OK, we give. U-u-uncllle! We're entertained! We're entertained! Madonna, you're the bomb.
Now, what the heck was that all about?
We've seen theatrical concerts before -- from awesome (the Rolling Stones and Cher) to awful (Britney Spears) -- but Madonna, on the Re-Invention Tour, seems determined to top them all in sheer spectacle even if the 105-minute extravaganza doesn't cohere into a clear theme. The 45-year-old pop icon even sang live (quite well, too) while on the move. Please note that these are two simultaneous actions that, sadly, don't go hand-in-hand these days among younger pop stars.
The tour -- boasting 21 songs, from 1982's Burning Up, reimagined as a new wave rocker, to 2003's sublime ballad Nothing Fails -- is one of the few moneymakers in a sorry summer season, and it opened in South Florida Wednesday night at Sunrise's Office Depot Center. She has three shows to go -- tonight in Sunrise and Sunday and Monday at Miami's American Airlines Arena.
It's a feat of technical derring-do. Madonna managed to fill her ample stage with a skateboarder, a tap dancer, a trapeze troupe and sermons on Kabbalah and the Iraq war (Bush is bad, we get it.)
Want more? Try military drills with Madonna clad as a Patty Hearst-like figure in camouflage fatigues for Express Yourself. Videos flashing images of war and a goofy President Bush look-alike cuddling with a Saddam Hussein character; and gorgeous video screens masquerading as art installations. Broadway and Cirque du Soleil? Consider yourselves beaten into submission.
Like Madonna's embarrassing rap in American Life, none of it makes much sense. But like a massive ice-cream sundae with whipped cream, nuts, chocolate and caramel sauces, and a cherry atop, the Re-Invention Tour is the ultimate guilty pleasure but it's also a load of empty calories.
Fun? You bet, most of the time. Madonna has an enviable body of pop hits spread over 20 years, and, for a change, she performed a good number of them as opposed to 2001's pretentious Drowned World Tour. But she obviously didn't think fans who paid $300 for a top ticket would be happy just to hear oldies like Material Girl -- smartly reinvented with a rock guitar edge -- Vogue or Like A Prayer unless they got a show.
As pop music, this was great stuff. Unfortunately, Madonna, the dominatrix of reinvention, has always been suspect when she gets into a groove about her cause du jour. The Kabbalah imagery was overbearing. Madonna don't preach!
Her anti-war clips also trivialized the issue and felt about a year too late. At the time of the Iraq invasion, Madonna pulled her anti-Bush American Life video after seeing what happened to the Dixie Chicks who found their records yanked off the air after the country trio's lead singer criticized the commander in chief.
Now that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is a box-office smash and support for the war is wavering, Madonna goes whole-hog political on stage. Madonna, a mother of two, is no longer Madonna the brave.
Madonna has spent the past 20 years looking at herself for a living. That she still likes what she sees, professionally speaking, is remarkable, since few among us don't occasionally tire of the face staring back in the mirror. Narcissism has been very good to Madonna, and she to it.
The Re-Invention Tour that brought her to a sold-out Office Depot Center on Wednesday night offered clues as to how Madonna stays fascinated and in the process keeps the rest of us entranced.
The trick appears to be to keep everything changing, everything in constant motion. The Re-Invention stage production did exactly that, balancing and juggling numerous visual and acoustical elements, as Madonna rolled out a battery of selves.
"I've had so many lives," she sang on the dance-floor track Nobody Knows Me, her voice a filtered, robotic ripple. She would spend the 90-minute, 24-song set revisiting several of those lives. With a band and multiple dancers, Madonna posed and juxtaposed her way through history -- hers.
After a fully re-mixed version of her old stand-by, Vogue, and a less-altered take on the graceful ballad Frozen, she expanded on the anti-war chic of her recent single and video, American Life. Pvt. Madonna stepped out in Army fatigues with a chorus of dancers dressed as troops, a sheik, a nun, an Afghan woman in a racy mini-burka. Footage of wartime death and wounding flashed across the screen in a way that made the line between principled opposition and showbiz exploitation hard to divine.
That number handed off to the more durable single, Express Yourself, which became one of the show's most witty and entertaining collisions of multiple Madonnas. She stayed in the fatigues, doing rifle drills, while the band gave the song a compressed, techno workout, and the war footage turned to military cartoon graphics. It could almost have passed for a U.S.O. routine, except for not-so-veiled dig at war as self-expression.
Vocally, Madonna was in fine, flexible form, able to summon the excitement in Burning Up, the vampy humor of Hanky Panky -- a Bette Midler moment if ever Madonna had one -- and the pleading affection of Like A Prayer. Her interaction with the production was never anything less than confident and assured -- although the Moulin-Rouge-dressing-room getup in which she opened the show looked a bit scruffy against a sharp, sleek video tableau.
The choreography, both of dancers and of projected visuals, was energizing and erotic in a playfully grown-up way that would never occur to Britney Spears.
If Madonna, reinvented, has also evolved, it would be from a champion of sex to an advocate for love. Songs from the newer albums Ray Of Light, Music and American Life speak often of love's saving power, and to the extent they deal in sex it's as an expression of love.
As if to herald this progress, Madonna covered John Lennon's Imagine near the end of the evening. No doubt she is already imagining the next version of herself.
Nobody knows me, Madonna sings on her latest CD, the second song she'll perform during her four-night stop in South Florida on her successful Re-Invention Tour. Nobody Knows Me. And she's puzzled by this? It's amazing even Madonna can keep track of all the personas she has inhabited. Eighties Material Girl in thrift-shop couture. A lipstick lesbian named Dita. Evita. Mama Madonna. Faux English aristocrat. Suburban Jewish mother named... Esther. It's not an official she's-got-it-on-her-driver's-license name, naturally. But, as an outspoken follower of the Jewish mystical teachings known as Kabbalah, Madonna reportedly identifies with Esther, the biblical woman who saved the Jews from annihilation. Madonna may be Esther to her fellow Kabbalists, but she's not foolish enough to risk career annihilation by changing the brand name you'll see at tonight and Thursday's two-hour career retrospective concerts at Sunrise's Office Depot Center, or the two AmericanAirlines Arena shows Sunday and Monday nights in Miami. The stub reads "Madonna", and the show celebrates what that iconic name has meant for 20 years by dusting off many of Madonna's greatest hits. Since Madonna is in the mood to look back, we can't resist doing the same. Spoiler alert: We're going to reveal which hits from each period Madonna plans to perform this week.
• The Material Girl. Teased dirty blond hair, Boy Toy belt buckle, midriff-baring top revealing a soft-bellied, pre-yoga Madonna, exposed bra straps. The image that cemented her arrival was that white wedding dress she wore while writhing on the stage and chirping Like A Virgin on MTV's inaugural Video Music Awards program in 1984.
Songs you'll hear: Burning Up, Holiday, Material Girl, Crazy For You, Into The Groove.
• Platinum blond. Madonna as Marilyn Monroe. When she ditched husband Sean Penn, she even took up with John F. Kennedy Jr. for a brief fling.
Song: Papa Don't Preach.
• The brunet artiste. For 1989's Like A Prayer, a dark-haired Madonna went deeper, focusing on family, her failed marriage, social issues and the loss of her mother.
Songs: Like A Prayer, Express Yourself.
• Saint Evita. Following Sex, Madonna finally landed the movie role she was born to play: Evita Peron. She was hiding a secret, however. Madonna was pregnant with her first child during filming. The birth would have Madonna in mommy mode, claiming she was more spiritual and less selfish. So how does this explain those $300 concert tickets?
Songs: Lament (from Evita), Frozen.
• Country girl. The cover of her 2000 technopop CD, Music, featured Madonna in a designer cowboy hat. On the Drowned World Tour, she rode a mechanical bull. When not in cowgirl clothes, she was donning geisha outfits.
Songs: Music, Don't Tell Me.
Quicker than you can say Kaballah, it is clear: Seeing Madonna is a religious experience. From the "Madonna is my homegirl" T-shirts on sale (it better be religious to charge $40 for a T-shirt) to the Hebrew letters emblazoned on the giant screens, Madonna turned 20 years of musical milestones into a 2004 coming-of-age show that held true to its bill as The Re-Invention Tour Wednesday night at the Office Depot Center.
She showed up with 18 semi trailers of equipment, a record for the center, and will return to the stage there tonight before heading to American Airlines Arena Sunday and Monday.
To answer the ever-present question also available on a T-shirt: "What would Madonna Do?" The answer is this: She sang ballads with a voice she didn't have when the songs were first released and danced at the same time.
Let me repeat that: Madonna can sing.
Before singing Material Girl, she announced, "OK people. We're gonna take a trip down memory lane."
But she wasn't exactly right. The old songs took on a new sound that seemed more fitting to the more mature Madonna. She turned Frozen into a surprisingly beautiful ballad. She sang John Lennon's Imagine with clarity. She dropped some of the cold demeanor she's known for and actually smiled during Don't Tell Me. And she even went so far as to thank her fans before heading into a slow-dance inducing Crazy For You. "This song is dedicated to all of you who stuck with me the past 20 years," she said.
If the question is "What would Madonna wear?" it is a "Kabbalists do it better" T-shirt that she threw into the audience.
And if the question is "What has Madonna worn?" check the audience. There were women in veils reminiscent of Like A Virgin (she didn't play it). There were people in studded belts and lace skirts and purple gloves and cowboy hats and more.
The opening line of the $30 program for the tour intones, "There is nothing new under the sun."
For as many times as Madonna has resurfaced anew, is that really true?
After a dancing Arab and skateboarders zooming around a half-pipe and $300 tickets, we have to ask: What's next?
Perhaps it's in the closing message to the audience: Reinvent yourself.
Re-Invention Tour could cost you up to $300 — one of the priciest tickets this summer for a star with fading record sales.
But then you see Madonna alone on stage confidently strutting along the moving sidewalk during Nobody Knows Me, or playing the guitar exceptionally well during Burning Up, and it is hard not to marvel at the force she is all by herself.
From the moment the 45-year-old appeared on stage at Philips Arena in Victorian costume and ageless shape, until the confetti came down two hours later during Holiday, Madonna's 'Reinvention' commanded the senses.
Sometimes it was the jarring, jittery images flashed on the ever-changing screens of her backdrop.
Even the brief interludes packed with trapeze artists, a skateboarder, a tap dancer, a bagpipe player and a drum corps deserved ovations.
But Madonna simply, finally, appealing to her ravenous audience by doing her ever-catchy hits — Vogue, Express Yourself, Material Girl, after Into The Groove and all — was without question the biggest pleaser.
The last time she performed in Atlanta, three years ago during the Drowned World Tour, her focus was current-album heavy and there was little to no attempt to connect with the audience. This time around there were holes on the side of the stage, MTV Awards-show style, so that fans could dance right along — though just below her.
And there were plenty of opportunities. In fact, even thuds like 'American Skin (LIFE)' and that awful rapping the still-capable vocalist does during Mother And Father became somehow slightly more tolerable reimagined for the live audience.
'Don't ever tell me,' Madonna sang three-fourths into the concert, almost as if she was testifying. 'I saaaiiid don't ever tell me. Don't you ever, ever, ever, ever tell meeee. Toooo stoooop.'
Yeah right Madonna, like you would listen.
Or more importantly, after performances like this, like someone would actually suggest such a thing.
CONCERT REVIEW: Madonna Saturday night and tonight at Philips Arena.
The Verdict: Even more seamless than one of the most well-choreographed careers in pop music.
You can call her old. You can call her a tramp (or a more profane version of one). But don't call her over. "And one more thing," the queen of pop said Monday night in Toronto. "You don't have to call me Esther."
The one and only Madonna, who in the middle of her sold-out Re-Invention Tour, which kicked off a three-show run Sunday night in the Air Canada Centre that concludes tonight, was referring, of course, to the Biblical name she's adopted since taking to that mystical sect of religion known as Kabbalah.
Since adopting the ancient philosophy as the guiding light in her home and professional lives (around the time she had her first child, daughter Lourdes, 7), Madonna - Madge, M, Esther, whatever suits your fancy - has implemented a holy grail of so-called "re-inventions."
She no longer drinks normal water, she downs Rabbi-annointed Kabbalah water (at $2.65 a liter). She also doesn't perform on Friday nights anymore - you know, the sabbath.
But there's no re-invention more startling, more illustrious, than the one that has been her career. Since Day One, more than 20 years ago, everything within success' reach has been imbued with alteration, satirization and, in true Madonna fashion, stylization.
When she first entered the scene with 1982's Everybody, she was playing herself: A rough, fishnet-wearing New York dancer with no where to go but up. Over the years, she transformed herself into a cross-bearing virgin (not that anyone believed her), a sexually overt feminist (those dark "Sex" book years), a Japanese geisha, and most recently, happily wedded mother of two.
Every step of the way, her music and its visual representations have transformed from one packaged product to the next, helping to keep her afloat in a vastly changing pop music industry.
But its her '80s hits that keep fans happy, and it looks like she's been paying attention. All of the megahits from her first decade are including in her current show - Vogue, Express Yourself, Into The Groove, Papa Don't Preach, even Material Girl. And so is much of her latest release, 2003's American Life, an album not nearly as incoherent and disconnected as critics wanted it to be.
But new material is not the same as old material recycled. Relatively little of her career-spanning set list is altered in any way, which makes the re-invention premise a little silly. There are no more new arrangements in The Re-Invention Tour than there were on her previous tours.
Deeper And Deeper, a disco dance hit from 1992's Erotica, and 1985's Into The Groove, get the biggest shakeups. The former is transformed into a silky jazz-land swing number, while the latter gets a workout on the bagpipes.
A perennial tour favorite, Holiday is now a tribal drum dance, Material Girl is loaded with heavy electric guitar, and Express Yourself, packaged alongside American Life in a military-themed segment, is a gun-toting march.
There's a "but" coming, can you tell?
But... Madonna's Re-Invention is still the best performance of any rock, pop, metal or other hybrid artist that's out there. As much as she thinks her career and music need retooling, it isn't the Madonna of yesterday - or even today - that need revisiting.
We know her history; we know it well.
It's the Madonna of tomorrow that she should be concerned with, that we should all be panting with bated breath for. It's time to start inventing the wheel again, like we know she can.
I have faith in her. We know she does.
After an 11-year absence, Madonna returned to Toronto last night with the first of three sold-out shows at the Air Canada Centre. The 45-year-old pop icon notably didn't bring her 2001 Drowned Tour to T.O., disappointing fans, but she seemed to have been forgiven last night judging from the roaring reception.
"Ah, it's good to be back in Toronto," she said towards the end of her hour-and-50-minute set. "It's been so long. Just because I have two children doesn't mean I don't like to have fun."
Believe it or not, Madonna last performed in this city in 1993 with her sexy Girlie Show Tour at SkyDome. (She mistakenly remembered her last visit as the infamous 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour saying: "The last time we were here, the police almost arrested us. I'm a good girl.")
But back in 1993, she was a vastly different artist, single and childless, and without her new-found faith in Kabbalah, the study of a kind of Jewish mysticism that has found her choosing the Hebrew name of Esther for herself.
Not to give anyone the wrong idea.
Last night's show -- which began 45 minutes later than scheduled and found 17,000 anxious fans chanting "Madonna! Madonna!" -- was still a hi-tech, flashy and fun affair but overall more tame, and slightly preachy with plenty of Bush-bashing, anti-war messages and Hebrew references.
Like the L.A. tour launch on May 24, a select group of fans were guided into tiny pits on either side of the stage before the concert began for a first-class view of Madge, although five giant moving video screens enabled the masses farther away to get a good look at The Material Girl. (Given her tour merchandise ranged from $10 for a keychain to $105 for a pink hooded sweatshirt -- so much for her claim she's now The Non-Material Girl.)
Kicking off the night with a slick, stylized video and recorded spoken-word monologue called The Beast Within, the concert really began when Madonna made her big entrance laying down on a platform that came out of the stage floor to the opening strains of her 1990 uber-hit Vogue.
She was quickly joined by nine dancers, all dressed in French period costumes, with her seven-piece band divided into two camps in the shadows on either side of the stage.
The biggest production number, however, came during the title track from her 2003 release, American Life, which saw a gleaming silver catwalk descend from above for a fashion show featuring Madonna's dancers dressed as everything from a rabbi, a priest, a nun, an Arab, etc.
By this point, Madge -- who began the night in a sparkly champagne-coloured corset top, short black shorts and knee-high black boots -- had changed into army fatigues and a black beret with the rest of her dancers brandishing rifles for army-themed choreography.
The background video, meanwhile, was sober images of victims of war ending with a Bush and Saddam Hussein look-alikes sharing a cigar. (Similar video of children in war-torn countries was shown during her cover of John Lennon's Imagine.)
Because this is called the Re-Invention Tour, many of Madonna's songs were reworked, some better than others.
The weakest link in the entire show was the circus-themed third portion where, for some unknown reason, Madonna dragged out the awful Dick Tracy song Hanky Panky, and turned the normally robust dance song Deeper And Deeper into a cabaret ballad.
Although Into The Groove, which featured bagpipes, drums and Madonna and her dancers in kilts, and the show-ending Holiday, complete with red-and-white confetti and another stroll down the catwalk, have to be singled out for special mention.
Madonna wraps up the North American leg on her Re-Invention Tour on Aug. 2 in Miami before heading over to Europe.
Otherwise, she plays two more shows at the ACC, tonight and Wednesday. The Toronto shows initially sold-out in a record-setting 80 minutes but more seats were released once the Re-Invention production was finalized.
Rumoured among those to be in attendance last night were Madonna's two children -- seven-year-old daughter Lourdes, a.k.a. Lola, and three-year-old son Rocco -- and hubby Guy Ritchie.
With a name like the Re-Invention Tour, one would expect to see Madonna at her absolute finest. Madge is, after all, the queen of Re-Invention, so the show should showcase her doing what she does best: challenging pre-conceptions and toying with her audience's comfort level — all while hosting a kick-ass dance party, of course. Unfortunately, in 2004, Madonna has reinvented herself as a kinder, gentler Kabbalah-practicing, children's book author, which doesn't exactly jive with her onstage personality.
The first of Madonna's three Toronto shows certainly looked good. After the taped spoken-word The Beast Within segment (some quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo paired with some genuinely arty images of the singer on the set's many screens) Madonna emerged from the centre of the stage writhing and showing off her best yoga moves. Erupting into Vogue, she was joined by a troupe of "Rock Me Amadeus" costumed dancers. Things got off to a roaring start and concept-wise, at least, they didn't let up.
Throughout the show, Madonna would disappear and resurface as a military fighter, a flapper-style circus girl, a laid-back guitar slinger and, for the last segment, in a full-length Scottish kilt and a "Kabbahlists Do It Better" T-shirt. Each costume change was met with a spectacular set transformation, complete with images representing Madonna's continuing fascination with religion, birth and death flashing on the multiple screens. Madge's dancing hasn't faltered one bit over the years — say what you will about the lady, but she still has the moves.
