That was in full force at her Wednesday concert at Miami's Dolphin Stadium, when she kept the packed house waiting 2 1/2 hours for the last U.S. show of her Sticky & Sweet tour.
And when she finally took the stage, a little past 10 p.m., there was not a word of explanation or apology.
At least the one-time Material Girl delivered the goods with an energetic, visually stimulating show that kept the crowd roaring until after midnight.
The set list came mainly from her latest album, Hard Candy, opening with the disc's lead-in track, Candy Shop, while images of sweets rolled off assembly lines on the large video screens surrounding her.
During She's Not Me, Madonna attacked dancers decked out in some of her earlier signature styles, grabbing a veil from a "Like a Virgin" model and knocking a wig off a "Respect Yourself"-clad woman.
Surprise guests turned up for some of Hard Candy's collaborative numbers -- Timbaland did his bit on 4 Minutes while video images of duet partner Justin Timberlake jumped from screen to screen around Madonna's slinky moves.
And for a driving Give It 2 Me, the show's finale, Pharrell joined Madonna onstage -- and at one point needed her help to escape the throng of whirling dancers.
Stars were in the crowd, too: Latin pop singer Paulina Rubio, Rod Stewart and recently divorced baseball star Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez, whose ex-wife filled tabloids by linking the Yankees star with Madonna -- whose own divorce will be finalized in just weeks.
Though A-Rod kicked up a frenzy of cell-phone camera and security-officer excitement when he took his front-and-center seat, not even the hot gossip could eclipse the heat onstage.
Madonna, 50, kept her style simple this time out -- long blond hair, basic makeup on an unbelievably unlined face, and clad mostly in black. Her troupe of dancers also spent a lot of time in black, making it all the more spectacular when they changed into colorful costumes, such as for a raucous version of Music, that seemed to spill out of a New York subway car.
Other reinvented favorites included an angry, guitar-fuelled Borderline; a big fat Greek wedding version of La Isla Bonita, complete with a Gypsy violinist and circular "Opa!" dance; and a stripped-down Vogue.
There were some fumbles: the dopey Spanish Lesson song and her usual political mumbo-jumbo video -- this one with dying elephants, starving children, Hitler and a tribute to Barack Obama that juxtaposed him with Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King.
But just like Madonna herself, the show always bounced back.
For one moment, she even relinquished control, letting a man in the crowd pick an oldie for her to perform. He chose Material Girl and she sang her classic a cappella, creating a giant singalong for fans.
Madonna not in control? Now that's a surprise reinvention.
I am writing this to you at 2 a.m. exactly, which is the time you get home if you live in Wilton Manors and go to Madonna concerts in Miami. Madonna does awful things to the Golden Glades Exchange. Madonna makes "lanes" meaningless and turn signals invisible. Madonna puts a look of terror on the faces of tollbooth attendants, who do not understand why 50,000 metrosexual, giddy, semi-drunk motorists should materialize simultaneously on the horizon at a few minutes past midnight.
But I understand. Now I do, at least. I've never been a big Madonna fan: I think her lyrics are stupid and self-serving at precisely the moment when she's trying to sound smart (American Life), and until tonight I didn't think she was much of a dancer. I thought she danced like your average Broadway chorus girl. Well, so much for that.
Madonna began the Miami show of her Sticky and Sweet tour at 10 p.m., about two and a half hours later than expected. My boyfriend and I were in the tenth row, a little to the left of the catwalk, and between the two of us we were already $63 in the hole: $30 for parking, and $33 for three hot dogs, a pretzel, a Pepsi and a Bud Light. I remember thinking: No way this is gonna be worth it. I felt vaguely resentful right up until showtime, and even then I might have been skeptical for a minute or two. But that's all. Writing this to you now, I'm half-convinced that the Madonna show was the most astonishing concert I've ever seen. Not in any musical way -- the mix was painfully bass-heavy, at least where we were sitting, and during the dancier numbers Madonna sang like she might have a chest cold -- but because of the lady herself.
