hotel room, swigging whiskey and being attacked by ninja-type assassins dressed in black. It’s witty. It’s nasty. It’s Madonna.
The stage is full of movement, the sets gasp-inducing, the onscreen videos and visuals mesmerizing, including a gorgeous new black-and-white version of “Erotica” and the controversial “Nobody Knows,” with its images of violence, political revolution around the world, and a tear-inducing tribute to gay teenagers who have killed themselves.
Madonna’s voice, when she sings totally live, is effective and moving, especially on “Masterpiece.” She ain’t ever gonna sing “Aida,” but she has some chops. Her moves remain a miracle of athleticism, for any age. She looks better than she has on any recent tour, keeping her weight up and appearing utterly joyful. Her enthusiasm was infectious. At one point she declared, “Sometimes it’s easier to show you’re a– than your feelings.” Naturally, at that moment, she was showing both!
Madonna capped off the night by whipping her audience into a frenzy with “I’m a Sinner,” “Like a Prayer” (which was so solid, beautiful sung and reverently raw that it was literally a religious experience) and the bouncy “Celebration,” in which her handsome young son, Rocco, gave mom some competition in the dancing department.
If you want Madonna singing the oldies, in the same key, the same outfits, the same mindset, “MDNA” might disappoint. If you want to see a woman still fighting the good fight, trying to entertain, educate and rile up her audience, you’re in for a roller-coaster ride, with Madonna herself at the controls.
There is only one queen, and that’s Madonna, still.
Don’t miss the chic, suave Departures magazine (it is put out by American Express with the gifted Richard David Story at the helm). In the September Style issue, out now, there is a glorious story of Madrid and the way that city is seen by the glamorous designing Herrera girls.
But my pet thing is their cover article on society’s “other” favorite photographer (next to the Times’ genius Bill Cunningham). I do mean Mary Hilliard, who is on the cover and photographed inside at Swifty’s hangout and here, there and everywhere.
Mary is one of the last of the great ladies with a camera, a woman who also has manners, smarts and good looks herself. Almost everybody who is anybody loves her and they always hope she will appear instead of the paparazzi. Brava, Mary!
DON’T KNOW about you but I wrote Lance Armstrong a letter, telling him he’ll always be a champ in my book. They can take away titles and medals and everything else but they won’t touch his accomplishments. He is a man who has struggled against testicular cancer and overcome and endured and done more good works than you or I can count.
I am sick of this harassing of athletes going on and on while we never bring drug laws into the 20th century. And Wall Street still runs amuck and gets away with whatever it wants. A little perspective wouldn’t hurt all these whistleblowers. (And, yes, that includes me too.)
No, it’s not because of her mid-show striptease during “Human Nature,” where she stands for a bit in her bra and panties to show off the words “NO FEAR” on her back. It’s because her wild, nearly two-hour “MDNA” tour, which she rehearsed at Nassau Coliseum for most of May, may come closest to reflecting her current state of mind, while building yet another artistic, well-choreographed slacklining spectacle. (The tour arrives at Yankees Stadium on Sept. 6 and 8.)
Not surprisingly, considering her recent divorce from director Guy Ritchie, it starts with a murderous rage. There’s so much (fake) blood spilled during “Gang Bang,” which pits Madonna against a full gun-wielding assault team, that it’s like a season of “Dexter” condensed into five minutes, complete with blood splatters on the massive video screens.
However, Madonna describes the show as “the journey of a soul from darkness to light” and the brutal imagery of the first section quickly gives way to determination and joy, starting with “Express Yourself,” which she mashes into Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” seemingly lovingly enough before punctuating it with “She’s Not Me.” While the joyous section, which includes the aggressively peppy “Give Me All Your Luvin’” and “Turn Up the Radio” done as cheerleaders and includes drummers hanging two stories above the stage, could have been longer, it includes one of the night’s most memorable moments. The reworking of “Open Your Heart” with the Basque trio Kalakan as a sort of traditional European folk song, built only on drums and vocal harmonies, was pure joy, topped with Madonna dancing across the stage with 11-year-old son, Rocco, who looked extraordinarily comfortable in the spotlight.
Another standout moment is also a quiet one, where Madonna transforms her bubbly synth-pop classic “Like a Virgin” into a waltz worthy of Marlene Dietrich, delivered haltingly and dramatically. At one point, Madonna even lies on the stage face down, the mic on the floor next to her mouth, she’s so exhausted from the desperation for feeling a “heartbeat next to mine.”
However, the biggest surprise in a night of twists and turns was actually an unscripted one. After keeping the crowd waiting more than an hour after her expected start time and enduring some boos before she took the stage, Madonna apologized. “Forgive me,” she said. “I wanted the show to be perfect for you because my fans deserve it, and quite frankly I deserve it.”
She went on to declare her love of America, fueled, in part, by her recent European tour, where she stood up against censorship and homophobia. “In my country,” she shouted, “we have freedom of speech, freedom of expression… Never forget how lucky you are to live where you live.”
For a woman known for being a demanding perfectionist, the end of her show was actually about being grateful and accepting of yourself – including “I’m Addicted” and “I’m a Sinner” – so that you can, once again, enjoy (and express) yourself.
The concert opened with church-themed imagery that led to “Girls Gone Wild”, then segued into more tracks from Madonna’s MDNA album presented with a surprisingly dark tone and hyper-processed vocals. The first few numbers utilized guns and graphic violence, most notably during “Gang Bang”, with Madonna “killing” a dancer while singing “Bang bang shot you dead, shot my lover in the head, now my lover is dead and I have no regrets”, while blood splattered on a huge video screen behind the live action.
At the mid-point of the concert Madonna paused to talk to the crowd about the show’s late 10:25 pm start (citing last minute changes and stating that she and the audience “deserved perfection”), and serious topics including homophobia and the incarceration of punk band Pussy Riot in Russia. She also talked about meeting the Basque vocal trio Kalakan at her recent birthday party. Their lush harmonies were featured throughout the night during numbers including “Open Your Heart”, and on “Masterpiece”, the song from Madonna’s film W.E. that famously inspired a rivalry with Elton John after it beat his “Hello, Hello” from Gnomeo & Juliet at the Golden Globe Awards in 2012. That number was the evening’s best showcase for the pop icon’s vocal chops and songwriting talent.
Special guests performed with Madonna via video: M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj on “Give Me all Your Luvin’”, Lil Wayne on “Revolver”, and Minaj on “I Don’t Give A”, in which she delivers the line, “There’s only one queen and that’s Madonna, bitch!”
Although there were obviously some younger fans in the crowd, most of the audience seemed to be in the 40-and-over age group. While they were predictably more enthusiastic during classic Madonna hits such as “Vogue” and “Like a Virgin”, they were also on their feet singing along to new material like “Turn Up the Radio”, a testament to both her musical legacy and her ongoing career as a hit-maker. Madonna herself appeared ageless as she sang, danced and played guitar like there’s no tomorrow, at least not one without her. Long live the queen.
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