Unfortunately, it's not all about the dancing (although, at a Madonna concert, it does count for a lot). On stage for about two hours, the singer didn't go for a particularly economical set list, eschewing many classic hits in favour of some of the lousiest tracks in her repertoire. Songs like Lucky Star, Like A Virgin and Open Your Heart were nowhere to be found, while stinkers like Hanky Panky (from the Dick Tracy soundtrack), Bedtime Story, Lament (from Evita), American Life's abysmal Mother And Father and the James Bond theme Die Another Day all got their due. Yes, I realize it's not 1984 — and she did throw in oldies like Burning Up, Crazy For You and Like A Prayer (all of which were executed quite nicely) — but if she's going to choose a song off of the Ray Of Light album, wouldn't the title track be a better bet than the subdued Frozen?
Set list aside, Madonna's biggest problem wasn't the music, it was the attitude. Back in the Blonde Ambition days the singer's general coldness read as ballsy bitchiness, which worked for her. She's still just as distant with the audience, but with her new sense of concern for the well-being of the world, her whole onstage persona rings false. As playful as the dance moves were, she never actually looked like she was having fun. As she begged the crowd to "Help me out Tor-on-to!" with the words to the tinny Material Girl, it was as if she was reading the name of the city off the back of her guitar (yes, there was a guitar).
The worst moment, though, came when Madonna announced that she'd perform a cover of a song that she hadn't written, but had "inspired" her. She proceeded to launch into a hollow rendition of John Lennon's Imagine, while images of children in war-torn countries appeared behind her. As I glanced at the people around me, who had paid up to $300 for their tickets, many of whom were wearing new $100 tour T-shirts, I couldn't help but feel that Madonna didn't really spend much time imagining that she has no possessions or envisioning the world living as one. The song was immediately followed by a version of Into The Groove, complete with video-taped rapping from Missy Elliott (to remind us all of Madge 'n' Missy's recent Gap ad, natch), making the Imagine stunt seem all the uglier.
Madonna is what she is. She's all about stroking her own ego, crass marketing and a lack of political correctness. Hopefully she'll re-invent herself again soon so we can get past the hypocrisy of her latest flights of fancy and get back into the groove.
The original Material Girl strutted, writhed and wriggled Sunday, showing her fans she still had the goods to compete withperformers half her age.
Madonna's concert, the first of three in Toronto, was an over-the-top theatrical production complete with costume changes, choreographed dance numbers and an ever-changing stage. After an awkward, avant-guarde video display where she appeared to turn into a wolf, the 45-year-old singer opened with Vogue, her tribute to New York club life.
Dressed in a glittery corset, black short-shorts and knee-high boots, Madonna sashayed from one end of the stage to the next with the help of a moving sidewalk - a conveyer-belt built into the entire front section of the stage.
Aptly-titled the Re-Invention Tour, the set went through several incarnations, at times appearing as a Renaissance painting, a war field, a circus, a traditional concert stage with a full band in the centre and finally, a dance club.
Moving parts included a V-shaped catwalk that dropped down on top of the floor seats, giving Madonna greater access to fans at the back end of the Air Canada Centre.
"It's good to be back, Toronto," she told more than 16,000 fans who paid up to $300 - considerably more than the top-ticket price of $55 for her 1993 stop.
"Just because I've changed my ways doesn't mean I don't still like to have fun."
She briefly mentioned a run-in with Toronto police in 1990, when officers investigated reports of lewd acts during her concert.
"I'm a good girl," she purred.
The Material Girl has re-invented herself dozens of times since she left her Michigan working-class home in the late 1970s. Her most memorable persona was the sex-crazed diva, a harbinger of the current generation of pop music tarts.
She offered the crowd some of that sauciness on Sunday with suggestive dance moves - although the show was relatively tame compared to her former self. Instead of sexual provacativeness, she filled the two-hour set with religious iconography.
Madonna's calmed down considerably in recent years, with her current role of demure mother, children's book author and spiritual practitioner. The show seemed structured to show off Madonna's new maturity, urging people to think about government, religion and world events, rather than push the usual buttons with simulated sex scenes.
Her fans didn't seem to mind and said they continue to support her chameleon career.
Carla Filoso drove from Ottawa for the show. "She's probably the most influential artist of our time," gushed the 24-year-old, who spent $300 on her floor seat ticket. "She's re-invented herself about 100 times."
Natalie Michaud thought the '80s icon was worth buying a ticket from a U.S. scalper for $700 US. On top of that price, the 25-year-old psychology student flew from Grand Falls, N.B. with her boyfriend for the show. "I grew up with her. I love her," she gushed from her floor seat.
Madonna didn't disappoint, working her way through the maze of past hits with confident ease, even finding inventive, modern ways to interpret her '80s songs.
Express Yourself saw her treat a rifle like a baton, twirling it round and round and giving the song a more political slant. Burning Up, a syrupy pop ditty from her first record, became a bold, new wave rock song.
Wielding an electric guitar, Madonna belted out her signature song, Material Girl to some of the loudest screams of the night.
Madonna, who found time earlier in the day to stop in at the city's Kabbalah Centre, proved herself a versatile performer, putting on a Vegas-style show that left the audience panting right until the red-and-white confetti sprayed overtop during the finale, her song Holiday - the singer's first Top 40 hit back in 1983.
With a huge library of songs to choose from, Madonna seemed to have picked one to represent her many image makeovers.
Lament, from Evita, showed a bit of the sophisticated lady. Like A Prayer was her first religious foray. Hanky Panky, from the film Dick Tracy, reminded fans of Madonna's many attempts to conquer acting.
Her button-pusher attitude was let loose during American Life, with dancers dressed like soldiers attacking others dressed as religious figures including a nun and a rabbi.
She performs again Monday and Wednesday. The three Toronto shows are her only stops in Canada. Her tour ends in Lisbon in mid-September.
Madonna's notorious 2003 flop, American Life, wasn't half as bad as its many detractors argued, but the record's messages about the emptiness of fame and materialism were not easily reconciled with a pop legacy synonymous with hedonism, conspicuous consumption and the relentless pursuit of the spotlight.
A similar dissonance ran through the ungainly, but wholly spectacular, production the former Material Girl jammed into the Air Canada Centre last night for the first of three local dates — one follows tonight, another on Wednesday — on her Re-Invention Tour.
Totally camp at times, yet yearning for gravitas at others in images of war and hackneyed John Lennon covers, the immaculately conceived and executed two-hour affair often resembled the world's most pretentious drag show.
That it succeeded as ludicrously overwrought entertainment, despite a few obvious flaws, though, is testament to some of the most riveting stage and video design ever committed to the concert stage, an undeniable repertoire of solid tunes and the barely containable enthusiasm of Madonna's fans.
This was only Madonna's second visit to Toronto since her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour stop at SkyDome provoked a visit by the local morality squad, a moment that immortalized the city as the "fascist state of Toronto" when it turned up in the documentary Truth Or Dare one year later.
While her Girlie Show touched down at the 'Dome in 1993, she gave the city a conspicuous pass on 2001's Drowned World tour. The excitement among the Maddie faithful — a true cross section of the Toronto population, if tilted somewhat towards giddy gay men and 30-something women in unflattering outfits — at her return has, thus, been building for quite some time.
The highest expectations were likely met, even if Madonna herself felt almost secondary to the Cirque du Soleil-esque whirlwind of high-res digital projections, costumed dancers, acrobats, skateboarders and bagpipers (yes, there was a pipe and drum band on stage at one point — for Into The Groove, of allthings) swirling around her.
From the coy, one-two opening statement of Vogue (first words uttered from the stage: "Strike a pose") and American Life's Nobody Knows Me until the closing circuit-party throb of a reconstituted Holiday— which had Madonna and her dance troupe cavorting over the ecstatic crowd on an enormous, triangular catwalk while confetti cannons discharged a small mountain of candy-coloured paper — the Re-Invention was an all-out assault on the eyes.
American Life and a jubilant Express Yourself were conducted in fatigues and military-drill formation. The Dick Tracy soundtrack obscurity Hanky Panky, Deeper And Deeper and Die Another Day were (un)dressed as burlesque, the latter tune climaxing bizarrely with Madonna being strapped into an electric chair before a glowing half-pipe. A show-stopping run at Music brought the video's retro-disco imagery garishly to life on an illuminated staircase, while Like A Prayer concluded with stills of stigmata flanking the singer on stage.
If this spiritually questing, 45-year-old mother — there were some Kabbalah-themed T-shirts spotted on stage and Hebrew script on the monitors for Like A Prayer— and sometime children's author intended some overarching message to be taken away from this orgy of excess other than "Dig me, I'm Madonna," it wasn't getting through. But "Dig me, I'm Madonna" certainly did.
It's not that her sentiments aren't sincere, it's that she's incapable of expressing herself through anything but spectacle. And she does it very well.
After 20 years of tireless invention, Madonna is not only still at the top but has emerged as a happily married yoga enthusiast and mother of two - a disappointment for critics who feel that by now she should have been punished for her sins. On the eveof her UK tour, we celebrate the First Lady of Pop.
The scene is the United Centre in Chicago, where Madonna is about to begin the latest leg of her Re-Invention Tour. From my seat at the side of the stage I can see her preparing backstage, hoisting herself up into the crab position that had reviewers of previous shows both gasping at her suppleness ('At 45!')... and pointing out her support bandages ('She is, after all, 45'). I can't see any support bandages this time as Madonna rises up through the stage floor, still in the crab position, then stands on her head.
Her dancers start coming down from the ceiling on swings, dressed in a way that suggests they have escaped en masse from a casting for Les Miserables. Madonna looks sensational, though her spangled corset and thigh boots are so high camp they border on space camp. Watching her frolicking with her dancers, I'm reminded that Boy George once said she was a gay man trapped inside a woman's body. Right now, in the nicest possible sense, it looks as if the gay man has escaped.
As the set unfolds (old songs: Frozen, Papa Don't Preach, Holiday; new songs: Nothing Fails, American Life, Hollywood; horrible songs: Hanky Panky, Die Another Day; and unexpected songs: Imagine) the dry ice swirls, and it is as if Madonna has been joined onstage by the fog of truths and lies, preconceptions and misconceptions, that have dogged her over the years.
Suddenly she runs along the moving pathway at the front of the stage and up into a superstructure which takes her high above the crowd. And there she stands for a moment or two, bathed in adulation, wrapping her legs around the bars: Watching us, watching her...
At the start of Vogue, Madonna asks: 'What are you looking at?' It's a question it seems pertinent to answer right now. Her 46th birthday is coming up and she's done more than 20 years of hard time at the top. This year also sees the 20th anniversary of Like A Virgin, not her first hit but arguably the one that first set her apart from the common pop herd, the pretty hot-eyed ingenue displaying a moxie beyond her years as she flounced around in her wedding dress, announcing to the world that her latest love made her feel 'shiny and new'. This was no virgin - anyone could see that - but even then Madonna ladled on the irony and the metaphor just as much as the eyeliner.
Just now, she's not looking so shiny or new. There are reports that tickets for her tour are moving slowly and sales of her current album, American Life, have been the worst of her entire career. Unlike 1992's Erotica, another poor seller, released alongside the notorious Sex book, this time the content seems to be to blame rather than any attendant controversy. For me, a longtime Madonna fan, American Life seems too heavy on the Kabbalah homilies (Love each other; Don't be meanies) and too light on the fun. That was a disappointment after her previous two albums: Ray Of Light, an introspective masterpiece produced by William Orbit and documenting Madonna's personal and creative resurgence; and Music, produced by Mirwais, a near-psychic explosion of rhinestones, sparse electro and nimble social commentary.
More alarm bells rang as Madonna seemed to lose her nerve, withdrawing the military-themed video for the American Life single as the Iraq conflict broke out. At the Chicago show she spent a great deal of time writhing about in combats and brandishing a gun, so perhaps she has had a change of heart - but at the time she deemed the images of helicopters, explosions and a Dubya doppelganger lighting a cigar from a hand grenade 'inappropriate'.
Around this time, Madonna appeared on the Jonathan Ross show. The last time Ross interviewed her it was like watching a small boy being mauled by a man-eating tiger. This time Madonna looked subdued and unconfident, constantly twisting her fingers and fidgeting in her chair. She talked about hating the way she looked and she sounded like she meant it. Ross even managed to slip it in that her new music wasn't for him and Madonna - Madonna! - meekly let him get away with it.
By the end I was watching in thoughtful silence. I've met Madonna, interviewing her in 1995 at her New York apartment, and she was such a bright, cheeky, 'Fuck you!' woman, speaking fearlessly and articulately about everything from art and fellatio to God, rape, misogyny ('It's an aura - a black cloud they carry around with them') and everything in between. When she told me about being sexually assaulted as a newcomer to New York - the first time she'd ever talked about it - I commented that even something like this might end up being dismissed as a cynical publicity stunt. She laughed dryly: 'Some people think everything I do is a publicity stunt. They think when I go to the bathroom it's a publicity stunt.'
Did she feel she had been dehumanised, turned into a 'thing'? 'Yes (mischievous) - but then most icons are.'
There's no doubt about it: the woman I met that day would have eaten Ross for breakfast and used Michael Parkinson to mop the plate. This Madonna, this latest Madonna, wasn't coming across like that at all. It made you wonder what was going on: Where is Madonna placed now? What do we make of her? What does she make of herself, come to think of it?
Over the years there have been quite a few Madonnas to choose from. Born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone into a large middle class Italian-American family in Bay City, Michigan in 1958, she seemed an unlikely candidate to become one of the world's biggest stars and consummate shape changers. Much of her personal history has now passed into legend: her mother dying when she was seven, the subsequent rebellions, the running away to New York to 'make it', the career change from dance to music, the early stardom, the crucifixes and the attitude ('I lost my virginity as a career move').
Soon Madonna wasn't just 'making it' she was inventing it - or to be more precise, reinventing it. From that point, the Madonnas came thick and fast: Boy Toy, Dirty Bitch, Catholic screw up, Mrs (Poison) Penn, Disco Dolly, Tomboy, Whore, Clown, Evita, Earth Mother, Calculating Businesswoman in Corsets. And along with it came the seemingly endless parade of vile, diminishing boyfriends. Apart from Carlos Leon, Lourdes's father, Madonna's men were mainly distinguished by their predilection for slagging her off afterwards. 'If she were a painting she'd have to be an abstract by Picasso because she has so many faces,' said Vanilla Ice. 'She was so tight, she squeaked,' said Jimmy Albright. And, of course, Warren Beatty in the famous In Bed With Madonna clip: 'She doesn't want to live off camera, never mind talk.' (Pot, kettle, black?) The music was flowing all this time, too, but Madonna's life has always been much more vigorously reviewed than her art.
Today things have quietened down considerably. Madonna is no longer jogging through our parks surrounded by bodyguards as she did in the Eighties. She's no longer spraying profanities on chat shows or feeling up lesbian friends to wind up the media. Since she dumped Catholicism for Kabbalah, the church has had scant excuse to feel affronted as it did when she kissed a black Christ in her Like A Prayer video or pretended to masturbate onstage during her Blond Ambition Tour. And it's 12 years since Madonna scandalised the world by producing Sex, an erotic photo essay that had Norman Mailer grumbling it wasn't dirty enough ('no beaver shots') but saw the rest of the world buying it just to make absolutely sure they felt disgusted.
Recently it's been about yoga, macrobiotic diets, another bad film (Swept Away) to add to her chequered movie CV, an iffy album, a Gap advert with Missy Eliotand a Kabbalah-inspired series of children's books that are a million literary galaxies away from Sex. The Kabbalah thing remains both amusing and bemusing to outsiders, but if renaming herself Esther and wearing a red braided bracelet makes her feel good about her life, then who are we to judge? That said, following a branch of Jewish mysticism that seeks to annihilate the ego must be darned hard work for a woman who once declared she wouldn't be happy until she was 'bigger than God'.
Madonna is clear about her affection for Britain - the country that produced her husband, film director Guy Ritchie, and son, Rocco - sometimes flattering us quite shamelessly: 'Even the stupidest people in Britain are more intelligent than Americans.' And yet there still seems to be a love-hate relationship with Madonna: breathless magazine articles about how so and so boutique is now hip because 'style icon' Madonna happened to pass by its windows... followed by more pages on her arrogance, her daughter's Eve Lom facials, her nastiness to ramblers who want to roam across her country pile. And of course the perennial headline which has cropped up regularly since 1986: is Madonna a goner?
Maybe all this ragging can be put down to Madonna's bizarre take on 'down to earth' English living (fish and chips, pints of Guinness and hanging out with Gwyneth Paltrow). Or maybe it goes deeper than that.
Is it just me, or do some people resent the way in which big, bad, ambitious Madonna has managed to dodge some kind of 'karmic punishment', some designated lonely fate, by finding family happiness in her forties? Of course, some people just can't stomach all that 'We're a partnership / cleaning the car together / doing Kabbalah together / strumming Scottish folk songs on matching guitars together' stuff that keeps leaking from the Ciccone-Ritchie homestead (and I haven't even got to the bit where Ritchie is supposed to be in the habit of calling Madonna 'Mum'). One woman told me she couldn't work out whether she was simply suspicious of the 'Guy effect', or just plain sick of Madonna banging on about her perfect personal life. Married Madonna she could take; smug Married Madonna, no way. Others seem to suspect that this is a parody of domestic bliss, just the latest Madonna disguise.
I'm not so sure. It seems to me that a woman who lost her own mother as a young child might be a key candidate to embrace family stability. But it's about more than even that - it's about mega-celebrity and how to survive it. Arguably, Madonna has transcended pop stardom to become the first great reality show (Big Sister? Big Mother?). She is somebody who rubbed out the boundaries between life and art and managed to survive. Indeed, if Madonna were a fictional character, one could only retain public sympathy for her by having her 'pay the price' for her unnatural behaviour. By rights, she should be living alone in a dusty Hollywood mansion by now - childless, embittered, staggering Norma Desmond-style down a Gone with the Wind staircase, a hideous bony claw shaking her diamonds at the world ('It's time for my close-up'). Instead she's happily married with two lovely kids, everything's worked out great for her - and some people just seem to find that gutting.
It is also extraordinary how, all these years on, some people, usually men, still can't give it up for the idea of Madonna, the talented and relevant musician, songwriter and performer. Where some are concerned she will always be dismissed as a chancer, a media manipulator, who built her entire career, spanning decades and continents, on a succession of good hair days. Never mind the innumerable No1 singles, the hit albums, the constant creative evolution, the provocation and the daring, the 20-odd years at the top of one of the most cut-throat industries ever.