At 50, Madonna's body isn't merely in shape. After decades of ruthless discipline, Madonna's body -- just like her career, persona, hair, and Western Civilization in general -- is less something she was born with than something she has fashioned from whole cloth, through nothing but the wermacht-like application of her will. Her torso is tiny, a compact command center for her extremeties. Her legs are the platonic ideal of legs. Her skin is perfectly smooth and her face lovelier than ever. But a good look at any part of the package will reveal the shifting bulges of massive muscle that lay just beneath the surface, muscles bigger than nature intended. The muscles in her thighs resemble big racing canoes, covered over with a membrane of milky, feminine skin.
The concert hadn't been underway for five minutes before I realized that these muscles are not for show, like a body-builder's, but that they constitute part of the same Madonna support-system as her hyper-competent, suit-wearing backup band and dozen-plus genre-defying backup dancers. She cultivated them so she wouldn't have to worry about them, so that her 50-year-old legs and 50-year-old arms would do precisely as she wished, no matter how punishing her wishes might be. And they are very punishing. Madonna came out dancing tonight, and she didn't stop until long after the ordinary rules of biology would have dropped any sane performer.
The Sticky and Sweet tour gives special emphasis to Madonna's new, urban-influenced record, Hard Candy. I've heard it only once, so much of the material performed tonight was only vaguely familiar. But in keeping with the clubby, bump-and-grindish vibe of her latest songs, Madonna's outfits on this tour are skimpy, and more sexual than anything she's worn since the Erotica days. And the beats are fast. She begins the concert from a chair, slowly unveiled from behind a series of huge moveable television screens (which ultimately cohese behind her band to form the backdrop of the whole set), and then she's up, dancing, singing, dancing, singing, through a medley of songs so energetic, with choreography so demanding, that she's plainly daring her body to fail. Then she's gone, after a tricked-out version of Vogue and twenty minutes or so of constant movement (that's a guess; time loses meaning at a Madonna show).
During the brief intermezzo, two of her dancers, dressed as boxers, stage a gorgeously choreographed match while DJ Enferno fucks around with Die Another Day. She's absent for only a minute or so, and then I see her beneath the stage on a hydraulic lift. She's jump roping, out of sight of the audience, expending energy with no clear purpose, suicidally confident that she's got plenty to spare. The lift brings her up into full view, where she jump ropes in front of the audience a bit before leaping into more hyper-athletic dancing, at one point executing some a viciously complex routine while double jump-roping with the apparatus held by two of her dancers. This looked so difficult I assumed she'd have to fuck up, but she didn't. It was like a little bit of Cirque du Soleil at Dolphin Stadium.
There's lots to be seen at a Madonna show. The mostly computer-generated background vids are busy and compelling (one of them was done by Keith Haring), especially after Madonna temporarily slows down mid-show to focus on singing. At the end of the stage's long catwalk, there is a huge, hollow, cylindrical television screen, and often Madonna or her dancers are half hidden within it while various species of psychedelia pulse across the surface. There is the moment when two dancers, dressed as samurai, execute a fiendishly difficult pop'n'lock routine in perfect synchrony during Devil Wouldn't Recognize You. There is the old, apparently Mexican guitarist who joins Madonna onstage for a long Latin-infused medley built around You Must Love Me and La Isla Bonita, and there is the flamenco dancer who briefly accompanies him. But just like the demands of Madonna's choreography, it's hard to see all the pomp and circumstance as anything but an elaborate dare: in a stadium as huge as Dolphin, in a crowd of 50,000+, will your gaze be drawn by the pretty lights, or will you have eyes only for their tireless architect? Tonight, everyone opted for the latter.
How fitting that Madonna would end the U.S. leg of her latest concert tour in Miami, which famously was once her nightlife playground.
The Material Girl-turned-Spiritual Mom wrapped up her Sticky & Sweet Tour Wednesday night at a sold-out Dolphin Stadium with a two-hour journey through her many styles, starting with her new hip-hop vibe. She opened with the one-two punch of the Prince-inspired Candy Shop, backed by dancers in top hats and tails, and Beat Goes On, during which she rode a white antique Rolls Royce out onto the catwalk.
