The MDNA Tour in New York [6 & 8 September 2012 - Pictures, Videos & Reviews]
September 7, 2012 Pictures, Video

The MDNA Tour in New York [6 & 8 September 2012 - Pictures, Videos & Reviews]

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REVIEWS

Nobody knows better than Madonna that size matters. So it’s no surprise that her new “MDNA” tour gained some extra oomph from Thursday’s blown-up stadium version at Yankee Stadium.

Last week, I reviewed the show’s trimmer, arena take from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and found it to be a mix of the ambitious and the ponderous. It’s a dense, heavy, show that could use more fun, and hits, to lift it.

At Yankee Stadium, the sheer scale of the production intensified “MDNA”’s defining tone: dark. Here, parts took on a grim grandeur.

As always, the night started with its heaviest section: Madge wielding fire arms, which, at several moments she pointed directly at the audience. This, we call a sign.

While the star may start out singing (or, at least lipsynching) the zippy song “Girl Gone Wild,” the staging soon enough presents a girl gone bloodthirsty. During the next half hour, bullets rained down a video screen, gallons of gore splashed around and many an evil intruder had to be mowed down as sirens wailed and flames rose.

Even the one time Madonna spoke to the audience at length she had a sober “message.” She spoke of touring the world and “seeing people being locked up and put in jail for speaking their minds, for being gay, for not practicing the right religion.”

It inspired in her a renewed patriotism. She said she “realized how lucky I am to be living in America. We’re free.”

Later, she put in a political plug, showing off a mock tattoo on her lower back that read “Obama.”

Of course, the whole show was hardly a singing-dancing representation of Madonna’s angst, philosophy, and leftover anger at ex-husband Guy Ritchie. With pluck, she dolled herself up as the world’s oldest drum majorette in “Express Yourself.”

Here, Madonna took a deserved jab at Lady Gaga by blending her ’90s hit with one by the younger star that rips it off, “Born This Way.”

There was also fun to be had in “Vogue,” which luxuriates in cool poses, and features an updated version of her old conical bra. A display of acrobatic slackline dancing in “Hung Up” gave the show some needed bounce.

Sections of the night still puzzle. Why did she turn a song called “I’m A Sinner” into a hippiesque trip through modern India? And while it was interesting to invert “Like a Virgin” into a sex-weary dirge, what exactly was Madonna trying to say with this?

Then again, at least she’s trying to say something. If, in the process, this often serious-minded show moves Madonna a step too far from the danceable joy of her most recent CDs, at least it has daring on its side. At Yankee Stadium, it got a double dose.

Madonna racked up another career first Thursday night as she became the first woman to headline Yankee Stadium.

“I just want to say it’s an honor for me to be playing Yankee Stadium,” she told the capacity crowd from her massive stage set up in deep centerfield. (She returns for another Yankee Stadium show Saturday.)

And in true Madonna style, she commemorated the event guns blazing — literally. The “MDNA” show, which she rehearsed at Nassau Coliseum throughout May, opens with a great deal of pretend violence and a fictional body count that rivals a Hollywood shoot-em-up, all symbolic, she says, of her own emotional turmoil.

Holiday, celebration — this is not. Madonna gets to a happier place at the end, one filled more with spirituality and personal acceptance than actual partying and, you know, dancing, though there is actual parkour-styled jumping for joy at times. Thursday night’s show was actually much warmer than the tour opener in Philadelphia last week, especially during the lovely “Open Your Heart,” where she was joined onstage by her son, Rocco, and declared “I love you” to the audience.

She also adopted a more political bent, revealing “OBAMA” scrawled on her back and declaring that her world tour made her appreciate American life more. “That doesn’t mean this is a perfect country,” she added. “We have a long way to go. Thank god for Michelle Obama and her good-looking husband too.”

Madonna has set up the “MDNA” tour as a current, artistically challenging work, rather than a nostalgic, greatest-hits package. She keeps moving forward, which may explain how she continues to reach new milestones like conquering Yankee Stadium.

As President Barack Obama accepted his party’s nomination for presidency at last night’s (Sept. 6) Democratic National Convention, Madoanna brought her highly controversial MDNA show to New York’s Yankee Stadium. And of all the messages the pop icon attempted to communicate to the crowd throughout the busy 22-song set, none was so blatantly clear as her endorsement of President Obama for reelection.