Cherish, Like A Prayer, You'll See, Frozen, Mer Girl, Gone, Impressive Instant - where did all these songs, and more, come from? The 'hit single' fairy? Part of the urban myth surrounding Madonna is that the songs she says she wrote were collaborations, and the songs she says were collaborations were nothing to do with her. Even today you'll get idiots at parties solemnly declaring that Madonna has no real talent: 'She's just a great businesswoman who knows how to market herself.' And people wonder why Madonna is always banging on about sexism in the music industry (for a pop girl she always did have a big dirty rock mouth).
It seems the older Madonna gets, the more she is encouraged to shut up, put up and cover up, befitting a woman of her extreme years (one whole year older than Morrissey). But with her looks and fitness levels, why should she? It says something that she can perform excruciating yoga exercises onstage nightly on her world tour and be written off as 'past it', while David Bowie can collapse on his stage with heart problems and nobody suggests he give anything up.
This is not to say that Madonna has made no mistakes. Most recently, the three-way snog with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the MTV awards was a miscalculation, if only because it flagged up how gender infiltrates everything - even mega-celebrity, even Madonna. Put bluntly, this was a painfully feminine way to grab attention or pass on a 'baton' that just wouldn't enter an equivalent male musical icon's head. The idea of someone like Paul McCartney grabbing Noel Gallagher for a brisk tongueing is only bearable because you know it would never happen. The 'guys' would be too busy 'duetting' (though we could argue all day about what all that pointing at each other with guitars is all about).
While we're on the subject of men, it seems increasingly clear that most of them just don't 'get' Madonna in the same way women do. I am not referring to her fabulously loyal gay fan base, or even to her love life (though before Ritchie and motherhood she seemed to be on a one-woman crusade to give heterosexuality a bad name). I am referring to where the true Madonna heartland lies; namely the sprawling mid-twenties to late-forties female demographic, which should by rights be given its own Madonna-based name (Vogue Nation? True Blues?). One of Madonna's greatest unsung achievements must surely be that for more than 20 years she has been an inspirational global totem for the women who have grown up with her. While it is universally acknowledged that Madonna inspired the first generation of 'wannabes', nobody ever seems to ask where they are now, and what happened to them, or, more to the point, what didn't happen to them.
It would appear to be the case that Madonna has become more and more important to these fans as the years have gone by (and most of us quite frankly have become Not Gonna Bes). A book I own, I Dream of Madonna, a collection of women's dreams about La Ciccone, beautifully captures how she has invaded women's sub-consciousness over the years. But it's not always a case of dreaming about Madonna or even for that matter thinking about her. Grown women have busy lives, and no one has time to sit around obsessing about multi-millionairess pop stars, but the fact remains that for many it is a strange mixture of comforting and exciting just to feel that Madonna's still around, doing her thing, putting out great records, loving her children, digging her man, practising her dance routines, kicking against the pricks. One woman I know celebrated her 37th birthday with a toast to Madonna, an ironic gesture but one which is probably more common than you think. Unlike most men, who have spent over 20 years debating whether Madonna was too slutty (or not slutty enough) for their tastes, it was always more about friendship than sex for us.
I was thinking about this when I went to see Madonna perform at her Chicago show. It wasn't the best-ever Madonna gig I'd seen - not as brazen as Blond Ambition or as soulful as Drowned World - but it was instructive to see her perform in America, the place that made her. America is just so vast, you feel yourself being swallowed alive, rendered irrelevant and anonymous, the moment you step out of the airport. It makes you feel fresh respect for the young motherless Madonna Ciccone, the little-woman-who-could (and did), one of the first to stare celebrity straight in the eye and beat it at its own game.
The crowd were a disparate bunch: families, gay men, large groups of men drinking beer in a gruff heterosexual manner, even what appeared to be a Kabbalah convert, waving a 'Queen Esther' banner in the crowd. And, of course, there were the gangs of women out for the night on their own, all types, all ages, all jostling together, buying their posters and $30 programmes as souvenirs, and boogying with a disgraceful sense of abandon to the encore, Holiday. I overheard a group of them huddled over a programme: 'Oh, I like that look, and that one, and I like her there.' It was like Madonna's career itself: big cultural pick'n'mix, something for pretty much everybody.
So that's what we're looking at. While Madonna might not be inspiring young girls any more (at least not in the gargantuan numbers she did in the Eighties), she's definitely inspiring a lot of 'older girls' (and boys) just by being alive, and that alone makes her madly important. Add to that the music, the style, the humour and the sanity (see Prince and Michael Jackson for what could have happened) and not for the first time Madonna, circa 2004, starts looking positively indispensable.
As Madonna glides through Frozen at the United Center in Chicago, she hypnotically croons "Give yourself to me," her toned arms outstretched toward the enamored audience. She's got us in the palm of her formerly hennaed hands.
Witnessing one of the most famous women in the world perform live for the first time is just like a dream to me, except for the tone-deaf moron seated beside me singing everything in my ear.
And he doesn't limit himself to lyrics. You know in Like A Prayer when Madonna lets the choir sing and they go "whoah, whoah whoah"? He does that too. I didn't shell out nearly a hundred bucks to hear this blowhard belt out Madonna's hits, but something, maybe the show's spiritual vibe, stops me from smacking him. Eventually, I tune him out. Something's coming over me. Madonna is here.
She had us at Holiday, and 20 years later, a red Kabbalah bracelet encircles her wrist, and fans are still wrapped around her finger. Her phases don't faze them.
The souvenir stands reflect her current obsessions. "The 72 Names of God" and other books about Kabbalah, the mystical offshoot of Judaism she's studying, sit alongside her successful Kabbalah-based kiddie books, including "Mr. Peabody's Apples." A Hebrew transliteration of "Madonna" tops one of her concert T's.
Her Re-Invention Tour, which mixes in forever favorites, including Crazy For You and Into The Groove, is the ultimate fix for longtime fans — sort of like listening to the original soundtrack of your life live.
If the world has had enough of Madonna, with her Britney-befriending, Kabbalahmania, faux English-ness and more, you wouldn't know it by talking to these followers.
"She could burp onstage and I would enjoy it," said Jared Rodriguez, a 23-year-old from Austin, Texas. He's wearing a glittery T with an amateurish image of Madonna in her cowboy Music mode. He and Candice Ramirez, 30, also from Austin, aren't put off by her new strain of spirituality.
"It's a part of her life right now. We're OK with it," Ramirez said. "She could do anything. It doesn't mean we're going to do it."
The concertgoers are not just long-in-the-tooth former teenyboppers. There are young men with frosted mohawks, little girls with rhinestone art on their arms, and one man who has fashioned his own "Krazy for Kabbalah" T-shirt.
Then there are the old-school Madonna fans, decked out in corsets, pearls and lace. Sandra Schabowski and Julie Remedi, both 21, are in full Madonna wannabe wardrobes.
Their Maddie masquerading paid off. Schabowski, from Berwynm, Ill., and Remedi, from Darien, Ill., came to the concert with third-level tickets. But when a United Center employee spotted them outside during a smoke break, he presented them with front-row tickets.
"I'm still in shock," Schabowski says. Remedi also may need resuscitation. "We ought to do this more often."
The concert may have been mobbed by Madonna moonies, but at ear
X-tacy on Bardstown Road, music-lovers are hardly burning up with
admiration for her. It's human nature for people to have different
takes on America's Evita, but for a Madonna maniac, it might be
hard to take.
"Madonna probably needs to give it a rest," said Kara Gossom, 20, from Sellersburg, Ind. "She was good for her time."
Others don't buy into the trendy religion trip, evident since her Ray Of Light spiritual awakening.
"It really is a contradiction. (Kabbalah) is this mystic, spiritual thing, and she's so rich. She's the Material Girl," said Nicole Stevenson, 24, a massage therapist visiting from Boulder, Colo.
"Whatever floats your boat. Their (celebrities') worlds are so out of the normal context of reality, they go a little nuts."
Stevenson is also wary of Madonna's connections with the chesty chart-toppers she inspired. "This alliance with Britney is very strange to me."
Britney and Madonna's show-stopping, same-sex snog at last year's MTV Video Music Awards didn't endear Madonna to the teen and tween set. Madonna is not part of the music vocabulary of Marty Hagler and Jean Henry, both 14.
"I remember one song called Music," said Jean, a Louisville resident who prefers Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
Marty, who is visiting from New York City and gets her music kicks from Green Day and Good Charlotte, is equally uninterested. "I've seen some videos," she said indifferently.
Dennis Stein, 21, is proud to admit he knows "excessively little" about Madonna. "I know she's married to Guy Ritchie, because I like Guy Ritchie," he said. He would much rather listen to a certain Icelandic icon.
"I'm a Bjork obsessive. Bjork just blows her (Madonna) out of the water in every way imaginable," the Louisville resident said.
Although they're not taken with Madonna's talent, they don't think she's a total waste. Some of her harshest critics still applaud her business sense, longevity and fearlessness.
"I think (Madonna) is cool, I respect what she does," Stein said.
Stevenson also praised her power. "She's not afraid to do things other people wouldn't dare."
At the show, even the most ardent of admirers may have been a little irked by their idol.
Halfway through the show, she covered Imagine. Behind her, the screens reflected the goals of her pet project, the Kabbalah program "Spirituality for Kids." The images included an especially naïve one of an Israeli and Arab boy walking peacefully down a path, arms around each other's shoulders.
My mind momentarily wandered from the spectacle as I contemplated the contradiction her new religion presents.
For starters, her name is Madonna. Madonna as in "mother of Jesus Christ." Mrs. Ritchie may have recently changed her name to "Esther," but she can never change her status as Catholicism's uber-rebel.
As a Jew, I sometimes feel a hint of hypocrisy in this. Still, she's become so ubiquitous that in the future, it may be impossible to tell if children named Madonna are a tribute to the mother of Jesus or the mother of Lourdes and Rocco.
Then it occurs to me that the first and only time I've ever worn a cross was when I dressed as Borderline-era Madge at a costume party a few years back. I've even considered naming my own daughter, should I ever have one, Madonna. Madonna Ikenberg. It's only a little more bizarre than Cher Horowitz, Alicia Silverstone's character in "Clueless."
Humbled by the repressed memory, I decide not to take the issue so seriously and quickly get back in the groove.
Under a shower of glitter, dancing above the audience on a huge catwalk reaching halfway through the venue, Madonna closes the show with a darker, yet still bouncy, version of Holiday.
The lights immediately go down and it's clear the ever-morphing butterfly won't be re-emerging from her backstage cocoon for an encore, which is kind of un-spiritual, in my opinion.
Despite the abrupt exit, concertgoers are still riding an immaculate high.
"I'm coming down from feeling really ecstatic," said Sara Dean, 28, from Spring Grove, Ill. "It was awesome."
Aside from that, nothing really matters.
Over the course of her two-decade career, Madonna has accomplished many things: She has been a champion button-pusher, a fashion trendsetter and a provocative performance artist.
The 45-year-old singer has also recorded some extraordinary music (along with a fair amount of pop fluff). But judging from her spectacle-laden performance at the United Center on Sunday, that's the accomplishment she cares about least.
The dance diva's skimpy 105-minute show -- the first of four in Chicago -- certainly gave her fans a lot of high-tech, whiz-bang gimmickry for their hard-earned dollars. (The top ticket price: $317.50.) But the music was essentially an afterthought.
Judged against the standards of, say, the Cirque du Soleil, a modern Broadway production or the videos-come-to-life concerts by Madonna offspring such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, it was a heck of a show. But call me old-fashioned: I went for the music. And in this department, the Reinvention Tour needed serious reanimating.
After starting 40 minutes late and turning off the arena's air-conditioning in order to preserve her platinum pipes, Madonna played a mere 24 songs -- that's counting the ponderous "I am a prophet" faux-Biblical introduction -- and she wasn't even onstage for three of those.
Yes, the set list spanned her career, and she overcame her longstanding reluctance to play her older hits. But several of these were delivered in arrangements that were so bizarre that they played like parodies. That is, unless you agree that bagpipes and martial drummers were always lacking in 1984's Into The Groove.
(What was with the Scottish kilts and the odd choice of sonic filigree? Maddy and British director Guy Ritchie were married in a Scottish castle and like to vacation in the highlands -- that's the only fact that I could find to explain this strange detour, one of several in the show that made no sense to anyone besides the singer's self-indulgent choreographers, set designers and wardrobe artists.)
Vogue was reimagined as a soundtrack for the court of Marie Antoinette; 1983's Burning Up got some incongruous, generic heavy-metal guitar and Lament from the musical Evita served only to underscore that Madonna was poorly suited to perform in musicals like Evita. (And no, the set piece that found her strapped into an electric chair wasn't enough to distract from her melodramatic crooning.)
The singer also played six songs from last year's abysmal techno-folkie flop, American Life. Contrary to what some critics have said, the material fared no better in concert than it does on the flat and uninspired recording. Madonna continued to overuse the electronic vocoder effect on her voice (perhaps to mask the insipid lyrics), the sultry come-ons of her Erotica era were still sorely missed and the show came to a screeching halt with the dumb and stilted rap in the middle of the maudlin Mother And Father.
Musically, however, the nadir was an anemic, histrionic and soulless electronic reading of John Lennon's Imagine set to a barrage of video images of children from around the globe plagued by the ravages of hunger and war. (War and hunger = bad! Imagine no possessions = good! That is, after you've gone into hock buying concert tickets.)
As a political commentator, Madonna made Bart Simpson seem as sophisticated as Noam Chomsky. And her attempts to enlighten us about her arcane spiritual belief system didn't fare much better --though she mysteriously traded in her "Kabalists Do It Better" T-shirt for one that read, "Italians Do It Better."
Imagine no facile preaching from Madonna. It's easy if you try. Or have you really forgotten the Material Girl who fellated a water bottle in Truth Or Dare and acted out pretty much every risque fantasy imaginable in her dirty-picture book Sex?
In the end, if you removed all of the spectacle -- the half-pipe skateboard ramp, the bagpipers, the fake explosions, the dancers' military drills, the descending catwalk and the multiple video screens -- you had an aging singer with an impressive catalog and a voice that (at least on the dance numbers) is arguably stronger than it's ever been.
Sadly, Madonna lacked enough faith in these assets to rely on them being enough to entertain us. Instead, she beat us over the heads with yet another dizzying and superfluous MTV-style visual assault.
The most radical reinvention that Madonna could have chosen at this point in her career was to simply emphasize the music. (You know, that stuff that "makes the people come together/Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebels/ Think of yesterday.")
Believe it or not, Maddy, it's your music that will endure when all the rest is gone, after the last bagpiper has hung up his kilt and the skateboarder no longer has enough hair to grow a Mohawk.
The engine of Madonna's 21-year career is reinvention. Look back and her lineage of videos and concert tours is lined with shifting selves -- from disco boy-toy all the way up to children's book author.
By naming her current tour Re-Invention, the 45-year-old is not so much trying anything new as she is, for the first time, collecting all her former selves and seeing if they can co-exist together.
Some call it nostalgia, but Madonna has never been that obvious. At the United Center Sunday, the first of four sold-out nights, she tried to make sense out of everything she's done in the past, but in the exhilarating collage, she demonstrated some previous lives live up to the present and a few do not.
Some reinvention was musical and on these songs, Madonna and her eight-piece band and core of dancers celebrated their durability. Into The Groove, an early hit, was remixed with a more complex beat, rapping interludes from a recorded Missy Elliott and, strangely, a live bagpiper and drum corps. Like A Prayer, part of her disco folk set, swelled with spiritual uplift with the help of a recorded gospel choir.
Unlike her dark and condensed Drowned World Tour in 2001, this outing joyfully interchanged past with present. The best moments blurred images and toyed with mixed messages.
She and her dancers performed Express Yourself, an infectious dance pop statement of individuality, dressed in military gear and twirling rifles. For Burning Up, her earliest dance hit, and Material Girl, Madonna posed as a serious guitar rocker, hitting chords and transforming the songs' adolescent whine into adult certitude.
The flow of imagery had its chinks when Madonna revisited weaker material -- notably Hanky Panky, a vaudeville jazz send-up from Dick Tracy. And no matter what you think of Andrew Lloyd Webber, his material (Lament) doesn't sound good being sung when the singer is strapped to a fake electric chair.
Unlike the past, the show was not designed to provoke but was filled with more moments where she tried to present herself as a serious songwriter.
She slipped into that mode during the show's third act, a short acoustic set that ended with a cover of John Lennon's Imagine. The choice may have been in protest, since Clear Channel Entertainment, her tour's producer and promoter, is the same company that banned the song from its 1,200 radio stations after Sept. 11.
But since she was singing in front of a backdrop of televised starving children, it's more likely she was using the song to signal her altruism. Her shrill rendition didn't do that. Instead, it felt like another reinvention, just that this one was empty and presumptuous.
So it's come to this: Madonna, who once writhed her way to R-rated MTV stardom, singing earnest protest anthems.
What next? Madonna writing children's books?
Oh, wait a minute, she's already done that.
The singer's latest career transformation was accompanied by an occasionally dazzling, frequently puzzling, and sometimes ponderous multimedia extravaganza Sunday in the first of four concerts at the United Center.
Even though her latest movie (Swept Away) and album (American Life) were commercial and critical flops, and even though she's been challenged by a new crop of tarted-up pop divas, Madonna remains a formidable concert draw.
But the current Re-Invention Tour, spread over 21 songs and 105 minutes, is a mess, a hodgepodge of ideas that never quite establishes its tenuous theme: personal reinvention as the key to world peace. There were Cirque du Soleil-like acrobatics from her dancers, moody visuals on a handful of movable screens that suggested the Goth-rock influence of Nine Inch Nails or Depeche Mode, and a bevy of set changes that evoked everything from Louis XIV decadence to Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket." For longtime Madonna watchers, it simply meant a less-than-satisfying makeover, long on simplistic political themes and short on the old sexed-up dance numbers.
Madonna was never a particularly personable performer; she always kept the audience on a short leash with her dominatrix demeanor. But the singer more than compensated with a subversive sense of humor that, when conspiring with the best of her melodic dance-pop, put a wicked twist on the notion of a "guilty pleasure." Once she was a female role model of the best sort, a self-possessed hurricane of ambition out to entertain at all costs. Now she's come down with a bad case of Significance, complete with self-help tips, a cover of John Lennon's Imagine and images of war-torn Third World countries.
It didn't help that the singer was touring behind her weakest album, American Life, which signaled that the Madonna party was definitely over. On this electro-folk sidestep, the erstwhile narcissist had been replaced by a kinder, humbler, more enlightened superstar. Her current tour weaves the gray American Life tunes into the fabric of more colorful musical moments from earlier eras.