Madonna didn't neglect her past. The fresh, innocent pop of her Borderline days (strange to think of Madonna as ever seeming "innocent") was given new muscle by the singer strapping on an electric guitar for a garage-rock version. Madonna also banged out power chords on Human Nature -- and while troubled pop princess Britney Spears didn't join her onstage as she did at Madge's L.A. show, a video of Brit trapped in an elevator added humor. And a tranced-up Like A Prayer, featuring Ninja dancers of all things, sent the crowd into a gospel frenzy.
Yes, Madonna started an hour later than her 9 p.m. goal, but hey -- this is Miami. The splashy, high-energy concert showed why the icon has managed to stay more or less at the top of the pop world for 25 years. At age 50, the musical chameleon hasn't lost her edge and still strives to break new ground.
The lively Into The Groove paid tribute -- and gave fresh life to -- old-school freestyle, with turntable wizard DJ Enferno weaving bits of Apache and Double Dutch Bus into the mix while Madonna worked a stripper pole next to him.
A touching video tribute to the late, great New York graffiti artist Keith Haring lent the song more urban street cred.
Enferno also mashed-up the dance anthem Music with the club classic Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, while street dancers in colorful '80s garb were backed by flashing graffiti on the video screen.
Madonna even took a request from an audience member, Juan. ("This is the part of the show where I ask someone if they want me to do an oldie-but-goodie.") Juan chose Material Girl, and Madonna sang the first two verses a capella, with a little help from the crowd.
Not everything worked well. The straight-up dance workout of Vogue was marred by distorted bass that made booming car stereo systems sound tame. The island rhythms of La Isla Bonita were turned into a sped-up gypsy hoedown that had Madonna straining to keep up vocally. And the glittery, disco ear candy of Hung Up was ragged, drowned by Madonna's guitar-work and a thunderous rhythm section that overpowered the rest of the music.
More successful were the new Miles Away, about the difficulty of keeping love alive ("You always love me more/Miles away/ I hear it in your voice/Miles away"), during which Madonna didn't mention her recent divorce from Guy Ritchie; the stomping, inspirational Ray Of Light, which caused mass euphoria; and her new hits 4 Minutes (Madonna did a virtual duet with Justin Timberlake) and the finale Give It 2 Me, which featured video grabs from '80s games including Space Invaders and Asteroids.
Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes joined Madonna onstage for a joyous extended jam, before GAME OVER appeared on the screen to end the show. Who needs an encore?
It's always tempting to view Madonna's music in the context of her very public life, and Wednesday's concert at Dolphins Stadium provided lots of potential references to her split with filmmaker Guy Ritchie.
At an outdoor concert that appeared close to sold out, the newly divorced Madonna sang about broken hearts, betrayals and sudden liberation like someone who's experienced all of them. Drawing heavily on her latest CD, Hard Candy, the seemingly tireless queen of dance pop also put on an energetic, highly visual show that didn't depend on current events for its electricity.
But a bit of fresh spite for the ex probably didn't hurt. Madonna, 50, was her feisty, frisky, costume-changing self. But something extra seemed to push her to be as physical, demonstrative and occasionally raunchy as she wanted to be. Whether that's the shock of a breakup, or just Madonna responding to a receptive, pro football-sized crowd in a city she has lived in is a matter of speculation.
An element of defiance ran through the set list, which was anchored by a new CD that has earned mixed reviews at best. Madonna, joined by a cast of more than 20 musicians and dancers, leaned hard on Hard Candy. She performed more than half the 12-song disc.
The clipped beats of Candy Shop opened a concert that started at 10 p.m. and ran past midnight. She also performed Heartbeat, Beat Goes On, She's Not Me, the melancholy Miles Away, the over-the-top pop flamenco ditty Spanish Lesson, the somber Devil Wouldn't Recognize You and 4 Minutes. The latter featured a surprise appearance by producer-rapper Timbaland.
These songs don't rank with Madonna's best work, but they held up on Wedneday as platforms for her elaborate, audiovisual choreography. Devil Wouldn't Recognize You was especially striking: Madonna sang atop a grand piano encased inside a transluscent video column and performed as imagery swirled ghostlike around her.
Madonna also played revised versions of her stand-bys. She strapped on a guitar for Borderline and helped make it sound like an '80s power-pop confection the Romantics or the Outfield might have played. Into The Groove got a playful visual remix, with brightly colored, child-like animations in the style of artist Keith Haring.