“I’m not gonna lie, it’s hot as f–k up here,” a breathless Madonna admitted to the audience of about 40,000. “I’ve been on tour for the last four months traveling around the world and I’ve seen some amazing, beautiful things,” she shared, before promptly adding, “And I’ve seen some scary things. I’ve seen people being locked up and put in jail for speaking their minds, for being gay, for not practicing the right religion, for not dressing the proper way.”

“Yeah, it’s scary,” Madonna confirmed as the audience booed in response to the list of injustices. “But what it made me realize is how lucky I am to be living here in America,” she offered in contrast. “It doesn’t mean that this is the perfect country. We have a long way to go.”

“Thank god for Michelle Obama,” Madonna said, praising the First Lady following her highly popular speech at the DNC earlier this week (Sept. 4).

Madonna went on to tell U.S. concertgoers not to take their freedoms for granted.

After performing her signature song, “Vogue,” and the ultra-sexy “Candy Shop” alongside her shirtless 20-something boyfriend, Brahim Zaibat, Madonna returned to the topic of U.S. politics with 1994′s “Human Nature.”

This is the part in the show where the 54-year-old singer has her exhibitionist moment, choosing between flashing her nipple or mooning the audience. By the song’s end, Madonna slipped her pinstriped pants down half her toned behind, only to pull them back up and announce, “Tonight I’m not going to show my a–. I’m going to show my feelings. How’s that for living dangerously?”

She stripped off her white button-up shirt and turned her back to the audience to reveal “OBAMA,” written in black and all-caps, stamped across her lower back.

On the night of the President’s DNC acceptance speech, Madonna’s endorsement hit a chord. The display solicited sustained cheers from the audience, only rivaled by the screams of joy during the fan favorite “Like a Prayer” later on in the show.

Madonna has Obama’s back. And he’s got his name on hers. We’ll explain.

Last night, while Madonna sang and performed her “MDNA” show for 40,000 fans at New York’s Yankee Stadium, President Obama delivered his DNC speech more than 600 miles away in Charlotte, N.C.

But Madonna revealed her support for the Democratic incumbent during a pared down, slow waltz of her 1984 song, “Like a Virgin.” She had just finished singing “Human Nature,” and with her back to the audience, she nearly bared her bottom in a black thong. Despite cheers from the crowd, the 54-year-old singer said, “Tonight, I’m not going to show you my a–. I’m going to show you my feelings.” She removed a black fishnet around her torso to show the word, “OBAMA,” written in large letters across her back.

During the international MDNA tour, Madonna has used her back to display other words or phrases, such as “NO FEAR,” and has expressed her support for local issues such as free speech rights for Russian band Pussy Riot, and gay rights. (In the latter instance, Russian activists filed a lawsuit against the singer, claiming they were offended by her comments.)

Midway through her set, Madonna told the crowd, “New York, you are one hot audience. It’s an honor to play in Yankee Stadium, to play here in New York City first and to reach so many of my fans who have been so supportive of me throughout the years.”

She then said that while on tour for the last four months, she’s seen “amazing things” but also “scary things,” mentioning the Pussy Riot conviction as well as lack of gay rights and religious freedoms. “It made me realize how lucky I am to be living in America. Thank God for Michelle Obama and her good-looking husband too. We are free. Do not, do not, do not take this freedom for granted because if you do for one second, you will lose it.”

Her comments drew mostly cheers from the stadium, but some weren’t amused. “Stop talking, keep singing,” one woman yelled, and when Madonna said she wouldn’t show her naked bottom and instead revealed “OBAMA” on her back, another fan cried out, “I’d rather see your a–.”

Gun-toting vixens. Blood-spattered motel rooms. Point-blank executions. Acrobatic militiamen. Gratuitous cleavage shots. No, this isn’t a scene-by-scene breakdown of a new Quentin Tarantino movie, it’s the first half an hour of Madonna’s new live show which blazed into Yankee Stadium on Thursday night (and will be reprised Saturday night).

The shock-and-awe tactics have been a staple of her 30-year career, but right now they seem to be an especially savvy move. Madonna’s latest album, “MDNA,” (released in March) was heavy on dance dynamics but light on killer pop hooks, and that imbalance has resulted in sluggish sales by her standards.

Not that it mattered one iota during the opening segment on Thursday because the extravagant sets, fantastically choreographed routines and the mini-movies projected on the stage screens were enough to divert attention away from the limp Euro-disco of “Girl Gone Wild” and the unconvincing dubstep influence that underscores “Gang Bang” — both of “MDNA.”