Madonna is concentrating more than ever on singing. Though her voice was occasionally enhanced by backing vocals, she sounded poised and in tune, her tone warmer, her range broader. Her dance moves have become more stylized and deliberate, less overtly sexual and frantic, presumably to allow her enough room to catch her breath and belt out a forgotten Evita ballad such as Lament. There were some inspired moments: a splashy entrance for Vogue; a new-wave makeover for Burning Up, with Madonna strumming rudimentary rhythm guitar; an eerie techno-pop ballad, Frozen.
But there were early signs the show was in trouble. The muddled title song of American Life was performed in military fatigues, its most memorable moment a closing video image of Saddam Hussein and President Bush look-alikes embracing. An acoustic set, in which Madonna continued her unpromising transformation from dance queen into coffeehouse singer-songwriter, limped along until collapsing with Mother And Father, in which the singer tried to rap.
Almost out of desperation, she brought out a high-stepping Scottish bagpiper, right after a Missy Elliot video cameo on Into The Groove. What this had to do with anything was beyond me, but it sure was fun to watch. But just as the concert was starting to regain its balance, it was over in a shower of confetti and one-world bromides during Holiday.
"Come together in every nation," Madonna chirped.
"Reinvent Yourself," the video screen commanded.
Let me start off by saying that what I shared with the 20,000 members of the Madonna Nation Monday night at the Wachovia Center was not a concert.
No, my friends, it doesn't take much to figure out why the pop diva dubbed this the Re-Invention Tour. It's not because she reinvented herself, although she is a much more tame performer now as a 45-year-old mother than she was in her days as a provocative sex symbol, but instead because she has forever changed the concert experience.
What we were treated to was a full-tilt, non-stop, three-ring circus extravaganza that had your mouth agape, your heart pumping, and your eyes fighting with themselves as to where to look next.
My first observation in recollecting the evening's festivities is that I learned three things as fact.
1. Despite criticisms to the contrary, Madonna can sing, and sing with verve, with passion, and with a deft talent that never misses a note, even while she maintains pinpoint accuracy on all the dance numbers.
2. Not only can she sing and dance, but she can play the guitar as well, as was evidenced in several numbers when she played the instrument that she taught herself to play a mere four years ago.
3. The choreography of the entire show was perfect. And I mean perfect. So perfect that I was stunned at its precision. As a veteran theater-goer who has seen hundreds of musicals and dance routines, I can honestly say that what I saw on the stage this past weekend was better than all the rest combined.
There was so much to see that I can't describe it all here, but what stood out was the brilliant white tuxedoed-tap dancer; the red-top hat-wearing breakdancer, who windmilled around the stage doing things that didn't seem physically possible; the mohawk-wearing skate boarder who careened up and down a half-pipe; the Scottish bagpiper, who danced with Madonna as he flawlessly played away on his instrument; and the three trapeze artists who undulated in perfect synchronicity while dangerously flying out over the audience.
The costumes of the Maddonistas were equally eye-popping, ranging from army fatigues to Scottish kilts (and the audience did see what they were wearing underneath), to a flapper-esque '20s show girl look, to an anti-war eclectic ensemble that saw a nun, a few Middle Easterners, a few soldiers, a Confucius look-alike, and a bishop all being disrobed by some men with guns.
As for the music, the fans couldn't have had a better treat. After years of blowing off her older music, Madonna reverted to her '80s roots and gave the fans great renditions of her classics.
She made her anti-Bush commentary, begging the crowd to register to vote and not let the president lead the country astray.
She immediately followed that statement with a wistful, and fun rendition of John Lennon's Imagine which inspired older fans in the crowd to unleash the cigarette lighters.
The one disappointment was the lack of an encore - which I know is a Madonna staple, but hey, when you charge folks $300 a ducat, I think you owe them at least one return trip to the stage.
Nevertheless, that was only one small blip on a huge radar screen that announces to the world that the original pop diva has plenty left in the tank, and remains the greatest entertainer on the planet.
These days, you can call her Esther or maybe even Madge. You can marvel at her newfound political values, her quest for spiritual understanding and commitment, her astonishingly taut, yoga-sculpted, body-as-temple.
And this Sunday and Monday at the Wachovia Center, you also can bask in Madonna's seemingly endless array of new showbiz shtick - from a technically awesome stage setup to a sparkling dance troupe introducing the hottest confrontational street moves (a style dubbed "krump").
Why, there'll even be something for the "youngsters" in the crowd - a Mohawk-sporting skateboarder working stunts to the X-treme. (What is this, Cirque du Soleil?)
Yeah, Lady Madonna is hardly resting on her laurels. Always wary of the Andy Warhol prophecy that everybody gets a mere 15 minutes of fame, she's still striving to show us something new, to raise the bar of controversy, stagecraft and circus stunts.
Remember past identities? The trashy street urchin. The Marilyn Monroe reincarnate. The futuristic sex temptress in bullet-bra. The elegant English housewife and mother, nicknamed Madge in British tabloids, with a high-falutin' accent to match.
So it's really rather redundant (and obvious) that the artiste has opted to call her latest concert extravaganza The Re-Invention Tour. This pop chameleon might just as well have dubbed it "The Madonna Madonna Show."
But there is one genuine switcheroo this time. Madonna is mixing in some defensive as well offensive moves. Why? Because many of her recent career decisions have failed to set the world on fire, challenging her past rep for near-infallible vision and market savvy.
Take (please), her remake of the dark Italian film comedy Swept Away, directed by hubby Guy Ritchie, which stiffed at the box office in 2002.
Then last year's American Life album was critically panned and, by Madonna standards, a commercial disaster. It took three months for the album to achieve platinum (million-sales) status. And the set produced only one charted single, the title track, which peaked on the Billboard chart at a piddling No. 37.
As for her girl-on-girl smooching with singers Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at last year's MTV Video Music Awards, this major photo op seemed as much an act of desperation as it did a "passing of the baton" (or better, saliva) from one generation of pop tart to the next.
And while the singer/dancer is certainly moving a lot of tickets on the new tour, her first in three years, this Madonna extravaganza has not been selling out instantly or everywhere, as in days of yore.
Just last week, local concert promoters released a new batch of tickets to both shows at the Wachovia Center, ostensibly after determining how to most efficiently fit the big production set into the arena.
The first show had previously been declared a sellout, but the second one never has been. And if you go online to sites like eBay, you'll find offers of seats to the Philadelphia shows marked down to as little as one-third of face value.
So as an act of contrition to old-line fans, Madonna is doing what was previously an "unthinkable" in her book: She's revisiting early hits she swore she'd never perform live again.
Choreographer Jamie King takes credit (or blame) for talking the singer into doing the frothy Material Girl, which Madonna now ends with "I am a material girl - but not really." (So how come she's demanding as much as $302 a ticket?)
For Into The Groove, she's donning a kilt and jamming with a Highland bagpiper and drummers. Like, really.
Also presented in "re-invented" form are oldies-but-goodies Vogue, Express Yourself, Like A Prayer (with the artist strumming on acoustic guitar), Crazy For You, Holiday and Papa Don't Preach. The latter now spotlights Madonna and backup dancers/singers in T-shirts that proclaim "Kabbalists do it better."
That's a nod, as is the Hebrew lettering that flashes on the video screens, to Madonna's current passion for Kabbala, a mystical branch of Judaism that's become quite the cult phenomenon in La-La Land.
She's taken "Esther" as her Jewish name, and we hear that the assistant rabbi at the shul where she studies/worships is on the tour bus and blessing the stage before every performance. (To keep the spirit with you, be sure to pick up an official Madonna Kabbalah cut-n-sew sleeveless shirt, just $75, on your way out of the show.)
Bush-bashing is also part of the grand, dramatic scheme. A fatigues-and-beret-clad Madonna and her army of camouflaged, dancing soldiers (the Madonnistas?) crawl through battlefields in American Life.
This was a concept judged too hot for MTV (and blowhard, right-wing commentators) to handle last year in music video form, but these days it's proving more socially acceptable. Warming the song's end, the soldiers all hug as on-screen imagery shows Bush and Saddam Hussein look-alikes getting cozy.
John Lennon's peace-craving anthem Imagine has also been embraced by Madonna - and illustrated with bleak images of war orphans and bombed-out villages.
Missing in action, though, are a Madonna "given" of virtually every past show - a dramatic vignette or two with the artist writhing about the stage or co-joined with dancers in the heat of (mock) sexual pleasure.
Does this 45-year-old mother of two and children's book author find such conduct unseemly?
Fear not, thrill seekers. Plenty of naked bodies can be glimpsed wiggling about on the video screens in gritty, jump-cut, art-film fashion.
Having never seen Madonna in concert, and being an avid photographer, I was determined to combine my two passions and go shoot Madonna at her concert at the Worcester Centrum for the Sentinel & Enterprise.
Obtaining a press pass was no easy task, but after many faxed, e-mailed and requests by phone -- some might call it stalking at this point -- I somehow managed to penetrate the behemoth ClearChannel, and get photo credentials.
At the show on Sunday night, I waited downstairs with the other photogs, and tried to control my lens envy as I gazed longingly at their three and four-foot zoom lenses.
Finally, we were shepherded upstairs, through the VIP seating on the floor, and to a cage behind the soundbooth.
Madonna was late, the crowd was crazed, and screamed with anticipation every time a song on the canned music ended. This went on for almost an hour.
Finally the lights dimmed.
She launched into Vogue, as I snapped away, pausing to fumble for film as the AP photogs kept their gigantor digital lenses trained on Madonna's pores. My dinky lens, on the other hand, afforded me a shot of the entire stage with a minuscule Madonna doll in the middle.
We were only allowed to shoot for three songs and then I was going to head into the crowd and find some locals to talk to for an article. I admit, I was also tremendously excited to see the Material Girl -- in person -- for the very first time. Just Like a Virgin.
"Are you leaving?" asked the Worcester Centrum representative who was leading us through the crowds.
"Can I stay?" Why did my voice sound so small?
Mistake No. 1. Don't ask. Tell.
"Oh, I'm sorry, you can't stay without a ticket," said Mr. Centrum man.
"A ticket? But I have a press pass," I thought. "Press pass trumps ticket."
Usually yes, but apparently not at the Madonna concert at the Worcester Centrum Centre.
Even though there were a truckload of extra tickets for all four of the Worcester shows going for peanuts all over the Internet, my presence at the concert for the rest of the show was going to upset the delicate balance.
Since I was supposed to cover the concert and write a review, "This may pose a problem," I thought.
I tried to appeal to Mr. Centrum Man, who was very nice and remained very firm on the subject as he led me further and further from Express Yourself and the gamboling dancers on stage.
All of a sudden, I found myself outside the Centrum, while Madonna played on inside.
I could just barely hear the music as I sat on the steps of the Centrum. All the ticket-vendors who were peddling $10 and $20 tickets earlier were now nowhere to be seen.
I fingered my useless press pass, and gazed morosely into the glass doors.
I was very very very disappointed.
Still, I got to go. I got to shoot it. The three songs I saw were absolutely awesome.
Oh, well. I'm more of a Phish fan anyway. Oh, wait....they're breaking up.
Madonna's Re-Invention Tour rolled into the Worcester Centrum for the first of four performances last night, and while there were new touches on several songs, the set-list emphasis was still on dance-floor thumpers, mostly from her last album, American Life. And the visual element was at least a co-star of the show.
The sheer scope was exhausting - costume changes after every few songs, a troupe of 10 backup dancers, a five-piece band, two backup singers, and four giant video screens showing different projections (as well as two more trained on the star of the show).
Heck, some of the interludes that covered Madonna's costume changes were more opulent than many bands' tours. Some were borderline offensive, as when beefy background dancers made war look like a particularly strenuous dance number, while the video screens showed graphic war footage, all to cover Madonna's change into faux Che-gear for American Life.
The near-sensory overload veered between moments of interesting juxtaposition and semiotic incoherence. The Weimar-style black-and-white 'set' for the acoustic guitar-driven Don't Tell Me was lovely, but what American Life was trying to say is anyone's guess. It's rare when an artist onstage gives an upturned middle finger, and you're not sure whom it's directed at. (The song also incorporated some of the video footage that was excised from the song's video.)
And so it went: The sequence of a gently swinging Hanky Panky and a hushed Deeper And Deeper gave something to hang onto, but then there were images of x-rays and the elderly on the too-slight Die Another Day, Hebrew letters and stigmata on Mother And Father (which featured some of Madonna's best singing of the night).
Many of the songs worked as individual production numbers, but after a while the images became gimmicky - There she is with an electric guitar! There she is in an electric chair! - and detracted from each other.
Madonna's voice has never been the world's strongest (as she has said herself), but it was as strong as ever last night. There was some lip-synching, particularly on the first couple of songs.
As has been widely noted, Into The Groove began with an interlude of bagpipes and martial drums, and broke down to bagpipes on the bridge, but the effect was inconsequential - indeed, by the end of the show, nothing was a shock.
There's something about the widely varied looks and images that works in aradio or video context - it's a shot of variety and the unexpected, and in small doses it's invigorating. In a live setting, with the condensed, cascading effect of so many numbers in a row, it's easy to appreciate, even be wowed by, the sheer scope and the energy being expended. But to what end?
As a collection of dance-floor thumpers, the show had more than its share of moments - Nobody Knows Me, Vogue, the early Burning Up. But if the gaudy show business was intended to make a deeper point, it's not immediately clear what it was.
The tour continues with shows tonight, Wednesday and Thursday.
Even before the mohawked skateboarder began riding the half-pipe during Hollywood, interest in the thin red string circling Madonna's left wrist had vanished. As well it should have. With a two-hour show this gorgeous and this artful, Madonna hardly needed to rely on a spiritual stunt to generate the sort of excitement that, 20 years into her iconic pop career, she's still capable of conceiving brilliantly and executing it masterfully.
That said, she takes pleasure in keeping us guessing. Or maybe she's just an equal-opportunity disciple, happy to give props to Hebrew script and Jesus on the cross, which were both featured prominently on video screens.
More to the point - this is a concert, not a celebrity inquest - in the era of over-the-top arena spectacles, Madonna has taken the concept to a new level. Without a unifying thread and in defiance of every aesthetic law known to man, she wove elements of burlesque, extreme sports, rock concerts, Cirque du Soleil, military drills, art installations, dance theater, yoga, and antiwar rallies into a whole. And seamlessness was merely the icing.
The Re-Invention Tour, which sounded so desperately self-referential on paper, turns out to be impossibly accurate. Madonna manages to reinvent her reinventions. She gilded Vogue with a French court twist, delivered an irony-free Material Girl, deepened Into The Groove with bagpipes and kilts, and redefined Express Yourself as a drummer boy's march into battle.
The latter tune featured the fatigues and rifles from the proceeding number American Life, but the jarring image neatly summed up what Madonna's career has been about: Mindful confrontation, artful provocation, and the use of every part of her body and mind to spark her own little culture wars.
She's never sounded better. The treated chirp of her early years, which morphed into the dreadful earnestness of the Evita era, has matured into a strong, clear singing voice. A few years ago the idea of Madonna standing alone at a microphone singing Frozen would have been a dubious one. Last night she commanded her spectacle and her music with equal clarity.
Describing the breath of the pageantry during American Life, her most blatant political statements, images of firestorms, screaming helicopters, and wounded children flashed on video screens while dancers dressed in religious frocks (this being a Madonna show, the habits and burkas were minis) traversed a massive V-shaped catwalk above the audience. Sure it was preachy. Timely, too.
She's traded in her bullet bra for spangled hot pants, disco beats for finger popping, and transformed Hanky Panky and Deeper And Deeper into noir numbers. Likewise, the abstract ballroom choreography of Die Another Day was an elegant antidote to the rote gyrations favored by the next generation of pop stars.
A blipping, bloated take on John Lennon's Imagine was the evening's one misstep. But her heart was in the right place. And for the first time in a long time, so were all the artistic pieces.
Near the end of her show last night at the Worcester Centrum, Madonna dedicated the prom-night oldie, Crazy For You, to all those people "who stuck by me for the last 20 years."
The hits-laden, 105-minute visual feast was like a mash note to everyone who's followed the twists and turns and avant garde detours on her trip from "boy toy" to Esther.
A stylish tip of the cap to the people who ponied up the ridiculously high price of $300 for last night's top ticket, to those who defended her notorious "Sex" book, went to see her movies and who have loved her in all her brash glory as well as her self-indulgent missteps.
It was firmly the former on display last night as Madonna kicked off her four-night stand with style and grace, giving good face and even better voice.
In fact, Mrs. Guy Ritchie, the first to admit that she's not the best singer, has never sounded more solid and self-assured even as she was in constant motion on moving catwalks, sliding conveyor belts and hoofing it alongside her cadre of precision dancers.
If she denied fans the hits last time out, The Re-Invention Tour is virtually nothing but, from the sleekly choreographed opener Vogue to a singalong of the enduringly cheeky Material Girl to the unbound closer Holiday.
And in a neat trick that only Madonna could pull off, the 45-year-old singer gave the people what they wanted while reworking a few to suit her tastes.
An almost constant barrage of images accompanied the music and dancing on mammoth video screens on and surrounding the stage.
After seeing Madonna's Re-Invention Tour on both coasts — New York and L.A. — I'm looking for ways to re-invent my job so FOX News will fly me to other locales along "Esther's" tour route. (I mean, is a quick hop across the pond for a Paris show really too much to ask?)
Whatever your feelings about Madonna (given name), Madge (nickname) or Esther (kooky Kabbalah name) — and let's face it, all three can be irritating — Re-Invention is simply one of the best stadium shows I've ever seen. It works on every level: 20-odd years of hit songs (some with terrific new arrangements), innovative choreography (not the same tired moves you see from Britney, Janet, etc.), creative costuming (from Scottish kilts to flapper girl skivvies), cutting-edge videography and perfect pacing.
There was only one difference between the New York and L.A. shows I saw — in the land of fair-haired hotties, Madonna made like a blonde and forgot the words to John Lennon's Imagine. Oh, the musical sacrilege! What made it especially amusing was that she mentioned before she started the song that the lyrics are wonderful, important, timely — blah blah blah — so much so that she wished she had written it — and then, mid-song, she drew a blank! To be fair, she had been ill, and had canceled the previous show. But let me tell you, the face value on my ticket was $300, and if I'd had actually paid for that ticket (rather than shamelessly accepting a complimentary one), I would have wanted every darn word of every song. (I did pay in New York, where my ticket price was a "cheap" $105.)
It's funny, only Madonna could put together a show in which one minute she's singing, "Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can" (words she actually remembered) and in the next she's belting out the virtues of being a Material Girl!
Bagpipers and skateboarders. Yoga poses and a T-shirt reading "Kabbalists do it better." Rap and country music. Angry political statements and giddy party anthems.
Madonna's Wednesday night show at Madison Square Garden had all of the above, and more. A Madonna tour is, by definition, a spectacle. But she has never presented anything quite as dizzying and dazzling as her current Re-Invention Tour, which has four more dates at the Garden, as well as two at the Continental Airlines Arena.