Madonna's voice at times wandered off pitch as she exerted herself dancing on some of the more brisk numbers. But she delivered a composed version of You Must Love Me, from Evita, with an acoustic arrangement that drew full attention to her voice.
Promoters of the South Florida stop on Madonna's Sticky & Sweet Tour were not guaranteeing a sellout of the available 50,000 seats. But the sizeable audience they did have included people who had obviously gone to some lengths to be here.
There were, for example, no $7 tickets to this show, but $7 is what Keith Martin Forman of Lauderhill said he had set aside for an event whose list prices topped $300. Martin, a musician and an aspiring actor on a starving artist's budget, had never seen the durable dance-pop queen in concert before.
"That's why I promised myself I was getting in, even with seven bucks," said Martin. He was speaking from the floor of Dolphins Stadium. Martin faced a stage bookended by a pair of massive, decorative "M"s and explained how he acquired his seat: an encounter with a kind stranger from Orlando who had an extra ticket to give away. His $7 went toward bottled water.
On a pleasantly cool evening, thousands filled the decks and covered floor. DJ Paul Oakenfold warmed up with a set of thumping dance beats. The crowd included longtime Madonna fans -- some who recalled seeing the Virgin tour at the old Sportatorium in Hollywood -- as well as people born after Madonna became synomymous with the 1980s.
Madonna The Diva arrived at Philips Arena some 95 minutes after the start time printed on her $57-to $352 tickets, with one toned, stockinged leg cocked over her throne and an invitation to her Candy Shop.
Butover the course of her approximately two-hour, sold-out performance, Madonna The MTV Icon didn't focus on the hitafter hit after hit that made her so. (Which would have been a treat). Instead,current CD Hard Candy got better treatment than record buyers and radioprogrammers gave it, amplified especially well by her 10-plus dancers and galvanizing staging. A production setwhere the towering video screens were bright with Keith Haring figures during her mid-'80s singleInto The Groove; split into life-sized Justin Timberlake cut-outsduring 4 Minutes; and a surprising distraction showing BritneySpears having what looked like a meltdown in an elevator during Human Nature.
Though Monday's concert was a mere three days after her preliminary divorce was granted, Madonna The Newly SingleWoman made no reference to soon-to-be ex, director Guy Richie - as she had on an earlier stop of her Sticky & Sweet Tour. In fact, most of her interaction with the audience - which included her Bedtime Stories producer Dallas Austin, and her pick for a mid-90s Calvin Klein ad, Atlanta's electric R&B singer Joi - was a bit mechanical, and distant.
But in the end, Madonna The Pop Star of a quarter century now, still put on an impressive stage show,reimagining catalog hits like Vogue and Borderlinewith new musical vibrance; and of course, her almost eerily-taut self, yet again, into less of a dancer-singer,and more of a still-evolving, all-around force to remark upon.
Madonna concerts are about excess. As the Material Girl evolved into the biggest female pop superstar of the last 25 years, her shows enlarged in scope tour by tour.
So it shouldn't surprise anyone that Madonna's return to Boardwalk Hall on Saturday, presented by Caesars Atlantic City, offered fans one of her biggest spectacles yet.
To put things in perspective, her Sticky & Sweet Tour transports 350 tons of equipment, 600 pieces of luggage, 100,000 feet of electrical cable, 71 guitars and 16 caterers from city to city. There also are five people who change Madonna into different costumes behind the scenes, a playroom for Madonna's children and four large freezers that hold nothing but ice packs for Madonna and her 28 dancers.
But it's what fans see on stage that really matters. And Madonna's latest tour is on par with the biggest shows Boardwalk Hall has ever hosted, rivaled only by The Rolling Stones and Madonna's last stop here.
The massive stage features two main platforms, one in the front and one at the end of a large ramp that extends through the middle of the sold-out crowd. There are nine hydraulic lifts that help Madonna, her dancers and DJ Enferno make spectacular appearances from under the stage. There's at least seven large video screens and a big cylindrical projection screen in the middle of the arena, ensuring the audience doesn't miss a thing. There's even a 1935 Auburn Speedster sports car that brings Madonna and her dancers to the stage. And don't forget the lasers, conveyer belt and boxing ring.
