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That Madonna can turn the situation around soon after the music starts is testimony to just how much presence she brings to the room. The first song is new “Girl Gone Wild,” but it comes with that old feeling, the sexy dancers, the costumes, the irreverence, and it gives people what they paid for in minutes. She looks great, of course, in tight, black everything.
It was nonstop from there, and full of moments stupid and amusing at the same time. Madonna dressed like a majorette for “Turn Up the Radio” “Express Yourself,” Madonna turning “Open Your Heart” into a village folk dance, Madonna dancing with guns and shooting up bad guys during “Revolver.” It was a bloody scene, particularly tasteless in Colorado these days, but all cartoon; if folks got upset, they were supposed to.
Audiences got a mix of what they expected. Pointy bras and drag queens doing “Vogue;” dancers in gas masks and graveyards. A gospel choir appeared for “Like a Prayer.” AccuWeather could have predicted that one.
But there were nice surprises, too. A slowed-down, bass-pumped “Human Nature” made a decent song better. “Like a Virgin” arrived as a waltz, with only a pianist and violinist as backup. Madonna made an overly sincere, non-partisan plea for people to vote, but then turned the moment slinky and revealing by showing off an “Obama” tattoo on her back. There were cheers and some boos.
The singing was what it was, but the dancing wowed. The sets, scenes, lights and projections were as good as these things get. Everything reached its peak at the end during “I’m a Sinner.” With the help of bouncing, hydraulic boxes and projections, the stage suddenly morphed into three trains barreling down a track. Dancers hopped, rolled and flung across the moving cars.
In the middle of the action was Madonna. She might have showed up late, but she showed up big. At 54, packing the Pepsi Center. Frozen for sure, but still hot.
Madonna: Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Madonna has always, and yes I do mean always, been out to stir up controversy. Whether it’s pissing off Catholics, prudes, gun control fanatics, or whatever, she leaves no stone unturned and is an equal opportunity offender. I mean Rolling Stone called her “the most consistently controversial pop start since Elvis Presley” for God’s sake. Why am I saying this? Because it stunned me as I listened to the radio and read reports of the show on Friday morning, how many people were angry or shocked, and in one comment I read, driven to walk out of this show last week because Madonna was too “offensive.” Really? You pay that kind of money for a ticket and don’t know what you are getting yourself into, shame on you.
Remember that this is the same woman who made out with Brittany Spears on National Television, burned crosses in her video for “Like A Prayer,” dropped the F-bomb 13 times in a live interview with David Letterman, and even mailed the late night host a pair of her underwear and requested he smell them on the air. The list goes on, and on, and on. What’s to stop her now? A shooting in Colorado? A pissed off French political party? Judging from her history, I think not.
For those of you who were offended by her use of fake guns shortly after she appeared on stage at The Pepsi Center, I hope you aren’t arrogant enough to think that was just to piss us off here in Colorado. That is an element of the show that was first rehearsed way back in February, long before the tragic mass murder in Aurora, and it’s been a part of her show for the entire tour. It’s simply not feasible to remove a major element of a show like this for one city (shocker: yes, it’s nearly the same show in every city around the world). Now, I’m not saying I particularly enjoyed that part of the show, or agreed with her use of guns and bloody imagery, but I saw it for what it was, a part of a show . . . and a very well choreographed and performed part at that.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on to the rest of the night which was nothing short of sensational. Sure, she came out a bit late (40 minutes according to the production schedule I got, and not the 2 hours and fourty minutes some outlets were reporting. Remember that there was an opener and a set change to account for) but, again, it’s Madonna, and she knows she’s worth waiting for . . . and she’s right. From the get-go everything was larger than life. A giant bell and thurible (incense burner) were on display before the Material Girl took the stage to open with “Girl Gone Wild” and the massive walls of LED panels at the rear of the stage made it feel like were deep inside a massive cathedral. It was simply awesome.
While it’s true the show was fairly heavy on songs from her recent MDNA album, Madonna did not leave her fans starving for the hits. She dropped explosive versions of “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Hung Up” early in the set that kept the energy in the arena high and featured some amazing slackline performances. A little later she emerged dressed a majorette with nine drummers on-stage, and another nine suspended high above the stage, for “Express Yourself” (Editor’s Note: This is the section of the show the photos included with this article are from) and people around the arena were slack-jawed and stunned by the sheer enormity of the production value as Madonna paraded around stage singing her heart out. On that note, despite all the controversy surrounding her Super Bowl performance, I’ve got to say that the few times I really looked for it, she seemed to be singing most, if not all of the songs, live. Sure there may have been a vocal track mixed in, but she sounded great to me from the floor only a few rows back from the top of the catwalk.
I will admit that I don’t often go to Pop shows of this nature, and to not see a band front and center was a little bit strange for me, but with everything else that was going up there I can’t say I missed the musicians too much as they lurked in the shadows in the back corners of the massive stage. For her part, Madonna did pick up a guitar for a few tunes, but this show isn’t really about the band or guitar heroics. It’s about the spectacle and with Cirque Du Soleil style acrobats performing stunts that could qualify them for the Olympics, and Madonna herself dropping her pants during “Express Yourself” to reveal her shapely ass, thong, and an “Obama” tattoo on her lower back, she provided every bit of the spectacle that I could have hoped for.
As she wove crowd pleasers like “Open Your Heart” and “Vogue” around newer tunes like “Masterpiece” and “Turn Up The Radio,” the show seemed almost perfectly paced with the slower moments coming only as a much needed break from the dance floor smashes. Musically, the one true surprise of the show came in the form of a radically re-arranged version of “Like A Virgin” that featured a leather and lace clad Madonna writhing sensuously on the floor at the end of the catwalk and draping herself all over the piano that was providing her only accompaniment. It was different, but it worked.
In true showstopping fashion, the show saved the two biggest numbers for last. A Gospel choir appeared to bolster “Like A Prayer” and the result was a truly epic performance of one of the biggest songs in Madonna’s monster catalog that had the entire arena singing along with every word. It’s a moment that I won’t soon forget and while I though the relatively new “Celebration” was a strange choice for a closer, the upbeat, EDM influenced track featured some of the best lights of the night and the full cast of the show dancing together on stage as beams of light probed the corners of the room. It was a true celebration and a great way to close one of the most impressive concerts I have ever experienced.
Stage Presence: A
Set / Light show: A+
Overall : A
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