Dancers turned into acrobats, spinning on swings high above the stage. They also breakdanced and tap-danced as images of Tarot cards flashed behind them. At two points in the show, a V-shaped ramp descended from the rafters and Madonna and the dancers ran out to the middle of the arena floor.
Without an album of new material to draw from, Madonna added new twists to some of her old songs. Material Girl and Burning Up took on a new-wave rock feel, and Deeper And Deeper became a jazzy ballad. Bagpipes and a filmed Missy Elliott rap were added to Into The Groove, while Don't Tell Me had a strange country-techno interlude.
Madonna sang Lament, from the rock opera Evita, from an electric chair and added video footage of a gospel choir to Like A Prayer. Artful film of entwined, slow-moving, near-naked bodies enhanced the yearning sentiment of the ballad Frozen.
In general, though, sexual content was kept to a minimum. Madonna seems more interested these days in spirituality and the state of the world.
One of the show's low points came during Express Yourself. Dancers dressed in military uniforms marched and twirled rifles with projections of tanks and planes behind them. Madonna herself held a rifle above her head as she sang the line, "What you need is a big strong hand to lift you to your higher ground."
One imagines she was making an anti-war statement, but the theatrics didn't make much sense accompanying a song about personal empowerment.
Better to be inscrutable, though, than heavy-handed.
American Life was accompanied by a video that showed, among other things, footage of a President Bush lookalike kissing a Saddam Hussein lookalike, and lovingly laying his head on the dictator's shoulder.
Shots of children suffering from malnutrition or violence were projected behind Madonna during her earnest cover of John Lennon's Imagine. Toward the end of the song, though, happy children were shown, and a Jewish boy and an Arab boy walked off together, arm in arm.
Madonna made her longest speech of the night before this number, encouraging fans to see Michael Moore's upcoming documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which explores links between the families of President Bush and Osama bin Laden.
"I don't think I ever cried so hard at a movie in my life," she said before thanking Moore, who was in the audience.
Later, she offered a more conventional thank-you, dedicating Crazy For You to the fans who have stuck by her through her entire career. She then sang a warm, relaxed version of the song. This was the concert's calmest moment, by far.
Then it was back to business as usual, with a manic Music, featuring hip-hop record scratching, dancers gliding around the stage on conveyor belts, and the word F-R-E-E-D-O-M spelled out on the dancers' butts. The show ended with Holiday, a celebratory dance-pop tune with prancing on the V-ramp, a blast of confetti, and a final video message: "Reinvent Yourself."
She may have adopted the new name Esther, but it was the same old Madonna electrifying Madison Square Garden last night.
In a barrage of video imagery, campy dance routines and hit songs, last night's opening concert of Madonna's six-show Garden series was more artistic regurgitation than reinvention - despite the title of this tour.
That isn't saying the tightly wrapped Re-Invention extravaganza wasn't fun eyeball candy. But in most ways, this show seemed to be the old Madonna in a new bustier.
While the lightning bolt of musical greatness didn't strike the stage during the nearly two-hour concert, Madonna razzle-dazzled her way into the hearts of the devoted audience with an entertaining theatrical revue that was elaborately staged, costumed and cast with a full dance troupe that included acrobats and even a Mohawked skateboard boy.
The 45-year-old pop legend sang well and looked great. And when it came to her dance-oriented pieces, she was certainly at her most compelling.
Yet, she was at her best when she performed her bare-bones strum 'n' hum Like A Prayer. Madonna accompanied herself on acoustic guitar, and it was the one song where a feeling of soul came across.
An unfortunate cover of John Lennon's Imagine, the low point of the night, followed that. She complicated it by playing it beneath images of desperately ill and dying children. Imagine, one of Lennon's best tunes, was such a downer, it felt as if Madonna pulled the plug on the show.
With all that's been made of her new-found Kabbalist leanings - which inspired her new name - and shadowy spiritualism, it was surprising how little of that made its way into this concert. She took a lesson from her own song Papa Don't Preach and didn't gab about finding higher ground. Yes, video images of Hebrew letters and pictures of the Sacred Heart Jesus popped up, but the projections were more graphic design than evangelism.
In fact, that was one of the biggest problems with this concert. The songs and the staging often had little to do with one another.
There was an anti-Republican undercurrent here, but Madonna smartly voiced no criticism of the president or his foreign policy in words. Instead, she let videos featuring the ravages of war convey her why-can't-we-just-get-along message.
As for the notion that Madonna couldn't sell out the Garden anymore, the reports of the demise of her career were greatly exaggerated. There wasn't an empty seat in sight.
For Madonna, necessity is the mother of "Re-Invention."
Super-savvy culture vulture that she is, the Material Mom knows that if she doesn't re-assert her relevance soon, she could quickly become a fringe best known for writing children's books and being Britney's gal-pal.
On the heels of disappointing sales for her American Life album and a hostile reception to her last movie, Swept Away, the 45-year-old entertainer has her back against the wall for the first time in her career.
The Re-Invention Tour is her way of proving she is not ready to retire to the London mansion with hubby Guy Ritchie and the kids just yet. At Madison Square Garden last night, the first of eight sold-out shows in New York in the next two weeks, she definitely made that point.
Many sing better. Others write better songs. But no one performs better than Madonna especially when she has something to prove.
In the nearly two-hour set, Madonna takes the audience on a whirlwind tour through her 20-year career. Some songs get shaken up the disco jam Deeper And Deeper gets jazzy, Like A Prayer gets an electro-country twang and Material Girl becomes a pop-punk rave-up. But what is even more impressive is how her elaborate performance art pieces enhance many of the songs. The athletic swinging of her dancers during Bedtime Story provides the song a grace that it never would have seen in a straight performance. The intricate moves of her 16-member dance troupe turned Into The Groove into a powerful dance piece instead of simply a dance-pop trifle. Papa Don't Preach was filled with playfulness and innocence, even including a ring-around-the-rosie dance.
This is a side of Madonna that she hasn't shown very often the one that has fun, the one that enjoys the roar of the crowd. She offered genuine appreciation for the cheers much like her decision to bring back songs from her past that she has tired of.
Making peace with her past doesn't mean she's ready to give up on the interests of her present. Kabbalah is present in the Hebrew letters that swirl on the big screens behind her and she even sports a t-shirt that says "Kabbalists Do It Better." Her anti-war, anti-Bush beliefs are clearly on display during American Life, as well as her overwhelming endorsement of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," which she said had her in tears. With this tour, Madonna can give the song her full support unlike last year, when she yanked the video to avoid controversy about complaining about Middle East policies in the middle of the Iraqi war. She was rightfully worried about getting Dixie-Chicked if she proceeded, but as it turned out, her album was basically blacklisted anyway.
If anyone could have waged a successful media campaign to get her anti-war, pro-troops point across, it would be Team Madonna. The Material Mom, however, plays things a little safer which is also evident on The Re-Invention Tour.
When Madonna dedicated her ballad Crazy For You to all her fans who have "stuck with me through thick and thin for the past 20 years," she short-circuited all the critiques of her 2001 Drowned World Tour, which was high on drama and production but low on fun and any sort of crowd interaction.
Madonna's latest reinvention may be her best one yet. She has not only become a champion of the underdogs but somehow an underdog herself. And as long as she offers amazing performances like this one, she will have an army of fans backing her up.
Madonna finally delivers the goods with the Re-Invention Tour — classic hits, cool sets and stunning choreography.
We have all suffered for Madonna's art. From her pretentious study of the Kabbalah to an implausible series of children's books to the dud American Life album, she has tested her fans' allegiance in recent years.
But now, after years of infusing her song lyrics and videos with religious symbolism, Madonna has performed her own Act of Contrition and delivers fans The Re-Invention Tour, the concert they were expecting last time around.
Gone are the dark and mystifying themes of 2001's Drowned World Tour. No more profanity-laced tirades. And nary a cone bra in sight.
Instead, fans July 24-25 will be treated to a two-hour tour de force — if her performance at Washington, D.C.'s MCI Center in June is any indication. The tour is an unapologetic celebration of the reason we have tolerated her missteps: those unforgettable ‘80s dance hits.
Fans who want to be surprised at the Atlanta shows should stop reading here. But if you can't resist a good spoiler, read on. The energetic show itself should still be awe-inspiring.
Since the tour began, Madonna has delivered the goods to packed, sweaty houses with many of her most memorable songs. With such a vast catalog of hits, she could easily afford to open the D.C. show with Vogue, which followed a striking video presentation of The Beast Within, a creepy recitation of passages from the Book of Revelations.
There was a rocking, guitar-fueled version of Material Girl, which she implored the audience to sing along with her. Her performance of Express Yourself featured a troupe of rifle-twirling dancers, which seemed inconsistent given the decidedly anti-war message of the American Life video.
Burning Up was a terrific surprise for old-school Madge fans and a bathroom break opportunity for the under-30 crowd. On Don't Tell Me, Madonna and Company traded their 10-gallon hats for berets and danced in front of an arresting Parisian cityscape image. Missy Elliott joined via video screen for a raucous Into The Groove, and Madonna got flirty on Hanky Panky before delivering a beautifully reworked and slowed-down Deeper And Deeper.
It's difficult to choose a single highlight from the show, but Like A Prayer comes closest. After warning the audience that she didn't want to see anyone sitting down, Madonna launched into a powerful rendition of the classic hit song, backed by video images of a choir.
The crowd went crazy, the gay men doffed their shirts and the entire audience shouted the lyrics. Note to straight men: We don't sit down during a Madonna show.
Unfortunately, Madonna couldn't resist making a few clumsy political points. The American Life performance was an all-out assault on the senses, featuring dancers inexplicably clad in burqas and mini-skirts, culminating with an image of President Bush coddling Saddam Hussein.
The set is in constant motion. From the opening video montage, which features multiple large screens moving across the stage, to a V-shaped catwalk that is lowered from the ceiling to the dazzling lighted setting for Music, the set design became an integral, gasp-inducing part of the show.
But the most effective element of this production has to be the video montages that accompany most numbers. Elaborately and creatively conceived, the videos are not a rehash of her MTV clips. Rather, they reflect a grown-up, thoughtful artist with an undying knack for challenging her fans' tastes and sensibilities.
At 45, Madonna can't perform handsprings and hoedowns much longer, so this may be the last chance to see her striking such a convincing pose.
The Re-Invention Tour is an expensive ticket and worth every cent.
Madonna's Re-Invention Tour '04 is the road trip the trailblazing pop mega-star's fans have craved for years.
"She did all her hits, she's never done that before," said a still-jazzed Rosie Young, 54, of Washington, D.C., moments after Madonna's recent concert at that city's MCI Center. "She was thanking all of us - her early fans."
Indeed, those going to the Wachovia Center on Sunday and/or Monday will hear a jukebox full of signatures by the Artist Currently Known As Esther. Among the numbers included in the two-hour, no-intermission rave-up are Vogue (the show's curtain-raiser), Like A Prayer, Into The Groove, Hanky Panky, Material Girl and Holiday.
This is in stark contrast to past tours, which emphasized her newest material and gave short shrift to her catalog.
Another departure is the tone of the Re-Invention program.
The show forgoes the kind of in-your-face sexual imagery and acting out that have long been mainstays of Madonna's repertoire. Missing are blatant simulations of sexual acts, references to lesbian S&M practices and the like.
Nor is there much in the way of using Catholic iconograpy in a less-than-respectful manner - a staple of some past tours.
This isn't to suggest Madonna has gone totally soft. But she has turned her attention from sex to other issues, specifically the current geopolitical state of affairs.
On several occasions, songs are accompanied by either military-themed choreography or video clips of wounded soldiers and "collateral damage" (maimed children, demolished non-military buildings, etc.).
Some of the images are particularly graphic and may be disturbing to younger, or more squeamish, audience members.
Madonna also plays up her ongoing fascination with Kabbalah, a strain of Judaism based on ancient mysticism.
One mystery, incidentally, is why she sometimes fills the video screens with untranslated Hebrew words. Wouldn't she want the audience - most of which, it can be assumed, doesn't read Hebrew - to understand her enthusiasm for this rather obscure philosophy?
Despite the tour's name and its departures from previous productions, at least one thing hasn't changed: Madonna continues to put an impressive amount of thought, effort and, most of all, money on stage.
The Re-Invention show is chock-full of state-of-the-art, eye-popping visual effects and astonishingly athletic dance routines. And speaking of which, it's downright amazing how a 45-year-old mother of two is able to perform such maneuvers with few between-song breaks.
All of the above combined to create a spectacle that had folks at the MCI Center promiscuously tossing about superlatives.
"She was phenomenal, although this was very tame compared to the old shows," said Debbie Levy, a 37-year-old saleswoman from Washington.
"It was amazing," enthused Brianna Rossi, a 24-year-old waitress from Baltimore.
"She played a great mix (of songs). And it's not just a concert. It's like a theatrical presentation. You were fully involved with the songs."
Similarly, there was no doubting where Baltimore's Maria Dinglas, 21, stood on the subject.
"It was awesome, the best Madonna concert ever," she said.
Dinglas, who works with disabled children, was one of several fans interviewed impressed with Madonna's physical condition as well as her performance.
"She still looks good," she said. "I want to look that good when I'm 45!"
By the time the skateboarder began riding a half-pipe ramp set up in the middle of the stage, there was no choice but surrender. The guy was soaring to the right, then to the left, just like they do in the X Games, and at that point anyone who wasn't already entertained into submission had to wave the white flag.
Still to come was a troupe of bagpipers, a tap dancer in white tails and a trapeze trio that swayed and contorted in unison. An hour into the Madonna concert at MCI Center on Sunday night, the realization dawned: Our Material Girl was never going to run out of material.
Certainly not until she had wheezed new meaning into the word "concert." It's unclear what a night at the Re-Invention Tour should be labeled, but the words currently available won't suffice. Madonna has created a new performance hybrid, one that lifts and blends elements of Broadway, Cirque du Soleil, Rock the Vote rallies, art installations, extreme sporting events, church sermons, disco dances and gun-spinning military drills. For a few songs, it even looked like a rock concert.
Here's the weird part: It's not a mess. It's actually kind of amazing. Pretentious and annoyingly preachy at moments, yes. Strangely devoid of titillation and almost tame by the standards of her naughty-naughty phase, sure. But measured in verve, nerve and technical wizardry, it's hard to leave this epic extravaganza feeling anything less than awe.
Just the seamlessness of it all is impressive. What's here -- and what was repeated for a second evening last night -- is a series of elaborate set pieces and costume dramas without a unifying thread, aside from Madonna's recording career. You imagine that a horde of roadies, miles of wire and a bank of iMacs were needed to make the gears of this machine whir correctly, yet the whole thing unfolds, wheels into place and lights up without a hint of effort. Even Madonna doesn't seem to be sweating much, which is a miracle, and not just because the air conditioning at MCI Center was turned off for much of the show. (Safe bet that was the star's idea; she hates air conditioning.) She's onstage every minute except the time it takes to switch outfits.
The difference between this show and the last, the Drowned World Tour of 2001, was striking. That show seems standoffish compared with this one, in part because Madonna has finally worked through whatever issues prevented her from performing her earliest hits.
"We're going to take a trip down memory lane," she said in one of the few asides to the audience. And we did. Papa Don't Preach, [...] and Into The Groove were revived, and Madonna treated those tunes like former friends with whom she wanted to party again. As surprising, Madonna managed to sell a few songs from her latest album, American Life, an absolute stinker that vanished shortly after its release last year. For the title track, she ran down a lengthy V-shaped catwalk that descended from the ceiling and allowed her to dance about 20 feet over the heads of fans near the middle of MCI. She ended that number by flipping the crowd the British equivalent of the bird. (It's the peace sign, only with the back of the hand to the recipient, if you're interested.) Either nobody realized it, or nobody minded.
Nobody seemed bothered by the antiwar, anti-Bush politics of the show, either. Every few songs, including a wistful take on John Lennon's Imagine, there were photo montages of war-ravaged children, bombed-out villages and heavy artillery. At one point, a video showed a Dubya look-alike lovingly resting his head on the shoulder of a Saddam Hussein look-alike, as though the pair were waiting for a marriage license.
Gutsy? Not at this point, now that it's safe to stand against the administration and safe to rant about Iraq. Madonna would earn points for courage if last year, at the time of the U.S. invasion, she hadn't yanked the video for American Life, which ridiculed Bush as a warmongering nincompoop.
No doubt Madonna was worried she'd get Dixie Chicked -- that country threesome paid dearly for criticizing the president during a show last year -- and maybe that fear was legitimate. But her finger-wagging Sunday night felt like catch-up, and it was turned into a "Miss Saigon"-style dance number that trivialized its own point of view. With the sound of a chopper thump-thumping in the background, her backup dancers, dressed as soldiers, crawled on their bellies as though in the middle of battle, then hugged each other as if saying goodbye. Then the fellas danced around Madonna, now in her Patty Hearst get-up -- camouflage pants, an olive army jacket, black beret.
"Stop all wars," Madonna commanded, before she and the Madonnistas left the stage for a costume change.
Will do, babe. Now play some of your hits, okay? Sillier still, Madonna kept pushing Kabala, a Jewish form of mysticism that's become the rage with celebrities in search of spiritual feeding. Hebrew letters, without translation, flashed time and again, and Madonna sang the last several numbers, including Crazy For You, wearing a T-shirt that read "Kabalists Do It Better."
A veteran button-pusher, Madonna has apparently given up on the one button she pushed better than any other: sex. It makes sense that a mom of 45 would give up her bullet bra and skip the bedroom bump and grind that was a staple of her early arena shows. But Re-Invention is filled with creepy screen images of naked bodies, all of them quivering and distressed through an editing technique that will be familiar to anyone who's seen a Marilyn Manson video. It's supposed to be arty, and at moments it is. It's also grim, especially if you're expecting a glimpse of the Madonna who made that porno picture book long ago.
She's gone, and in her place is P.T. Barnum with a microphone and a glittering, age-appropriate corset. For a few tunes, Madonna even played guitar in front of her otherwise low-profile band, looking a lot like Sheryl Crow and strumming the bejesus out of the instrument.
Thanks to such interludes, the occasional darkness of "Reinvention" is overwhelmed by the dazzle of its expertly synchronized parts, not to mention Madonna's willingness to at least pretend to enjoy her audience again. She didn't come back for an encore, but she closed with Holiday, amid cannon shots of confetti and a building filled with fans screaming so loud they seemed to forget the price of their tickets.
And the best seats, for the record, sold for $303.
The mother of reinvention seems more like a master of recycling these days. Madonna, the erstwhile Material Girl-turned-Britney-Spears-mentor, dropped by the MCI Center Sunday night for the first of two District stops on her Re-Invention Tour '04.
What stood out for those who have tracked her career through its many phases virgin, less than virgin, bad actress and children's book author is that today's Madonna isn't exactly sure who she is.