No doubt, the spectacle is there.
But can the recent divorcee still bring it musically? She certainly can.
On tour to support this year's Hard Candy CD, Madonna's voice sounds pretty great. She still looks incredibly sexy with her bulging biceps and washboard abs. And she remains a terrific dancer.
Performing 23 songs from her storied career in four sets - "Pimp," "N.Y. Old School," "Romani Gypsy" and "Rave Armageddon," the latter with a futuristic dance floor - the setlist was heavy on her new album. She offered a whopping nine new songs from the 12-cut album, which is OK when she delivers classic albums such as Music and Ray Of Light, but with a mediocre CD such as Hard Candy, nine songs is a lot to take, even with the eye-popping visuals.
The show began with Madonna arriving to the stage on a throne and blasting into back-to-back Hard Candy offerings - Candy Shop and Beat Goes On - before beginning to roll out some big hits, including Human Nature and Vogue, followed by a remix of her James Bond theme song, Die Another Day, in a video interlude.
The setlist certainly featured some nostalgic Madonna goodies, including a classic-rock version of Borderline, the still-incredible dance tune Into The Groove and the crowd favorite Like A Prayer, which feature freestyle dancing ninjas.
Of course, Madonna also rolled out the more techno-driven dance songs that helped reinvent her career, including Ray Of Light, Music and Hung Up. Her closer, Give It 2 Me, a fast-paced new track, served as a perfect encore and had the crowd dancing harder and singing louder than it did all night.
Along with the heavy Hard Candy setlist, there were a few other disappointments. The fact that Madonna, who is clearly not a great fretwoman, picks up the guitar for at least six songs is totally unnecessary. It also seemed like there was less overall dancing than on her Confessions Tour.
But there were far more positives than negatives, as there should be for a two-hour concert that received $350 for its top ticket price at the box office.
She's Not Me, one of the best songs off Hard Candy, came with Madonna's trademark attitude as she walked by fake Madonnas dressed as her in nostalgic Madonna garb, pointing her finger at them and verbally assaulting them one by one. La Isla Bonita was reworked as a country song with fiddles and an accordian - and was strangely satisfying. She showed her vocal chops on You Must Love Me, her Evita single that she nicely performed backed by four Gypsy musicians. And the virtual appearances via video screens from Kanye West, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell were very cool, with Britney Spears' appearance trapped in an elevator during Human Nature offering a real crowd-pleaser.
At 50 years old, Madonna remains the single most relevant female pop star in the world. If the Sticky & Sweet Tour affirms one thing, it's that Madonna still holds the title of "Queen of Pop." And it looks like she's not ready to relinquish it any time soon.
That's right, aging bad girl Madonna was in town last night for the Philadelphia stop of her Sticky & Sweet tour at the Wachovia Center, a tireless two hour affair that employed a dozen dancers, a band of Russian gypsy musicians, a 1935 Auburn Speedster classic car, and one fishnet pantyhose wearing megastar who leaves absolutely nothing to chance.
Well, not absolutely nothing. Towards the end of an aerobically relentless evening, Madonna did slow down to introduce her Philadelphia drummer Brian Frasier-Moore, and take one request, which turned out to be for her 1985 hit Dress You Up.
She sang it accompanied only by the handclaps of an adoring audience, prodded along by their head mistress with comments like "c'mon, muscle boys" directed at a particularly buff group of worshipers gathered at her feet.
Other than that relatively human moment, the show proceeded with ruthless efficiency in four distinct parts, divided by costume changes and video interludes.
It began on the black leather clad dance floor, with selections from her 2008 album Hard Candy like Beat Goes On, featuring guests Kanye West and Pharrell Williams projected on video screens. She rode down the stage runway in the sleek '35 Speedster, and on Human Nature, played guitar, which she's increasingly comfortable doing on stage.
The show then moved on to graffiti art and Keith Haring designed streetscapes. The 50-year-old Madonna, who has not an ounce of fat on her all-muscled frame, did the Double Dutch in her '80s style gym shorts on Into The Groove. She played a purple Gibson on a skillfully reworked chunky-riffed version of Borderline, and in a psychologically disturbing segment, dressed her female dancers as earlier incarnations of herself in She's Not Me, then assaulted them one by one.
