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“Bang, bang/Shot you dead/And I have no regret,” she whispered above the droning beat. The high-def bloodbath drew several cheers from Wednesday’s sold-out crowd at Toyota Center.
And there’s more. She’s political! She does too many new songs! She supports gay rights! And feminist punk band Pussy Riot!
“What’s the matter, you don’t like my (butt)?” Madonna asked after a striptease to “Human Nature” revealed “Obama” stamped across the small of her back and drew a smattering of boos. (Cheers eventually won out.)
“Don’t take democracy for granted,” she told the crowd. “I keep saying this, and I’m gonna say this everywhere I go. We need to appreciate what we have. I don’t care who you vote for. Just vote.”
But most unforgivable (at least to those who haven’t attended a single show) is the start time. Madonna took the stage about 10:45 p.m. Late, to be sure, but hardly unusual if you’ve seen her on recent tours. DJ/producer Martin Solveig opened the show and was joined by David, Madonna’s youngest son. Few people seemed to mind the wait.
In fact, it was fun to watch the parade of pre-show fashions: pink and purple wigs, “Virgin”-era bangles and bows, feathered headdresses, leather harnesses, even sequined football shoulder pads. There were sparkles and tight pants and lots of makeup (much of it on the boys). More than 2 million fans will have seen the tour by the time it wraps in South America, and the party atmosphere only adds to the luster.
The show opened amid a swirl of smoke and chants, dancers dressed as monks and gargoyles congregating around a giant thurible. Madonna appeared, gun in tow, moving to the slinky electro strains of “Girl Gone Wild.” Risers went up and down. Images flashed on the screen. And then, the violence, which segued into an equally ominous segment featuring “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Hung Up.” But it was less real life and more Russ Myers, with Madonna as the perfectly coiffed heroine/villainess in leather.
She looked fit and danced hard, often in heels, through almost every number. The show is designed to pop at every angle, with almost no lag time between numbers. A harrowing video montage set to “Nobody Knows Me” (from the “American Life” album) featured dedications to gay teens driven to suicide by bullying, including Asher Brown, who attended Hamilton Middle School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.
Plenty of lesser pop tarts have passed through the same venue, but none wield Madonna’s nervy mix of confidence, charisma and attitude.
In many ways, the MDNA Tour is a study in contrasts. The feverish opening gave way to a jubilant, joyous sequence that included a clever mash-up of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and “She’s Not Me” with Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” (Cattiness is a diva prerequisite, especially with such an obvious swipe.)
Majorette Madonna was joined by a thundering drum corps, onstage and suspended in midair, during “Give Me All Your Luvin,’ ” and it was impossible not to be swept up in the exquisite staging.
Basque folk trio Kalakan brought a gypsy flair to “Open Your Heart,” which featured a cameo from Madonna’s 12-year-old son Rocco; and “Masterpiece,” the show’s only true ballad, was a heartfelt highlight. “Vogue,” still pop perfection, was left virtually untouched. But “Like a Virgin” was reworked into a mournful waltz.
The final stretch was full-on pop majesty, from the thundering disco of “I’m Addicted” to the house-lights-up, tent-revival-frenzy, thousand-voice-chorus of “Like a Prayer.” Show closer “Celebration” was just that – a fizzy cap to an evening of love, death, redemption and free-to-be expression.
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