She no longer wants to titillate us, and her polemics always fall short of genuine insight.
Madonna, now 45, is one of several '80s icons, including The Cure and Prince, hitting the road again this summer. But while Prince's tour finds the multi-talented musician winning fans anew with his craft, Madonna dazzles with pyrotechnics. The best she can muster musically is to strum an acoustic guitar while a crush of musicians perform behind her, mostly on the periphery of the stage, without a ray of light to illuminate them.
Flanked by massive video screens for much of the affair, Madonna entered from a rising platform to Vogue.
Never mind her occasional British accent, which she should have left behind in her hotel suite.
The singer's voice, an able instrument but hardly her calling card, remained hale throughout the night.
Burning Up, a nugget better left buried, somehow made the oldies cut, while Material Girl got an irony-free treatment. She brought a jazzy touch to Deeper And Deeper, which showed vocal nuances we didn't know she had.
The best blend of music and the concert's visuals came with Like A Prayer, which she sang before a backdrop of black churchgoers streaming on the video screens.
The protest singer in her blanketed the night with morose good intentions.
Helicopter sounds and footage of wounded children made it abundantly clear Madonna is against war, but it's equally obvious she isn't interested in mocking our troops. She probably realized she looked smashing in a military beret and olive green shades and took it from there.
One could think for days and not come up with a more incongruous match between music and theme.
The night concluded with a big sign that read "Reinvent Yourself."
One day it might occur to her to actually be herself, and see what happens. It could be the only reinvention she hasn't tried yet.
Madonna's concert Sunday at San Jose's HP Pavilion landed on the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The military tie-in seemed especially apt four songs into the show, when the star appeared onstage to perform the title track from her latest album, American Life, backed by video screens showing war footage.
This wasn't a chronicle of France's liberation but a darker glimpse at carnage from other, morally ambiguous conflicts: Bombs razed villages; Iraqi and Vietnamese children bled and wailed.
Through it all, a khaki-attired Madonna and a phalanx of dancers dressed as soldiers, nuns, mullahs and priests got into the groove. The crowd cheered obliviously, horrific video images notwithstanding. Note to Madge: When making an anti-war statement, dance beats, star turns and choreographed stage moves distract from the message.
Madonna has always delivered mixed messages, whether flashing pictures of the pope during a song about teen pregnancy (Papa Don't Preach) in her '80s heyday or going on a vigilante vengeance spree in the video for her latter-day single What It Feels Like For A Girl. She makes her statements and lets fans interpret them as they will. That's the essence of her two-decade stardom -- at her best, she manages to be all things to all people.
Her Re-Invention Tour incorporates this melange of personae into a two- hour show that plays like Cliff's Notes to her career, with each new Madonna morphing into the next in a hypnotic jigsaw of sex, lies and videotape. At the first of her three San Jose concerts (there are still floor tickets available for the shows tonight and Wednesday), Madonna was alternately stunning, perplexing and absurd. Most important, she was always entertaining.
The concert highlighted the way in which spiritual iconography has replaced the star's '90s sexploitation, from kabbalah text swirling along to Like A Prayer to screens filled with Catholic religious art during Mother And Father. The night started with a biblical recitation, as Madonna's video image fractured from Whore of Babylon splendor to minimal asceticism. The singer then switched moods, rising from the stage in a glittering bustier and hot pants to recite Vogue against a museum backdrop filled with -- what else -- a series of shifting Madonna portraits. This was the night's first production number, with dancers strutting in 18th century garb while a backup band and two singers held down the musical front.
As this is a "reinvention" tour, Madonna has found various ways to retool her repertoire. Some of the best interpretations were those in which Maddie dispensed with lavish theatrics to play artist: Frozen and Like A Prayer were pared down to musical numbers built around Madonna and her band; Burning Up and Material Girl became singer-songwriter spotlights as Madonna showed off her competent guitar skills.
The larger ensemble songs were hit and miss. Express Yourself, another military-themed presentation ostensibly meant to celebrate individuality over indoctrination, shot itself in the foot when Madonna crooned, "What you need is a big, strong hand/ To lift you to your higher ground" while being elevated on the back of a rifle.
But a DJ breakdown of Music captured a certain club-land euphoria, and the night's final song, a remix of Holiday, was a confetti-strewn tribal love dance that fittingly ended the night at the point where Madonna's career began.
For the night's greatest-hits segment, Madonna changed into a kilt and a "Kabbalists Do It Better" T-shirt and joined a bagpiper (yes, a bagpiper; don't laugh, it worked) to cut loose with Papa Don't Preach and Into The Groove (featuring a video cameo by Missy Elliott). A schmaltzy Crazy For You followed, dedicated to "all my fans in the Bay Area who have stuck with me for the last 20 years."
Just because something's saccharine doesn't mean its sweetness is insincere -- and one of the tour's most discussed and vilified moments, a cover of John Lennon's Imagine, smacked of verisimilitude.
When Madonna announced the song by saying, "I didn't write this next song, but I wish I had, and I hope someday it becomes a reality," she sounded as close to bald honesty as a consummate gadfly can.
And here's the punch line: As a treacly international montage of children flickered across the overhead screens and Madonna ran through Lennon's well- worn paean to peace, the audience finally seemed to get it. No whoops greeted the sight of battered war kids; instead, lighters rose and the crowd sang along. Madonna, it seems, still knows how to work a cultural wave.
If there ever was a concert in recent memory that came close to being worth $300 for a top-tier face-value ticket, Madonna's Re-Invention Tour show Sunday night at HP Pavilion in San Jose would be it.
The high-energy performance -- visually and aurally -- was everything one would expect from someone of Madonna's legendary stature. In the nearly two-hour show, the Material Girl belted out 23 songs, from her biggest hits - Holiday, Vogue and Papa Don't Preach - to American Life, which is still searching for a spot on her hit-filled résumé.
Madonna, who performs in San Jose again tonight and Wednesday, changed costumes six times, going from soldier in camouflage to a Scottish dancer in a kilt. Conspicuously missing from this show, however, were that famous cone-capped bra and the megahit Like A Virgin.
The crowd, made up mostly of women in their 30s and men who aren't afraid of wearing pink, looked as if they had followed Madonna since her Virgin' years, reciting with ease the choruses to the songs. They wore jeans and T-shirts with individual lettering on them that spelled out "Material Girl" and "Madge" in honor of their idol.
performance. Every detail was taken into account, from the five
huge video screens to the tempo of her songs, which were sometimes
slowed down to give her time to breathe.
Singles like Frozen and Nothing Fails were sung at the microphone stand, sometimes with a guitar in hand, while others, like Don't Tell Me and Music, she sang while dancing. Her voice held up nicely for many of the songs, with the exception of the slow-tempo Crazy For You, which started out a little too sharp.
The Kabbalah-following fitness junkie looked physically solid, with her biceps bulging, as usual. Her body rivaled those of her dancers, who probably were decades younger.
But the dancers were an important highlight of the show: From yoga-like stances to break dancing and tap dancing, they displayed incredible versatility. Some doubled as vocal backup, drummers and even as a skateboarder.
And it wouldn't be a Madonna concert if she didn't inject some sexually charged behavior or delve into other controversial topics, like religion. At one point, as she stepped over a dancer as he lay, she paused suggestively, to approving cheers from the crowds. Religious overtones made way throughout the concert, from images of the crucifixion of Christ to T-shirts proclaiming "Kabbalists Do It Better."
As always, nothing was sacred when it comes to Madonna. She didn't stop at just plastering the cross on screen: Dancers frolicked in rabbi robes, and wore burqas that covered their heads and upper bodies but exposed their legs.
Other political statements were woven into the show. Dancers in bondage strapped her to an electric chair while she sang a haunting version of Lament from the musical Evita. And as Madonna covered John Lennon's inspiring Imagine, screens behind her flashed images of sick, starving and impoverished children.
While her video for American Life usually concludes with the image
of a chummy President Bush and Saddam Hussein, it ended this time
with Israeli and Palestinian boys arm in arm.
The theme on this night was obvious: On her and her dancers' boxer bottoms as they flashed the audience were letters that spelled out P-E-A-C-E.
Despite the tour being named Re-Invention, Madonna's performance seemed more of a well-polished look back at her lengthy career than a re-creation of a pop icon. But that's fine for this diva, who has made a career of confronting topics often banned at the dinner table -- sex and religion among them. And since she did all of that again Sunday night, one can only wonder how she'll address her favorite topics during her next tour.
If pop culture was a boyfriend, it would have a serious case of attention-deficit, running after every pretty thing that walked by. But, Madonna has whipped it into shape: teasing it, entrancing it and finally preaching to it. She demonstrated this prowess for a packed crowd Sunday night at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. If there ever was a concert that came close to being worth $300 this would be it. In nearly two hours, Madonna polished through 23 songs, from Material Girl to American Life. In addition, she changed six times, going from a sergeant in camouflage to a Scottish dancer in kilts.
Madonna may not possess Mariah's voice, Beyonce's curves or Britney's teen appeal, but all three younger divas could have learned a few tricks from the 45-year-old mother of two Saturday night.
Simply put, Madonna's concert -- the first of her two weekend shows at the MGM Grand Garden Arena -- was the most entertaining large-scale musical production to come through town in months.
The fourth stop on Madonna's 2004 Re-Invention Tour was far more successful than reports out of Los Angeles (site of the first three shows) might have suggested.
Perhaps the headliner had finally shaken a pesky stomach flu that caused her to postpone Tuesday's scheduled performance in L.A.
Either way, a sold-out crowd of 14,000 appeared all but unanimous in their approval on Saturday, grinning madly as they exited the arena covered in red and white confetti.
All but a few of the vocalists' eldest fans stayed until the last note of closing number, Holiday. That stood in sharp contrast to recent local appearances by Spears and Beyonce, which had hundreds flocking to the exits early.
Madonna maintained her audience's attention even when she was offstage for four costume changes, as her band continued playing while break dancers, trapezists and even a skateboarder performed.
That live entertainment filled breaks much better than the momentum-sapping video montages utilized by Spears, Beyonce and Cher at their 2004 tour stops in Las Vegas.
Far less sexually provocative than her reputation suggested, Madonna's show instead made its mark with an unsettling blend of political and religious imagery on three giant screens, and two slightly smaller ones, comprising the stage's backdrop.
Some of the visuals proved quite effective. Sad as it was to see a young girl in the crowd bury her head in her father's side as camouflage-clad dancers twirled rifles and explosions sounded during American Life, she's unlikely to forget the song's anti-war message.
And though it may have been a tad heavy-handed, Madonna's cover of John Lennon's Imagine -- complete with footage of dead and wounded children in combat locales -- elicited some of the night's loudest cheers.
Other times, Madonna's themes were too cryptic to have an impact. Hebrew lettering -- a symbol of the singer's devotion to Kabbalism, generally referred to as "Jewish mysticism" -- accompanied several numbers but was left untranslated.
A shot of Israeli and Palestinian youths walking together with arms entwined was moving, but a doctored photo of George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein smoking cigars together only seemed to confuse many in the crowd.
And images of Jesus on the cross during Mother And Father seemed depressingly out of place at a concert intended to be festive.
Physically, Madonna appeared quite fit, although she sported a black wrap on her left knee and an Ace bandage on her right forearm. She smiled often as she worked through dance numbers, played electric and acoustic guitars and sang songs from all periods of her 21-year career.
As the tour's moniker indicated, the concert featured reworked versions of several of Madonna's biggest hits. She turned 1992's Deeper And Deeper into a cabaret-style lounge number and 1983's Burning Up into a metallic rocker, while 1984's Into The Groove featured altered lyrics and a recorded cameo by rapper Missy Elliott.
Surprisingly, it was Madonna's newer material that often packed the most punch, however. The thumping techno beats of last year's Nobody Knows Me and 2002's Die Another Day got the crowd moving, while 2000's Music even brought two middle-aged women out of their seats for the only time all night.
The show sagged somewhat during its middle act, as fans sat down during a run of less familiar numbers. Like A Prayer, Madonna's megahit from 1989, signaled a return to form.
"OK, you people sitting down, this will not do," Madonna announced at the start of that song. "I'm spoiled. People do not sit down at my shows."
Vocally, Madonna sounded confident and assured. Though she was almost certainly backed by a taped version of herself at points, she appeared to do most of the actual singing live, as evidenced by a couple of cracks in her voice during 1985's Crazy For You.
That provided a final lesson for Spears and her lip-syncing clones on the scene today: whatever the outcome, a crowd will always respect an honest effort far more than recorded "perfection."
Back in 1989, Madonna and the rest of us didn't have a lot of war to worry about, unless you count U.S. efforts to depose Panama's Manuel Noriega. But we didn't let it bother us too much.
But times have changed. Madonna's 1989 hit Express Yourself now must be delivered with camouflage, rifle-twirling and a black beret that's very Che Guevara, albeit still kinda cute.
And so it went with much of Madonna's Re-Invention Tour, a sometimes awkward attempt to combine the flashy, trashy spectacle of the pop goddess's choreographed past with her newfound spirituality and humanitarian awareness. And as the camouflaged dance hit proved, the singer's look and personality are easier to reinvent than the songs themselves.
Still, the first of two sold-out nights at the MGM Grand on Saturday delivered most everything fans could have asked for from their ridiculously expensive tickets (top price: $382.50). It was edgy, full of visual surprise, loaded with more past hits than her most recent trip through town and even a little personal, if you paid attention to the details.
Photos of dead war civilians, women and children mostly, turned up on the overhead screens a number of times, contrasting with the video-game battle imagery that set the stage for the audacious American Life. As the singer and her dancers marched around a giant V-shaped truss that descended over the floor seats, the spectacle included men in cages, a pregnant nun and George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein looking cozy together on an overhead screen. Nobody ever said the two words in "pop art" always fit together easily.
Yet the complex stagecraft of four moving video screens, carrying imagery to rival the Elton John show at Caesars Palace, also reminded us that Madonna was the first superstar of the MTV video era. The old hits, such as the Vogue opener, were completely synonymous with their videos; any radio play was incidental.
The singer still feels no need to talk to us when pictures will suffice. Bedtime Story even allowed her to leave the stage completely for one of her many costume changes, while her video image sang to three Cirque du Soleil-style trapeze artists. Some people might not have noticed she was absent. Other big production numbers included a skateboarder (Hollywood) and an electric chair (Die Another Day).
Her few asides to the audience were, like her most recent MGM tour stop, reminders that no one was supposed to take a seat. "This will not do. I'm spoiled," she announced. "People don't sit at my shows."
But they do sit down when they're watching television. And if Madonna didn't kill the video to be a bit more exposed to the audience, whose fault was that? The rare quiet moments included a cover of John Lennon's Imagine and a reasonably toned-down Crazy For You delivered from an elevated tower and dedicated to fans "who have stuck with me through thick and thin" (if not Shanghai Surprise or Swept Away).
The 45-year-old mother constantly reminded us that she has more on her mind than sex these days, from the opening buildup of recorded Revelation scripture, to her "Kabbalists do it better" T-shirt or the plug for a Kabbalah organization called Spirituality for Kids (seriously).
Brazenly religious imagery, including Jesus on the cross, accompanied Mother And Father, the evening's heaviest, most challenging tune: "There was a time that I prayed to Jesus Christ/There was a time I had a mother it was nice."
A holiday weekend party crowd was more interested in oldies such as Holiday and Into The Groove, tricked up with current electronica rhythms, confetti cannons, kilts and bagpipes. At the end, the screen flashed one last communiqué, "Reinvent Yourself," before the house lights went up without even the tease of an encore.
Madonna had spoken. At least, in her trust-the-message-if-not-the-messenger kind of way. It was a fitting send-off from a media creation who is gradually becoming more flesh and blood, but who still holds that guitar more than she actually plays it.
America's showbiz capital shifted 250 miles east into the desert for the holiday weekend with both Prince and Madonna playing sold out shows in Las Vegas and a host of celebrities taking a break from Hollywood to fritter away their fortunes on gaming tables and overpriced drinks.
In her imperious manner, Madonna scolded her audience, exhorting the crowd at the MGM Grand, some of whom paid more than €300 a seat, to enjoy themselves and saying: Im spoiled. No one sits down at my concerts.
Watching Prince at the Mandalay Bay Hotels packed concert hall the following night was an altogether more intimate affair and his fans including Tiger Woods needed no urging to get up and dance. He was fun, too, another element sorely missing from Madonnas rather earnest Re-Invention Tour.
Madonna calls her new traveling show the Re-Invention World Tour, and, if anything, the name seems a bit too obvious. (You don't see John Kerry crisscrossing the country on a tour called Lots of Speeches.) For more than two decades she has stayed in the spotlight by shunning it every year or two, retreating to remake herself and then returning anew.
When you imagine Madonna, you don't see a single image but a time-lapse photograph, with one persona melting and warping into the next. It's an open-ended process, and when she's at her brilliant best, it's easy to believe that she could keep reinventing herself forever.
But where do those old selves go? That's what Madonna tried to figure out at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California, last week when she played the first date of a tour that is scheduled to end in Lisbon in mid-September. This was a dense, dizzying, often incoherent, sometimes exhilarating night, starring a great performer who often found herself shadowboxing with her past lives.
Madonna's most recent album, American Life (Warner Brothers/ Maverick), wasn't a big success, so this is in some small sense a comeback tour. Her seemingly happy marriage to Guy Ritchie, her new career writing children's books, her diminishing interest in sexual provocation - all of this may make Madonna happy, but it doesn't keep her fans salivating. So this tour is designed to remind them why they loved her in the first place.
The night began with an ominous recitation from the Book of Revelation, and then Madonna emerged in a sparkly bustier for Vogue, a tribute to New York night life that now sounds more like the soundtrack to an instructional Pilates video. "Strike a pose," Madonna sang, and then she did, supporting herself on her forearms while her booted and stockinged feet kicked the sky.
Madonna's old infatuation with decadence has largely given way to an obsession with physical and mental health: Her Web site, Madonna.com, reports that she requires "25 cases of Kabbalah water provided backstage nightly," and she paid cheerful but earnest tribute to her new favorite spiritual beliefs throughout the show: Near the end she sang Papa Don't Preach while wearing a T-shirt that read "Kabbalists Do It Better."
This meant that she had to find ways to reinterpret some of her older songs. Sometimes she did it gracefully, as when she sang a stripped-down Like A Prayer while Hebrew letters on the screen above her gave way to images of a black gospel chorus. And sometimes she did it clumsily: During Material Girl she made her famous (and complicated) declaration - "'Cause we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl" - and couldn't resist adding, "But not really!"
Madonna's clashing identities collided brilliantly during the dazzling second act, a military dream sequence that evoked a world of panic and confusion. It started with American Life, the electro-pop title track from the album, newly pumped up with a roaring guitar riff. She emerged in fatigues and a beret, backed by a troupe of dancers dressed as soldiers and religious figures, including a cardinal and a woman dressed in a spectacularly self-defeating garment best described as a micro-mini-burka.