While those half-baked attempts to contemporize as a musician have fallen flat, Madonna’s show remains a master class in performance and spectacle. Song-and-dance routines were a given, but the 54-year-old also pulled off a range of physically staggering party tricks including an extended fight sequence and a melodramatic walk across a tightrope. During a tongue-in-cheek piano-ballad version of “Like a Virgin,” she also spent several minutes writhing across the stage like a mortally wounded femme fatale. Whatever Madge is paying her personal trainer, it simply isn’t enough.

There were moments where her cultural-chameleon act adopted some more absurd shades. “I’m a Sinner” in particular made an utterly perplexing transition from “MDNA” filler track to a faux-Indian hippie jam, complete with sitar twangs and Sanskrit chanting. It’s the sort of thing that only a college kid returning from a gap year in Goa would have found interesting. For the rest of us, the bathroom felt like the less nauseating option.

But those dud moments were few, and it would have taken a lot more of them to truly spoil Madonna’s homecoming. She may have decamped to London and taken on an air of refinement in recent times, but there’s a smart-ass New Yorker still bubbling under the surface, and The Bronx responded ecstatically to those glimpses of the Ciccone sass. During “Express Yourself,” she couldn’t resist issuing a sly smack down to Lady Gaga by seamlessly incorporating a chorus of “Born This Way” to illustrate the melodic similarities, and adapted the lyrics to include the line “she’s not me” for good measure.

But the cheekiest moment of the night undoubtedly came when dear old Madge began to strip to the sound of “Human Nature.” With the stadium’s attention fully focused on her barely covered behind, she used the moment to get political. “I’m not gonna show you my ass tonight — I’m gonna show you my feelings,” she explained dryly, before completing the strip by revealing a badly scrawled “Obama” tattoo on her back.

Subtlety is not a strong point, but, as she has continually proved, being a pop icon is all about the grand gestures. And, after all this time, Madonna’s are still the grandest of all.

As the subway moved north through Manhattan on its way to Yankee Stadium on Thursday night, each stop brought a new influx of grown women dressed as Madonna. At 14th Street, it was a pack of out-of-towners in fishnets and O-ring bracelets. A bowler-hat-and-suspe?nders, “Who’s That Girl”-era fan boarded at 86th Street. All the way to the Bronx, hair bows were adjusted, lacy fingerless gloves pulled on.

You have to wonder what these aging Madonna-wannabes made of the stop that the MDNA Tour made at the “House that Ruth Built,” the first of two appearances in the city that launched the star. The almost two-hour long show was high on concept, low on hits, as much art piece as pop spectacle — ambitious, impeccably staged, and sporadically satisfying.

Madonna has described this concert as “the journey of a soul from dark to light,” but the construction is more like a broad-stroke ballet narrative than a Broadway musical. After opening with the ringing of church bells and a recorded confession, the music began with “Girl Gone Wild,” in which she presented the first segment’s theme, “I know I shouldn’t act this way.”

This set is the “controversial” portion of the night; Madonna toted a gun and racked up a gory body count during the first three songs, at one point blasting while perched on a cross; it’s a device that feels both cheap and repetitive. She confronts her guilt in an abbreviated and slowed-down “Papa Don’t Preach,” and is then captured and punished in an ominous version of “Hung Up” that pulled out the song’s latent themes of obsession and isolation.

The far more entertaining second act concentrated on the idea of salvation through personal expression — beginning with Madonna twirling a baton and leading a group of majorettes and a drumline through “Express Yourself” (with a sly snippet of Lady Gaga’s sound-alike “Born This Way” tossed in). After bringing out a trio of Basque musicians known as Kalakan, she delivered a pretty, mostly acoustic rendition of “Open Your Heart,” raising the question of whether she might not be better served at this stage of her career exploring global sounds and less-familiar pathways rather than glomming on to the hottest names in electronic dance music.

The final section revealed Madonna delving into her sexuality (“Vogue”—brought back to the uptown New York City home of the original voguing houses—“Candy Shop” and “Human Nature”), before ultimately embracing the contradictions within herself (“I’m Addicted,” “I’m a Sinner”) and sharing her bliss with the crowd in an ecstatic “Like a Prayer.” The deep red lighting and dark costumes of the early songs had given way to bright-colored outfits and white light, and the stadium full of middle-aged women and gay men was thrilled to finally get the release they had been waiting for all night.

