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Mind you, that is not to say the frenetic, overheated aerobic eye-popper was the concert of the year. The Madonna oeuvre has very little to do with musicianship, songcraft or art – at least not in the conventional sense. Nor is she a great singer.
For almost 30 years, our Madge has been making serviceable pop records, some of the best-loved of which were mixed into a set heavy on songs from her latest disc, MDNA, during Thursday’s two-hour extravaganza.
When you strip away the hoopla surrounding her various guises, her once-daring sexual envelope-pushing, her celebration of her celebrity and her bad-Catholic girl pose, what’s left? An entertainer who, admittedly, outdoes all her imitators and progeny when it comes to dancefloor pop – a point made clear when she slyly incorporated Lady Gaga’s Born This Way into Express Yourself.
And such hits as Like a Prayer, sung near the end of the set, might even have been a religious experience for some 16,000 adoring fans who had stood up, sang and shouted their approval almost non-stop all evening.
Even so, from the opening moments of her set (which started only at 10:15), the primacy of the presentation was clear: dancers, clad as monks, rang a bell and swung an incense-filled censer before Madonna descended in a confessional to open the show with Girl Gone Wild.
Before you could say “abrupt left turn,” however, the singer and her dancers were packing heat. Aggressors were shot during Revolver, at the end of which Madonna aimed her gun right into the audience (wonder how that will play when she does the show in Denver, Colorado, in October?).
As the singer continued on her revenge rampage – possibly making an artistic point, but not with any clarity – blood spattered all over the back screen during Gang Bang. Repeatedly. The audience cheered and fists were raised in the air. Chillingly.
After that, it became impossible to keep up with the sheer madness happening on the elaborate stage, with its two catwalks converging at a point deep into the audience on the floor. Slackline athletes, up to 20 dancers on stage at some points, costume changes, video links with remixes, Autotune, a “Free Pussy Riot” chant, segmented platforms raising up and down as the performers negotiated their footing … it was hard to take it all in. Rarely did Madonna dial it down to simply deliver a song, as she almost did, quite effectively, during Papa Don’t Preach.
Nonetheless, the superstar’s virtually continuous motion was absolutely astonishing for a 54-year-old performer, and certainly enough to put wannabes half her age to shame. The forceful nature of her movements, however, did raise curiosity about how the vocals continued to sound so smooth.
In the end, the clubby backbeat made the quality of the tunes beside the point – as did the hard-to-debate idea that this was, more than anything else, a pop spectacle no act would want to follow. But like a meal consisting entirely of sundaes, it became numbingly hard to consume after a while.
As midnight went by and she closed the night with the DJ motif of a high-energy version of Celebration, you had to look hard for signs of fatigue on Madonna’s face. And the fans? They could have stayed all night.
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