The visually rich strangeness continued in the globally themed segment in which she sang Hard Candy's accusatory Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, while wearing a hooded robe out of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, as dancers dressed as samurai warriors convulsed alongside her.
Footage on the screen showed a funeral procession - perhaps for the death of her marriage to Guy Ritchie, which, according to wire service reports, is set to officially end in a London court today.
She caught her breath while the gypsy Kolpakov Trio played and her dance squadron showed off their stuff. And then she sang a forthright You Must Love Me in an acoustic arrangement as a needy plea to her audience, who responded with the affection asked of them.
As Madonna shows go, this one was short on sanctimony. There was only a video montage during a prerecorded Get Stupid that showed a parade of bad guys (Adolf Hitler, Kim Jung Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), followed by a parade of good guys (Mahatma Gandhi, Al Gore, Barack Obama), followed by a virtual Justin Timberlake getting busy with Madonna on 4 Minutes.
That song kicked off the final back-to-the-dance floor segment, with Like A Prayer suffering from a new too-thumping arrangement, and Hung Up, benefitting from a guitar-based reworking that ended with Madonna eliciting feedback from her instrument by grinding it against a speaker with her derriere.
After that, all that was left was for Madonna to demand for her audience to Give It 2 Me, and to repeat over and over the promise to them - and to herself - that was apparent all night long, and has been throughout her career: "Nothing's gonna stop me now."
Madonna continues her tour tomorrow in the region with a show at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
If you're going to wait so long to come home, you might as well do it up right.
Dropping into her old stomping grounds Tuesday night for her first show here in seven years, Madonna wowed a crowd of about 30,000 at Ford Field, serving up the sort of oversized oomph to match her stature as pop queen.
It was just as promised: a stylish sensory overload, brimming with high-end video, sublime lighting, strapping dance numbers and an array of pulsing hits. The homegrown hall of famer, tight and sinewy, was an onstage dynamo, whirling and gyrating her way through the biggest concert spectacle Detroit will see this year.
From an elevated throne -- where she perched spread-eagled in a fringed black leotard -- Madonna kicked into Candy Shop to launch an energetic, edge-of-risqué set that belied her 50 years.
She didn't acknowledge her homecoming until midway through, when she clicked her heels a la Dorothy and uttered, "There's no place like home." Later, she paid tribute to Detroiters' storied toughness, and wryly prodded the audience to clap along: "I don't come here very often, so please make a big deal about it."
The high-concept, even icy aura of her 2001 shows was replaced Tuesday night by a warm, vivid vibe. A nightclubby opening stretch gave way to a pleasant spell of mid-tempo pop, including a rocked up version of Borderline with Madonna providing chunky electric-guitar licks -- one of several reworked tunes that showed little taste for nostalgia.
Quietly aging material such as Music and Ray Of Light revealed that they're holding up well to time, and Into The Groove got a workout that showed why the versatile tune endures as a club staple. Hard Candy was the big focus, the songs delivered with cool elegance (Devil Wouldn't Recognize You) and high-energy sizzle (the epic closer Give It 2 Me). She didn't try to hide the vocal tracks occasionally synced up to her songs, treating them as just another theatrical element in a show full of them.
It was a night for people-watching, as a multigenerational crowd of about 30,000 piled into Ford Field in everything from kilts to hand-scrawled T-shirts. Many were casual fans, including large contingents of women friends, dressed for a party night out and ready for an evening of hits and pizazz. But the die-hards were easy to spot, too -- longtime devotees, many of them gay men, eager to indulge in a time-tested ritual with an artist many view as a personal icon.
Down front, fans rushed toward the stage during the show's early stretch, turning the clogged aisles into an impromptu dance floor before security eventually cleared the way. The crowd energy kept up for the duration of the night, boosted by an up-tempo set list and a pace that rarely flagged.
Unlike most of the dates on this tour -- and Madonna's previous stops in Michigan -- the show wasn't a sellout. If anything is a bellwether of tough times in Detroit, this was it. Fans elsewhere might still splurge $165-plus on good seats, but ticket brokers Tuesday afternoon were discounting Ford Field tickets by up to $100. And this in a city once known as a can't-miss concert market, for acts small and large.