By song's end the soldiers had stripped the faithful to their shorts and T-shirts, but the military drills continued, with Madonna as sergeant. There was a spine-tinglingly cynical version of Express Yourself: as she sang, "What you need is a big, strong hand/To lift you to your higher ground," she raised a rifle above her head.
During the concert's exuberant final act, the stage was given over to a bagpiper and a drum corps, and Madonna and her dancers emerged in matching kilts, racing through a handful of old favorite Into The Groove, enhanced with video clips from Missy Elliott; a nostalgic singalong on Crazy For You; a galloping tribal remix of Music. When it was all over a screen covered the stage, emblazoned with the words, "Reinvent Yourself" - advice, perhaps, from one Madonna to another.
There's a new Madonna on stage, and the transformation is the biggest shock of her big summer Re-Invention Tour. In the first stop, at the Los Angeles Forum on Monday, Madonna cast herself in a role she has never so forcefully tried before in concert: As a full-on singer.
Re-Invention certainly conforms to the music-video-era concert style that Madonna single-handedly pioneered - complete with flashy visual images, detailed choreography and fixed props. But she spends far more time than before simply belting in front of a band, just like an old-fashioned musician. Some lip-synched enhancement did seem to persist. But Madonna tried to sing with a careful new sense of purpose. As ambitions go, it was roughly equivalent to watching Janet Jackson suddenly present herself as a concert pianist at Carnegie Hall. That's more of a jolt than the not-too-Islamic sight of a bare-legged dancer draped in a miniskirt version of a burka. Or the video of George Bush and Saddam Hussein lovingly batting their eyes at each other. Or the moment when Madonna, for some baffling reason, was strapped into an electric chair.
As it turned out, Madonna's beefed-up vocals were one of the most enjoyable elements in a show that is by turns pretentious, exhilarating, preachy and a blast. Never one to lack force of will, Madonna is trying to accomplish an enormous amount with this event. Re-Invention is a career retrenchment tour. Her last album, the lumbering American Life, was the first commercial bomb of Madonna's 21-year career.
Many fans were also disappointed that her last tour, in 2001, featured few old faves. This time she's giving the people what they want. She features more than a dozen of her biggest smashes in the 24-song set, from Papa Don't Preach to Holiday. It's fantastic to hear these undying hits so well-performed and so inventively staged.
Madonna, 45, is also trying to gain back some of the edge she lost in her recent incarnation as a children's-book-writing, Kabbalah-studying, married mother of two. But to seize the moment again, she relies on one of her least-appealing traits - self-importance.
A major motif of Re-Invention is Madonna's anti-war protest. It's not often presented with what you'd call subtlety. In the creaky song American Life, dancers sternly march around in military fatigues as images of bloodied and terrified Iraqi children flash on the video screens. It ends with the Bush-Hussein image. Later, Madonna performs what has become one of the most cliched anthems of unity - John Lennon's Imagine - in front of images of wounded or angry kids. Even Holiday features a video backdrop of flags from all over, eventually bringing together Palestinian and Israeli symbols. Do we really need Madonna to become Joan Baez? Why isn't she content just to be Cher?
Luckily, the show's self-righteousness doesn't cancel out its
more joyous, creative and musical moments. Vogue
had the best fashion style, combining French Revolution with Frederick's
of Hollywood. Burning Up
found Madonna as a rock star, fronting the band with an electric
guitar. And the final super-hit section of the show couldn't have
offered a more exciting pop punch.
While you might have thought Madonna had run out of cultures to plunder, she has come up with one more for this segment, inspired by husband Guy Ritchie: the Scottish. The whole cast sported full-length kilts, shimmying to hits like Into The Groove and Music.
It was remarkable to hear Madonna singing so powerfully in Like A Prayer, Crazy For You and Deeper And Deeper. If only that payoff didn't come as part of a more general, nagging need to be taken dead seriously. The fact is, Madonna's most convincing message remains the one she offers at the start of her classic Into The Groove - "and you can dance." She's best when she makes it impossible for us not to.
She's in vogue. She's in the groove. She's expressing herself. Who's that girl? Who else but Madonna, reinventing her past in a splashy and stylish retro-fitted show (* * * * stars out of four). She's dubbed it the Re-Invention Tour, an unnecessary reminder considering she has been reinventing herself since 1983. Two decades after threatening to rule the world, pop's unstoppable dominatrix stepped on stage Monday night at the Great Western Forum to flaunt her considerable powers in a lavish and strenuous spectacle of song and dance.
It's one of several tours this year by veteran acts, Prince and David Bowie among them, reassessing and reclaiming their hits.
The two-hour career overview arrives amid cynical buzz about ploys to shore up sagging album sales with a quick-buck oldies tour featuring a Kabbalah pulpit.
Nonsense. Aside from Papa Don't Preach, rendered as a saucy romp, and a gorgeous version of Like A Prayer, religious references scattered through the non-stop dance party are arty and mildly provocative. She briefly dons a "Kabbalists do it better" T-shirt and wears the mystic sect's Red String around her left wrist, but otherwise avoids sermonizing, except to wholeheartedly fulfill Kabbalah's mandate to promote a positive flow of energy.
"I'm giving my all," she told the audience. Now there's something you can believe in. The concert is a rigorous, fast-paced escapade with bold sets, brazen choreography and sexy but age-appropriate costumes, plus a bagpiper, a skateboarder, a fire handler and acrobats on swings.
It's cheeky and challenging theater, from the naughty Victorian caper of Vogue and the harrowing drama of Frozen to the breezy Express Yourself, rocking Burning Up and mock combat of American Life, played out on a suspended V-shaped catwalk. And that's only in the first of four elaborate acts.
Deeper And Deeper, the only track from Erotica, gets an upbeat treatment before the mood downshifts for Die Another Day, when Madonna is strapped into an electric chair that rises on a platform. (Contrary to rumor, the switch isn't thrown.)
An acoustic set follows, with heartfelt renditions of Don't Tell Me, Like A Prayer and the show's two low points: a momentum-killing rap in Mother And Father and a cover of John Lennon's Imagine, competent but pointless considering the countless gems that could have been culled from her own catalog (Live to Tell, Oh Father, This Used To Be My Playground, Take A Bow).
At 45, Madonna is in fine voice, especially on the vintage tunes, where her silky tone may come as a surprise to fans familiar with the early chirp. She dances energetically with grace and funk, plays guitar and, naturally, has the shape and muscle density of a Barbie doll. Madonna's mini-me's (listening, Britney? J-Lo?) have a long way to go before they match her in vocal prowess or multitasking abilities.
Most notably, Madonna seems to be having a jolly good time. Whereas her last outing had technical strengths but lacked warmth, Re-Invention finds Madonna reinvested emotionally. The show doesn't have the degree of flesh, carnal content or shock value that past outings delivered, but this time Madonna is opting for more heart than cleavage and more personality than profanity. And she dances with the bagpiper. You won't get that at a Kabbalah class.
After twenty years in the limelight, Madonna is expected to cause controversy and reinvent herself for every new tour. So for the May 24th Los Angeles opening of her Re-Invention world trek, Madonna did the most unexpected thing she could: She came back as a great concert singer.
Even the most diehard Madonna fan will concede that her live performances have almost without exception been plagued by a multitude of missed notes, breathy passages, and, as of late, fake British accents. But while Mariah and Whitney have of been losing the acrobatic vocal dexterity and lung power on which their reputations rest, forty-five-year-old Madonna, whom few have ever taken seriously as a musician, has never sounded better than she did during the first of several gigs in her adopted West Coast home. Whether rocking out with classic black Les Paul in hand during a metallic rendition of her early club hit Burning Up, or performing Like A Prayer behind a screen-projected gospel choir, Madonna belted, and did not once seemed strained. In the midst of a $1 million production festooned with a walkway that jutted out from the stage and over the audience, massive moving video screens, a dozen dancers, a bagpipe player, a stunt skateboarder and a whole lot of emotionally charged anti-war imagery, the focus was nevertheless on Madonna, and how she's matured into a truly great pop singer.
Opening with a yoga-trained twist on her famous Louis XIV-inspired MTV Video Music Awards rendition of Vogue and ending on a kilt-wearing finale of Holiday against a video backdrop of national flags that eventually morphed into one, the show was thematically simpler and more focused than her last several productions.
The barbarism of war and the necessity of love were at the heart of the entire show, and both played off each other, sometimes for ironic and decidedly uneasy effect. The original military-themed video footage of American Life that the singer withheld at the start of the Iraq war was finally unveiled, and then expanded upon during Express Yourself, where Madonna sang her anthem of unbridled, intimate communication in front of dancers dressed as soldiers and goose-stepping with twirling rifles.
By contrast, Madonna closed an extended acoustic section of the show with a straightforward and thoroughly committed rendition of John Lennon's Imagine as images of war and poverty-ravaged children eventually gave way to footage of a Muslim boy and his Israeli counterpart smiling as they walked with their arms wrapped around each other.
The heaviness of much of the imagery was balanced by Madonna's own presence, which seemed remarkably fun-loving and self-assured for the opening night of her most technically complex production. Only when she strapped on an acoustic or electric guitar during several songs and repeatedly glanced at her left hand to make sure it was playing the proper chords did she seem at all nervous. "How many people out there really think that I am the Material Girl?" she asked during a break in her most iconic early smash as she strummed with much deliberation.
For the last several songs, Madonna and her dancers donned black and white kilts, an apparent nod to husband Guy Ritchie's Scottish heritage, and black T-shirts that read "Kabbalists Do It Better," a cheeky reference to both her religious studies and the "Italians Do It Better" T-shirt she wore during her video for Papa Don't Preach, a song that was performed without the "near-naked pregnant women" described in pre-tour reports of the show. In a number dedicated for the "fans that've stood by me for the last twenty years," she sang her earliest hit ballad, Crazy For You, earnestly and without contrivance.
Madonna's continued relevance was impressive, but it was even more striking that she's putting more love and genuine passion into her spectacle than ever.
Madonna's blond ambition is fading to bland. That's evident from these exclusive photos of her costumes for the Re-Invention concert tour, which kicked off Monday night in Los Angeles. The name "Re-Invention" promised some new and exciting looks, but there was no mojo in her erratic series of guises. She wore so many kooky looks — from showgirl corsets to combat boots to the inevitable Kabbalah T-shirt — that she apeared to be having an identity crisis. Whatever happened to Madonna, the trend-setting icon?
Here's a pop star whose entire career was built on distinct fashion phases: from the black fishnets and torn T-shirts of Lucky Star to the white corset and tulle skirt of Like A Virgin and the red gown and white gloves of Material Girl. Just over a decade ago, when the sassy provocateur created a firestorm by displaying her blond ambition in a pointy cone bra, it would have been insane to suggest she would mellow to the point of wearing buttoned-up army fatigues onstage.
Age, religion and motherhood no doubt have had an impact on the 45-year-old mother of two — and those who attended Monday night's concert took note of the changes. "I knew there would be a lot of politics and religion tonight. It's kind of like she's grown up, but she's still hot," said Dee Dee Kennedy, 36, a saleswoman for Ketel One Vodka, who saw Madonna 20 years ago. Instead of a sexy, flashy, fun-filled show, concertgoers Monday night got an endless dose of political and social commentary.
She sat in an electric chair and dances and sang against a backdrop of war images, President Bush and Saddam Hussein. The sound of detonating bombs punctuated the song American Life. Onstage, dancers dressed like soldiers did push-ups and calisthenics as helicopters swept in and infernos blazed on the video screens behind them. And then she sang John Lennon's Imagine, accompanied by a video of sick and injured children from around the world.
There was religion, too — plenty of it. Madonna's passion for fashion has clearly been usurped by her fetish for Kabbalah, as evidencd by the flashes of untranslated Hebrew text displayed in the background of her performance, which hits Madison Square Garden on June 16.
In a review in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, critic Robert Hillburn begged Madonna to "bring back the sex. Or at least something with flesh and blood, please." We just want her to bring back the cone bra.
No wonder Madonna ordered 25 cases of Kabbalah Water blessed and positive energy-charged with Jewish mysticism for backstage at Monday's opening night of her Re-Invention World Tour. Mid-concert inside the swamplike Great Western Forum, the perspiring peroxided provocateur was strapped into an electric chair by bare-chested male dancers and "zapped" as she sang Lament. In the capacity crowd, Material Girl groupies were gaga, including Madiva, who was really a man named Chris dressed like his icon in full makeup, French baroque corset and lacy bra. The guy sitting in the $300 seat behind the bewigged Madiva could barely see over his foot-high platinum tower of upswept Marie Antoinette curls.
It may have been an "electrifying" moment, but what comeback queen Madonna, 45, is reinventing herself as this time remained an enigma unless, God help us, a savior of the world. Although she's not known for being an outspoken political activist, a more grown-up, serious Madge belted out some tunes against disturbing video images of the Iraqi war and starving Third World kids.
For American Life, Madonna appeared in Army combat fatigues as "soldier" dancers did push-ups to the sounds of bombs dropping and in front of an oversized video screen displaying firefights and wounded youngsters and troops. Madonna wife, mother, Kabbalah devotee and children's book author soon twirled a rifle and marched.
During a rendition of Imagine, photos of children who were malnourished, homeless and in hospitals were put up, as was a picture of John Lennon, which got a huge audience cheer.
Of course, there were lighter antics Madonna in plaid kilts with bagpipe player and a carnival sequence featuring a fire twirler and skateboarder with red mohawk whooshing up and down a half-pipe ramp.
There was, however, no real raunch. No cone bras, no profanity, no Britney-esque lesbian lip lock.
Adoring fans some who sported their own cone bras still stood in long lines at concession stands to snatch up $65 Madonna T-shirts and $55 pill boxes embossed with her photo.
The 55-show much-hyped reinvention tour, which includes stops in Europe, is seen as a way to rev up the aging international superstar's career by looking back at some of her greatest hits. Madonna's most recent CD, American Life, released in spring 2003, sold less than an underwhelming 700,000 copies. And she stunk up the movie screen last year by appearing in husband Guy Ritchie's flop, Swept Away.
Over her 20-year career, the shrewd Madonna has courted controversy with her music and reigned as a diva of image redo. Her cross-burning video Like A Prayer brought condemnation from the pope. Her libido-obsessed album Erotica and accompanying coffee-table porno photo book, "Sex," caused a flap. In 1993, she angered the Puerto Rican government by putting the island's flag between her legs during a concert there.
But now the hot mama is mama to 7-year-old Lourdes, whose father is Madonna's former fitness trainer Carlos Leon, and 3-year-old Rocco, with British director Ritchie, whom she married in 2000. And the Catholic girl is heavily into the Hollywood-embraced Kabbalah spiritualism; during her entire performance, she wore a red Kabbalah string around her left wrist that the Jewish philosophy claims wards off the evil eye.
On the video screen, untranslated Hebrew text flashed for a couple songs. During Papa Don't Preach, Madonna twirled in her kilt and wore a black T-shirt with white letters that read, "Kabbalists Do It Better." She dedicated her single, Crazy For You, to all her fans "who have stuck by me for 20 years," then ripped off the Kabbalah T-shirt (she had a white tank top underneath) and threw it to the screaming fans.
That's about as crazy as she got interacting with the little people. At times, she seemed detached, and when she occasionally spoke, it was the pat stuff ("Are you having a good time?" "You guys are great.")
Maybe that's because Madonna was busy dancing, bouncing and sprawling her fine-toned bod all over the special "turntable" stage when she wasn't sitting back mellow-like and strumming the acoustic guitar. All that yoga, Pilates and workouts paid off, because she looks in incredible shape.
In Madonna's opening number, she sang Vogue, dressed in a 19th-century-inspired, champagne-colored, bejeweled corset created by French designer Christian Lacroix and made flexible enough for her to do her moves. Later, she performed some of her classics, including Like A Prayer and Into The Groove.
But she disappointed some fans by not singing her 1984 hit, Like A Virgin. And when the less than two-hour show ended with Holiday, it seemed a bit abrupt. Red and white confetti rained down on the audience as Madonna and dancers rocked the crowd and strutted over a suspended catwalk above the floor.
"Thank you, good night," she said to the fans who, for most of the evening, were on their feet. Two large, overhead panels closed over the stage that in lights spelled out "Reinvent Yourself." The audience stayed for a while and wildly applauded, expecting an encore. There was none.
"No encore. I'm pissed. I want my money back," a sweat-drenched fan said as she left.
Others are plagued with Madonna fever. "I love her artistic drive," said Madiva, 31, the Madonna impersonator who has a seven-room Madonna "museum" in his New York City home and plans to attend 35 of her tour concerts. "I've maxed out my credit cards it's the American way, baby."
Travis Goul, 32, who has tickets for 14 U.S. and European concerts, had six rhinestones stuck to his forehead and a jewel in each corner of his eye. The HMO case manager from L.A. and four friends wore T-shirts that read, "Madonna Cult Member."
Before entering The Forum, he predicted one inevitable part of her live show. "I have floor seats in the third row," he enthused. "I'll be able to feel her sweat."
So how does Madonna reinvent herself on her Re-Invention Tour? It's nearly impossible to count the ways. Actually, "re-inflame" might be the better word, as seemingly every second of her extravagant two-hour performance features something rousing, whether in the elaborate sets, the stunning choreography, the massive video screens or the music itself.
One minute she's provocatively vogueing with her male dancers while homoerotic images flash behind her, the next she's in fatigues, twirling a rifle to the sounds of explosions and helicopters. In the blink of an eye she goes from being strapped in an electric chair to pulling up her kilt to spell the word "FREEDOM" with glitter letters on her and her dancers' underpants.
"There's a lot of mixed messages," Madonna admitted Monday backstage at the sold-out Great Western Forum, where she launched the tour. "It would take me hours to explain them. Come back and see the show again."
At $315 for a decent seat (plus $20 to $60 for parking, $45 to $60 for a T-shirt and $10 to $18 for a drink), that's a luxury few can afford, but there's certainly enough to the show that seeing it several times would make for different experiences. Like the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy with more sex.
Monday's show was divided into five segments, beginning with what resembled a Renaissance-era ball, until Madonna and her dancers walked on their hands and feet the arched-back way (ouch!) during a breakdown in the opening number, Vogue.
The band, tucked away in the back corners for most of the show, seamlessly transitioned from Nobody Knows Me to Frozen before a giant catwalk lowered from the ceiling and a circular section of the stage turned to reveal stacks of TVs.
Dancers dressed as soldiers, as well as nuns and other religious figures, joined Madge for a rendition of American Life made extra stark by images of war flashing on the various screens.
Livening up the mood, Madonna asked, "Come on, boys, do you believe in love?" as she launched into Express Yourself. After donning a guitar for Burning Up, she segued into an almost hard-rock version of Material Girl.