The major set pieces in the production are stunning, from dancers bouncing on slack lines to a drum corps suspended in air, but some of the smaller moments — a dancer crawling backward down steps, Madonna moving in front of a series of mirrors — created images at least as memorable. On many of the songs, the vocals are too electronically manipulated to know (or, really, to care) how much Madonna is actually singing; in the moments when her live voice was apparent, it often sounded a bit nasal and struggling for breath.

The real problem with the MDNA show, though, is the material. Almost half of the evening’s songs come from the mediocre new album that gives the tour its name. It’s perfectly reasonable that Madonna doesn’t feel obligated to perform “Lucky Star” or “Into the Groove” at this point, but the absence of any selections from a great later album like “Ray of Light” is harder to understand.

The Yankee Stadium show fell on the same night as President Obama’s speech accepting his nomination, an event Madonna alluded to several times; in the partial striptease during “Human Nature,” she displayed a large back tattoo reading “Obama,” and earlier, during a speech celebrating “how lucky we are to live in America,” she said, “Thank God for Michelle Obama, and her good-looking husband, too.”

The evening’s most powerful moment, though, was not fully scripted. During a powerful, almost uncomfortably intimate re-arrangement of “Like a Virgin,” which slowed the song to a spare, waltz-time crawl, Madonna lay on the floor, murmuring the lyrics into a microphone beside her head. Visible behind her was a sign, held aloft by someone in the crowd, reading “Madonna Saved My Life.” In its finest moments, if not often enough, Thursday night’s show proved that at her best, she is still capable of this kind of provocation and power.

In a “manifesto” about her latest tour, Madonna insists that the guns and violence that open the show are metaphors. “When you watch a film there are usually good guys and bad guys…Sometimes I play both.” That last admission is an edifying one for an artist whose image has so often been taken at face value by both the media and the public. Duality—good and bad, light and dark, masculinity and femininity, freedom and confinement—has been a running theme throughout Madonna’s 30-year career, and for better or worse, her MDNA Tour pushes it to the extreme.

The show opens with some kind of Mephistophelean ritual, with Madonna—dressed as a lip-synching jihadist turned Russ Meyer heroine—revealed inside a giant confessional. The violence, she’ll tell you, is cathartic, an expression of aggression aimed at the church, society, and her ex-husband. The highlight is “Gang Bang,” an ostensible stage imagining of the much-talked-about Tarantino music video that will probably never happen, but the inclusion of an abbreviated version of “Papa Don’t Preach” is dubious (a statement about the recent attacks on women’s rights?) and, as Madonna’s reinvention of the song both here and during her comparatively underwhelming Sticky & Sweet Tour prove, “Hung Up” (also out of place in this segment) should never be performed in any way other than its original form.

But, as has been the case for about a decade now, you have to take your medicine before getting to the “good stuff” at a Madonna concert, and after the dark, macabre first segment, the audience is instructed to express themselves, give her all their luvin’, turn up the radio, and open their hearts. A mash-up of “Express Yourself” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is ambiguous enough to play as homage, but the animation projected on the giant video screens that loom over the stage takes deliberate shots at Gaga, with “little monsters” gobbling up canned goods emblazoned with images of Madge’s iconic cone bra and pony tail as well as David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane lightning bolt. As Bill Clinton said during his speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, it takes brass to attack someone for something you’ve done, but Madonna, famous for appropriating other artists’ work, has always been the brassiest of them all.

While the apogee of 2006′s Confessions Tour was the final disco segment, this show’s creative climax comes prematurely, during the “Masculine/Feminine” segment. Rather than paying homage to Godard, though, it’s a tribute to Madonna’s own sexual personae, from “Like a Virgin,” reinvented yet again, this time as a piano waltz, to the non-apologia “Human Nature,” which is simply but cleverly staged as a hall of mirrors, to “Candy Shop,” which finally gets a desperately needed makeover. “Like a Virgin” turns Madonna’s infamous sexual agency on its head, a male dancer tenderly wrapping a corset around her waist as she weeps before tightening the strings until she can barely sing. Through it all, Madonna gives one of her best, most vulnerable vocal performances to date.

Over-the-top spectacle largely triumphs, though, so moments like that, as well as “Open Your Heart,” performed acoustically along with Basque trio Kalakan’s “Sagarra Jo,” and a rousing performance of “Like a Prayer,” which had nearly all of Yankee Stadium clapping and singing by song’s end, are welcome reminders that, for both Madonna and her fans, it always comes back to the music.

Thanks to everyone who shared their material!