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When she finally did take the Rogers Arena stage – at 10: 21 p.m. on the first of her two-night stand in Vancouver – the singer came out swinging like someone half her age.
The 54-year-old made her entrance from the back of the stage on a covered riser made to look like a sheik’s tent.
Clad in black catsuit carrying a gun (she was all over that Second Amendment right during the show), she joined a lot of buff monks (you don’t get to type that very often) and contortionists dressed as gargoyles on pedestals in front of a big cathedral-type structure while Gregorian chanting filled the stadium.
The stage then turned into a system of rising levels that elevated Madonna and her hot boys as she delivered Girl Gone Wild, while the world apparently came to an end on the video screens around her.
Next up was more gunplay on the catwalk with Revolver, with help from Lil Wayne on the screens.
Wham! Then Madonna really hit lift off with the violent Gang Bang.
In this mini-story, multimillionaire Madonna moves into a seedy motel room to chug booze and shoot bad guys, then ride their dead bodies like only she can.
After yelling, “Die bitch!” over and over again as she killed yet another guy, she threw away her gun and launched into a weirdly ritualistic medley of Papa Don’t Preach and Hung Up.
Yes, MDNA Madonna is a mean mother-you-know-what and she’s not afraid to let you know that.
But you know what? Despite coming with heady topics like sex, love, violence, repression and religion, Madonna’s music really doesn’t require any heavy lifting.
In fact, the only heavy lifting here is the iron Madonna’s obviously pumped to turn her body into a lean, mean (duh, it’s Madonna) pop-star machine.
While each song was a giant production number with enough hoopla and pizzazz to make Flo Ziegfeld (kids, look it up) giddy, you couldn’t help but notice the woman at the centre of the circus.
From my seat, her Madgesty didn’t look like a middle-aged mother of four. More like a 20-something guy in high heels with arms as taut as handrail tubing, a butt you could bounce a quarter off and legs so chiselled that the words Jiminy Cricket kept coming to mind.
I know. Why all this talk about how Madonna looks? Well, honestly, were we going to dig deep into the set list and analyze the songs, half of which were from the new MDNA album and the rest from her 30-year career?
What’s the point? The songs are meant for a club, or a hair salon, or a road trip to a fashion outlet mall – not for deep deconstruction.
Did I mention how hard this woman works on stage?
The Material Girl’s backdrop on this tour is sheer madness.
There were up to 20 dancers on the stage at some points. There was a drum corps dangling from the ceiling, huge catwalks out into the audience, numerous costume changes, crazy trains and, of course, the mandatory strip tease.
Madonna, in her tour manifesto (not kidding), describes the show as “the journey of a soul from dark-ness to light.”
But in the end, Madonna, quite simply, equals pop spectacle – big pop spectacle.
She is not a great singer and I’m not sure why she even picked up that black Les Paul guitar and strummed it weakly through Turn On The Radio. It somehow looked weird on her (and this is a woman who can pull off a conical bra).
But missteps aside, including the obvious lip syncing (you try running on the spot for five minutes and singing without sounding like a spinning class instructor), the show was a hit with those who matter – the thousands who waited hours (well, it gave them plenty of time to buy $45 T-shirts and DVDs of Madonna’s WE movie) for the singer to hit the stage and dole out one leaner, and really way meaner, Madonna.
Madge’s Vancouver concert Saturday night was a testament to the 54-year-old’s outlandish sense of self, a grandiose, overblown spectacle that was less about the pop superstar’s music than it was about Madonna herself.
Besieged on all sides by rising pop icons looking to claim her crown, Madonna has steadfastly refused to back down and take the easy way out (ie. “play the hits”), constantly looking to reinvent herself. This never-ending quest to defend her stronghold has given us the maligned MDNA, a hodge-podge of a pop album that borrowed heavily from Madonna’s past, doused in a 2012 EDM sauce. (French DJ Martin Solveig, who assisted in producing the album, was the opener Saturday night.)
The same could be said of her concert, where some of her older material was barely recognizable (Like A Virgin transformed into a piano-driven dirge, for example), most of it flanked by cuts from MDNA and baked into a two-hour show with a loose storyline based on themes like “transgression,” “prophecy,” “masculine/feminine,” and “celebration.”
In a nutshell: Madonna celebrates Madonna, with all the latest technological trimmings and choreographed/cinematic tips of the hat to everyone and everything from Quentin Tarantino to CSI and the Super Bowl.
The concept didn’t always work and the first segment was so dance- and Auto-Tune-driven that the Queen of Pop’s microphone sometimes seemed superfluous (though to her credit, Madonna seemed to sing a good chunk of her material live), but what the ears sometimes failed to get in the form of classic songs, the eyes got in spades in terms of presentation.
Kicking off with a Gregorian chant and more religious overtones than a trip to St. Peter’s, Madonna quickly proved she still has the moves, leading her stellar group of dancers into guns-blazing renditions of Revolver and Gang Bang, with Madge putting a bunch of imaginary bullets into her crew.
Madge didn’t hesitate to throw a few barbs at Lady Gaga, mashing Born This Way into Express Yourself and repeating, “She’s not me!”
As Nicki Minaj said in her guest appearance on the stage’s massive LED screen during I Don’t Give A, “There’s only one Queen and that’s Madonna.”
Based solely on presentation, Lady Gaga has her work cut out: A floating drumline and cheerleaders galore during Give Me All Your Luvin’, a stage made of multiple square, LED-lined platforms rising and falling, acrobatics and costume design worthy of Cirque du Soleil, giant props including chandeliers and huge moving mirrors, it was all cutting-edge and state-of-the-art.
“I hope you can appreciate how hard we’re working up here,” Madonna said between re-imagined versions of Open Your Heart and Holiday, though she mercilessly teased a fan that didn’t know the words to her song.
“You’re wearing a T-shirt that says Open Your Heart and you don’t know the words to the song? What the f—?”
But the sold out crowd ate most of it up with glee, especially when Madonna stuck to more faithful versions of her material, the classic self-indulgence of Vogue coming out in vintage black-and-white fashion photo-shoot style.
For all the controversy Madonna has generated on this tour so far — the concert’s violent imagery offending in the Middle East, the swastika overlayed atop politician Marine Le Pen’s photo irking many in France, sarcastically calling Barack Obama a “Black Muslim” in the U.S., drawing the ire of the Russian church for promoting gay rights and backing punk rock band Pussy Riot — the most shocking thing for many may have simply been the price of admission (up to $375 per ticket), which bordered on the sacrilegious.
When the concert finally culminated on a jubilant note with I’m Addicted, the Bollywood-inflected I’m A Sinner, ending with fan favourite Like A Prayer (complete with gospel choir) and Celebration, there was no doubt Madonna still had a firm grip on her pop crown.
Thanks to everyone who shared their material!
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