While Madonna exited for her third costume change, the stage turned again to reveal a circuslike atmosphere complete with a half-pipe and mohawked skateboarder. Various dancers, from a breakdancer to a tap dancer, strutted their stuff to the music of Hollywood, setting the tone for lighthearted, showgirl-like performances of Hanky Panky and Deeper And Deeper.
With Madonna still in her sexy corset, the mood suddenly turned for Die Another Day, which included imagery of an old man on his deathbed and ended with Madonna singing on an electric chair as it raised high above the stage.
"That's my favorite part," Madonna said later. "I like the idea of being restrained. I'm singing about all the things I could have had, but my ego got in the way and I destroyed all my happiness."
Swings dropped from the ceiling and three acrobatic dancers got their slither on for the next transition, which found Madonna in a black Stella McCartney suit to sing Nothing Fails and a funked-up Don't Tell Me.
"That was just a warm-up," she announced. "I don't want to see anyone sitting down the rest of the show. I'm giving my all and that's what I want back."
With that, she launched into Like A Prayer, accentuated by footage of a gospel choir. Images of Jesus and Mary faded away only to be replaced by impoverished kids. To accompany the heartbreaking photos, Madonna covered John Lennon's Imagine.
"I wanted to make a statement," Madonna said after the show. "I feel like that song is the ultimate peace song. ... And it was important to have the stuff going on behind me, the pictures, and really hit home that children are involved in all this chaos and destruction. I don't think people remember that all the time."
A bagpipe player and a drumline, all decked out in kilts, took the stage playing a beat that morphed into Into The Groove. As Missy Elliott (also in Scottish attire) appeared on the screens to rap her part of the remix, Madonna and her dancers used wooden posts to enhance their hopscotch-style routine.
After donning a "Kabbalahists Do It Better" T-shirt for Papa Don't Preach (a play off the "Italians Do It Better" shirt she wore in the 1986 video), she slowed it down with Crazy For You."This is for all my fans who've stuck by me the last 20 years," she said.
The stage made one last turn, this time revealing lighted staircases surrounding a DJ, who mixed and scratched through Music while Madonna and her dancers transformed the arena into a steamy nightclub.
For the finale, the catwalk lowered again and Madonna danced to the front, singing Holiday as confetti exploded from all corners of the building, covering the enthusiastic audience.
Christina Aguilera, who had watched quietly from her seat most of the show, even cheered. And why not? All that excitement and she didn't even have to make out with Madonna.
The Re-Invention Tour plays the Forum again Tuesday (May 25) and Wednesday before moving on through the rest of the United States and then Canada and Europe before ending in September.
We've come to expect a few things from Madonna's live stage shows: energetic dance routines, quick changes of breathtaking costumes, more than a whiff of sexual innuendo, startling imagery in short, a whole sound-and-light spectacle.
All the elements were in place as the 45-year-old happily married mother-of-two kicked off her first world tour in three years. Madonna strutted her stuff for two hours before a sell-out crowd at the Forum in Los Angeles on Monday night, thumping her way through 22 numbers that spanned her 20-year back catalogue.
Re-Invention, the show was called. But really, it was more of a re-tooling, a restatement of familiar themes and ideas in a glossy new package.
In an obvious nod to world events, she donned combat fatigues, and had dancers dressed up as soldiers doing push-ups and calisthenics to a video backdrop of whirring helicopters and explosions. This, though, was little more than a stage rendition of the much-discussed video she produced for last year's album, American Life.
Still, she pushed the theme as far as it would go. At one point, she offered a cover of John Lennon's Imagine, with images of sick and injured children projected behind her. In another sequence, she used footage of two boys, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, walking arm in arm. A world gone half-crazy was only one element of an eclectic show, however. Madonna stepped out at the beginning in a jewel-encrusted corset. Later on, she performed a suggestive tango with one of her female dancers. Her song Like A Prayer was given the gospel treatment, while Papa Don't Preach was given a distinctively Scottish flavour, complete with kilts and a bagpiper.
The singer's interest in the spiritual philosophy of the Jewish Kabbalah also received an airing, with untranslated Hebrew text scrolled behind her.
The Los Angeles debut is the start of a 50-date tour of North America and Europe, including six nights in London in August. Rumours were swirling yesterday over her decision to cancel three planned stops in Israel, with various newspapers suggesting she had received specific threats against her and her two children Lourdes, seven, and Rocco, three. That, though, appeared to be an overheated interpretation of events. Madonna told the US programme Access Hollywood that her managers had been overwhelmed by the security implications. Asked if she had been personally threatened, she answered: "No. If I had my way, I'd go. My manager wouldn't let me."
Putting together a Madonna tour is no mean feat, which might explain why there hasn't been one since the Drowned World extravaganza in 2001. This time around, she has five on-stage musicians, a dozen dancers and more than 100 other roadies, managers, publicity staff and personal assistants. Designers commissioned to produce her wardrobe include Jean-Paul Gaultier, plus Stella McCartney, Christian Lacroix, Prada and Chanel.
The queen of pop, Madonna, has kicked off her new world tour in Los Angeles in a show peppered with anti-war images as she cancelled her Israeli concert dates amid fears of terror attacks. The musical icon launched her 50-concert tour in energetic style before a capacity crowd at the Inglewood Forum late Monday, switching seamlessly from jewelled costumes to military fatigues that evoked war in the Middle East.
But as the queen of the revamp began her Re-Invention Tour, the mother of two announced she had been forced to pull the plug on her Israeli tour as violence racks the West Bank and Gaza. "It's not a good idea to go there and do concerts," she told the US television entertainment show "Access Hollywood" in an exclusive interview aired late Monday. The British tabloid newspaper The Sun reported Monday that Madonna had cancelled her three Israeli dates after she received threats against her and her children, seven-year-old Lourdes and three-year-old Rocco. But Madonna denied she or her brood had been threatened, saying: "No, if I had my way, I'd go. My manager wouldn't let me." She said her manager scrapped the Israeli concerts scheduled for September because of the "attack on the leader of Hamas." Israeli forces killed the Hamas founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in March and his successor, Abdelaziz Rantissi, in April amid an escalation of violence in the region.
Under the shadow of Middle East violence and the war in Iraq, the 45-year-old Madonna kicked off her politically fuelled Re-Invention Tour with the energy that made her world famous more than two decades ago. A video backdrop showing tough images of US soldiers at war and injured children popped up during her camouflage-clad rendition of American Life, drawing ire from some members of the audience. Images of a Palestinian boy walking arm in arm with an Israeli were shown, and pictures of ill or injured children formed the backdrop as Madonna sang John Lennon's Imagine.
She belted out both new and classic songs, including Vogue, Into The Groove, Crazy For You and Papa Don't Preach, as well as her mega-hit Material Girl. But some fans, who paid up to 200 dollars for their tickets, were bitterly disappointed that she did not perform one of her trademark numbers, Like A Virgin.
While there were around 12 costume changes, gone were the conical bras of her 1980s heyday, replaced by more sober and less sexually provocative duds.
Over the next four months, some 750,000 fans are expected to see Madonna perform in concert in venues including London, New York, Paris and Toronto.
She may be supple, but Madonna was anything but subtle when she kicked off her 50-date Re-Invention Tour in Los Angeles last night. In a show that sometimes resembled a workout for the Olympic gymnastic team, she bent and birled, did backflips and pirouettes ... and still proved that she was still the undisputed queen of pop. The Material Girl may be a 45-year-old mother of two now, but she still has the body and moves of a woman half her age. She looked sensational as she showed off her physique toned by arduous sessions of Ashtanga yoga. The audience gasped as she appeared in five eye-popping costumes by designers Chanel, John Paul Gaultier, Stella McCartney and Christian Lacroix.
These are Madonna's first live dates since 2001, when she embarked on the Drowned World Tour. Having embraced marriage, motherhood and spiritual awakening, she's now out to show fans that she's still at the top of her game. Madonna will take a 110-strong entourage on the tour, which will make its way across North America and Europe. More than 750,000 fans are expected to see the show which she will use to showcase music from her 20-year career. She arrives in London in August for six dates at Wembley Stadium.
The Re-Invention Tour began in Los Angeles last night and featured the Material Girl dancing in Army fatigues while images of war accompanied her songs. Fans had paid more than £100 to watch the show, which was set to the sounds of dropping bombs and military helicopters. Images of a Palestinian boy walking arm in arm with an Israeli were shown, and pictures of ill or injured children formed the backdrop as Madonna sang John Lennon's Imagine. Despite the political statements, Madonna still pleased the fans with renditions of her most famous hits like [Holiday] and Vogue.
In another throwback to the past, the 45-year-old mother also donned a trademark cone-bra. Around three quarters of a million fans are expected to see the 39 shows scheduled for the United States and Canada. There will be more performances in Paris, Manchester and London.
Meanwhile, Madonna told a US television show that she wanted to perform in Israel but explained why plans to go there were dropped. She told Access Hollywood that her manager said she should not travel to Israel because of the “attack on the leader of Hamas”. “It's not a good idea to go there and do concerts,” she told the syndicated entertainment TV show. She said: “If I had my way, I'd go. My manager wouldn't let me.” Israel killed the founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in March and the group's Gaza leader, Abdul-Aziz Rantisi, in April.
Madonna has launched her world tour in Los Angeles with a politically-charged and highly energetic show. A capacity crowd turned out to see the pop icon take to the stage at The Forum in the LA suburb of Inglewood. Looking more toned than ever, the 45-year old performer belted out a string of her greatest hits including Into The Groove, Holiday, Vogue and Material Girl. Like A Prayer was a given a gospel treatment while Papa Don't Preach was reinvented with a Scottish lilt - complete with bagpipes and Madonna decked out in a swirling plaid kilt.
"It was fun, I loved it, it was awesome," said Oro Cro, a Madonna fan who travelled to LA from Mexico for the concert. "I love Madonna, anywhere she goes, I'll go."
Madonna has toned down her sexually provocative performances of previous tours. There were no conical bra outfits or overt expressions of sexuality. In fact, much to the disappointment of many fans she did not perform one of the best-known songs, Like a Virgin. Madonna has attempted to reinvent herself into a sober, thoughtful singer who takes time out during the frantic performance to strum a guitar and act all grown up.
"We are so disappointed - what happened to the cool energetic Madonna?' asked Meda Namdar, a fan from Orange County in California. "I mean come on dude, get out there, start dancing," she urged Madonna.
Politically, the concert hit a number of raw nerves with the audience. Madonna's use of video images of war - bombs being dropped and injured children - distracted the eye from the singer's own performance. The powerful footage dominated long sections of the show - including during Madonna's cover of John Lennon's Imagine. When Lennon's photo was flashed on the screen, the audience erupted. At times the political imagery prompted the audience to the raise the roof, but afterwards many expressed doubts and disappointment about the anti-war message.
"Nobody cares about her political views," said Ms Namdar. "Who is Madonna to be offering her political views - she's just an entertainer. It's like the Pope starting a rock band."
Other audience members said they felt the political theme was inappropriate for the times. "There are political leaders that make political decisions and there are entertainers that should entertain," said Vahid Berdjis, a physician originally from Iran who now works and lives in LA. "I can understand that both can be intermixed and intertwined but this is not the arena," he explained. "Especially in the state of emergency that this world is in where for just for one time we wanted to get out and have a good time and clear our minds."
"She's going into a different era with her music - she's trying to become very political and she's trying to appeal to the gentle side of people," suggested another fan - James McKowen from Liverpool, now living in LA. Others took the evening less seriously. In the car park after the event, one fan was boasting that he had managed to catch a sweaty T-shirt discarded into the crowd by Madonna. "We'll be on eBay tomorrow, look for us,' he screamed at fellow fans.
Madonna kicked off her worldwide Re-Invention Tour on Monday with an extravagant and politically charged show that featured the diva singing in Army fatigues against a video backdrop of a war-torn nation. Madonna opened the show wearing a jewel-encrusted corset but changed into combat gear when she sang American Life backed up by the sounds of dropping bombs. On stage, dancers dressed like soldiers did push-ups and calisthenics as helicopters and infernos blazed on the video screens behind them. The 45-year-old Material Girl did not disappoint her longtime fans, many of whom paid upward of $200 per ticket, by relying on many of her old hits like [Holiday] and Vogue punctuated by spectacular choreography.
"I knew there would be a lot of politics and religion tonight. It's kind of like she's grown up, but she's still hot," said Dee Dee Kennedy, 36, a saleswoman for Kettel One Vodka, who saw Madonna 20 years ago when she was a college student. Kennedy, who paid about $150 for her seat, also bought tickets for another Los Angeles show as well as one in Las Vegas this weekend.
Skirting her trademark cone-bra bustiers, Madonna aimed to shock the crowd with video shots of nudity and apocalyptic imagery. In one number, male dancers pranced around in plaid skirts. Spirituality and her passion for Kabbalah, an ancient practice of Jewish mysticism, also took center stage with untranslated Hebrew text often displayed in the background of her performances. Another high point for many concertgoers was Madonna's rendition of John Lennon's Imagine, which was accompanied by a video of sick and injured children from around the world.
An estimated 750,000 people are expected to see 39 shows scheduled for the U.S. and Canadian leg of her tour. Madonna's publicist declined to comment earlier on reports the performer canceled shows in Israel due to death threats directed at the singer and her family. Madonna's Drowned World Tour in 2001 grossed $55 million from 28 shows in 12 cities, ranking No. 6 on top U.S. tours for that year, according to concert trade magazine Pollstar.
"I'm gonna avoid the cliche." So goes the lyric from Madonna's Die Another Day, one of her more recent songs and one she performs in her Re-Invention Tour. This kicked off last night in Inglewood, Calif. at the Forum. That sentiment is not only the hallmark of most of her career, but it is the vital component that lifts her current concert spectacle thrillingly above a mere "greatest hits" concert package. The following is a report from my man on the scene, Denis Ferrara, a Madonna fan for several decades and an astute critic observer who was in L.A.
"Does she present those familiar tunes - Vogue, Into The Groove, Crazy For You, Papa Don't Preach? You bet. She even belts a song she once swore she hated and would never sing again - Material Girl. But if you were expecting her to don a scarlet strapless gown and shimmy a la Marilyn, you don't know your Madonna. She has taken some of her vintage pop history and made it 'shiny and new ... like a virgin.' (Sorry, she doesn't reinvent that one this time.) The arrangements are forcefully driven or sensually slowed down - who knew her Deeper And Deeper dance hit had such erotic/romance resonance?
"Madonna presents herself as a vital, joyfully relevant and committed artist. She is giving her fans a taste of the past, washed with her refusal to compromise or to condescend. Or even to pretend for the sake of entertainment that she hasn't changed. She has changed. And she hopes you have, too, or will. In other words, although there are no naked, pregnant dancing girls or 'plenty of lesbian love,' as has been erroneously reported, the envelope still gets pushed. Madonna and director Jamie King offer dazzling video images as Madonna performs - beautiful, disturbing, over the top, political, mystical, mysterious, religious. During Mother And Father, the Catholic images presented will wow even Mel Gibson - unless he objects to the lack of violence. Kabbalah, the spiritual philosophy that has so influenced Madonna, comes in for some recognition, but she does not belabor her beliefs. If controversy erupts, it will be because of how some of these images are interpreted not because of anything Madonna says or does onstage.
"There's no crotch-grabbing, pointed bosoms or pointless profanity from the star. In powerful voice, with much improved guitar skills, her athletic dance style denying the years, she needs nothing up her sleeve. She is still an artist who wants to provoke, to spark an idea, to amuse and engage. She seems, however, to have put Shock - for so long her random companion - to bed. She never really needed him.
"Unlike 2001's Drowned World Tour, which was dark, often hostile, Re-Invention returns Madonna to the light. She looks as if she is having a good time. Like A Prayer is an invocation of divine inspiration. Papa Don't Preach is rendered as a joyous celebration of nature, with Madonna girlishly whirling in a long plaid kilt and a white wife-beater tee. Hanky Panky is simply giddy fun. Her cover of John Lennon's Imagine - backed with the show's most moving visuals - is profound and resonant.
"Costuming is elegant and not fussy, except for a few leggy, showgirly getups. And even Madonna wanted a few more sequins, but Cher's two- year farewell tour depleted the world supply.
"Madonna performed for friends and family at Sunday's final rehearsal. There was some celeb glitz with the presence of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutchner. Lots of children, lots of Kabbalah pals. After the show, she called one of her spiritual advisers up on stage to give his blessing. He offered a homey tribute to everybody's dedication, power and faith, promising that the best was yet to be. This was nice but not enough for Madonna. 'Ooh, give us a blessing, please?' she asked winsomely. And so he did.
"Coming off after singing 22 songs live and dancing like a mad thing, Madonna looked remarkably fresh, if damp from exertion. Her body is petite, toned but not as muscular as it appears under the dramatic stage lighting. Complimented, she said, 'I hope you liked it. It came from the heart.' And then she inquired, with a kind of childlike hopelessness, 'When it was over, did you feel uplifted?' Assured, she shrugged delicately, beamed, and said, 'OK then, I've done my job.'"
And Denis, you did your job for all Madonna fans out there!
Madonna vaulted around the stage on the first night of her Re-Invention World Tour in Los Angeles more like her 22-year old new best friend Britney Spears than a 45-year-old who has been in the business for a quarter of a century. These extraordinary pictures taken at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles show just how flexible Madonna's devotion to yoga has made her.
In fact, much of the opening of the concert was taken up by Madonna showing off her latest moves - the crab position is instantly recognisable, then maybe... the lobster? It was starting to look like Madonna had gone all moderate on us with less flesh, sex and little mention of her antiwar stance. But an hour-and-a-half into the show, out came Old Sparky, the electric chair.
But even that though was a little of an anti-climax when, instead of sparks, the chair was simply lowered below stage.
A white bandage on her right arm and a black knee support showed signs that the superstar is getting older and she wore her red Kabbalah bracelet throughout.
Husband Guy Ritchie bounced and screamed from his seat on the sidelines. Tom Cruise and Christina Aguilera were among the celebrities in the audience. Madonna started in a glittery basque for Vogue then changed into a vest and kilt for Into The Groove and army gear for the Bush-bashing American Life. The tour, Madonna's first for three years, comes to the Wembley Arena in London in August.
Pop star Madonna was on sparkling form last night for the launch of her world tour. The singer showed herself to be in peak fitness at a packed concert in the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. The date was the first of 50 for the Re-Invention Tour which will see the singer perform in the US, Canada and Europe.
Her entourage includes more than 100 people travelling on the road, 56 security guards working backstage and 12 dancers. A truck houses her wardrobe and make-up and she has also made provision for a children's playroom backstage. An estimated 750,000 fans are expected to see the show, which arrives in the UK in August.↑ Back to top of page