With the stadium's upper level curtained off, the main stage was positioned at about the 25-yard line, with a ramp and satellite stage extending well into the crowd, where Madonna and her troupe ventured often for tightly choreographed dance pieces.
There was little to nitpick: The Sticky & Sweet show is such a meticulously crafted, professionally executed spectacle that something would have to go disastrously wrong -- screens falling down, sound zapping out, Madonna crawling -- to make it a bad concert.
At this point in the tour, just a week left in the U.S. leg, the set can be only second nature, and perhaps that's the only real criticism: There was a vaguely rote feel to the precisely arranged proceedings, though Madonna occasionally slipped into improv mode, most notably for a warbly a cappella rendition of Material Girl. ("How did I become known for that song?" she cracked.)
For an artist many assume is approaching a crucial crossroads -- heading into whatever her 50s might bring -- the star looked quite like herself Tuesday night: progressive, potent, in charge. There's no need to heed Thomas Wolfe, Madonna: You can come home again, you know.
It's been seven long years since Madonna last played her hometown, but when she arrived on stage Tuesday night at Ford Field -- fittingly, on nothing less than a throne -- the enormous grin on her face said it all: It was good to be home.
She said as much during her livewire two-hour concert, sprinkling hometown sentiment and "it's good to be home"-isms throughout the show. But she let her feelings really be known near the end of the night, before a sing-along portion of the show which included a karaoke-style version of her hit song Material Girl.
"I don't come here very often," she told the crowd of 30,000, "so please make a big deal about it!"
It wasn't hard to. The homegrown superstar -- way before she became the biggest star in all the land, she was just a kid from Rochester Hills with dreams of ruling the world -- put on a stadium-worthy celebration that was part concert, part block party, and all fun. Whereas past Madonna extravaganzas have served to titillate or provoke, the focus here seemed to be on having a good time, plain and simple.
Madonna offered up a fair number of selections from her latest, April's Hard Candy. Whereas the record is a bit of a stiff, in person it sounded positively vital, with an explosive, show-closing Give It 2 Me sounding nothing less than apocalyptic in its urgency.
She dipped into her back catalog, as well, offering revamped, reinvented versions of some of her biggest hits, including a thrashing, punk rock take on Borderline and a gypsy-style take on La Isla Bonita that would make her friends in Gogol Bordello proud.
The concert briefly delved into politics with a video montage showing images of famine and villainous world leaders, which later gave way to images of Bono, Oprah, John Lennon and yes, Barack Obama. Earlier tour stops included images of John McCain on the "bad" side of things, which have thankfully been excised post-election.
Madonna didn't always sing -- she oftentimes made no attempt to mask her piped in vocals -- but she constantly danced and always entertained. Her performance was tireless, and her ultra-fit, 50-year-old build continues to impress while gleefully mocking the rules of nature.
The homecoming was only slightly dampered by the crowd of 30,000, which was far from a sell-out (the entire upper deck was blocked off with a black curtain). The attendance figure can be blamed on several factors, including Michigan's down economy, the high ticket price and the fact that the local date wasn't announced until three months after the rest of the tour. Many local fans likely made the trek to shows in nearby cities such as Toronto or Chicago, thinking that like on Madonna's last two tours, there would not be a Detroit stop.
But it was good to have her back, if only for a night. And on that night she proved that despite her various personas and endless reinventions, there is still only one Madonna.
"Did you cry?" Aftermath asked a new friend during the mass exodus from Minute Maid Park after Madonna's first Houston show since she opened 1990's Blond Ambition tour at the Summit.
"Yes," she said, and from what Aftermath could gather from an informal straw poll, she was far from the only one.
Madonna's memory may be faulty – "I've never played Houston before," she said at one point – but that's about it. Now 50, the pop icon thrilled the sold-out crowd for almost two solid hours of sci-fi stagecraft (opener Candy Shop began like something out of The Terminator), steamy choreography and indelible songs.
Impressively, she did so without turning the affair into a greatest-hits revue – about half the set came from this year's Hard Candy, and there was only one song from Like A Virgin and no Papa Don't Preach, no Lucky Star, no Express Yourself. They weren't missed, mostly because like Madonna herself, nobody stopped moving long enough to notice.
How many of Hard Candy's songs – gloriously superficial mega-disco, with hooks for miles and beats for days - will survive into subsequent tours remains to be seen, but as a sonic backdrop to the outsize stage production that included a Rolls-Royce, gypsy minstrel troupe and video-screen guest appearances from Pharrell Williams, Kanye West and Justin Timberlake, they were perfect. Anything smaller just wouldn't be Madonna, and the songs' glossy hi-res production, freely mingling pop, R&B, hip-hop, rock and dance, is as cutting-edge as anything she's ever done.
It must be hell on Madonna to have to comb through her prodigious catalog when touring time rolls around, but Sunday's older material was well-chosen and rebooted to suit Madonna's contemporary technorama. Vogue was sleek and chic, with her shirtless hardbody dancers striking a pose in S&M gear, while Human Nature piled on mad heavy beats and more vocoder than three Zapp & Roger albums.
Into The Groove was retrofitted with a house beat as big as Carlos Lee's contract and bass deeper than the Mariana Trench as Madonna and company, clad in vintage Wild Style wardrobe, flitted about and ended with a jump-rope-off. Borderline was a stunner, redone as a Joan Jett-like rocker, one of several instances where Madonna proved her guitar was far more than a prop.
Let's see... what else? Hard Candy's She's Not Me found Madonna sparring with four look-alikes outfitted from her "Erotica," "Material Girl," "Like a Virgin" and "Vogue" videos – very meta, Madge – Music married A Chorus Line to Dr. Dre and La Isla Bonita ushered in a mid-set gypsy interlude featuring a fierce fiddle/accordion duel while one of her bohunks fed her a much-needed (I'm sure) drink of water.
And by the way, the glitzy 4 Minutes proved she can still sing her ass off, while Like A Prayer brought together gospel, techno, dancers in bondage/gimp getup, Mecca-like bowing and Arabic script, Hindu art and scattered proverbs onscreen. Aftermath isn't sure what it all meant, but it sure was something.
Then, Ray Of Light. You know the song, folks. Cue up a ginormous techno beat in your head, picture Madonna back on guitar and let your imagination go crazy. On a night when Minute Maid Park temporarily became the largest gay disco in North America – you have to wonder what Astros owner Drayton McLane thought about that – the song sounded as big as the cosmos onscreen.
You did Space City proud, Madonna. Don't wait another 18 years to come back.
There were references, visual and lyrical, to lip-smacking treats throughout Madonna's Sticky & Sweet Tour, which played to a frenzied, sold-out crowd Sunday night at Minute Maid Park.
Gumdrops and candies bounced across the stage's huge video screens (saving graces for anyone not seated on the floor). The cracked peppermint theme of Madonna's Hard Candy disc was all over the merchandise.
"My sugar is raw," she purred during opening track Candy Shop.
She definitely played up the tartness. But most surprising about Madonna's impeccably choreographed, frequently fantastic show was her willingness to show fans the flipside. She was still larger-than-life -- and astonishingly fit for 50 -- but Hard Candy's toot-toot disco beats seem to have softened her edges.
A sweet Madonna? Maybe not. But throughout her two-hour, four-act performance, the world's most famous woman seemed intent, even happy to connect with the crowd. She smiled often and seemed completely comfortable, at ease with her still-considerable powers.
If you've seen previous Madonna tours, the chatter is usually kept to a couple of sentences. She could zip through the show without an audience. This time around, she addressed fans frequently, even taking a late-set request for '94 hit Secret from a front-row fan (only if the crowd would help).
It made the late start -- more than two hours after the printed time -- seem like a faraway, minor quibble.
"I need you to have a good time," she ordered. "I don't come here very often."
Indeed, Madonna's last Texas appearance was the 1990 kickoff of her Blond Ambition tour at the Summit (now, ironically, Lakewood Church). Sunday's show was her only Texas appearance, and the Madonna party started early in the day.
Fans began lining up hours before doors opened. Several watched in awe from outside as Madonna performed an early evening sound check. Nearby restaurants and bars were at capacity, and several blared Madonna music into the streets. Traffic was often at a standstill.
Inside the venue, several fans were dressed like early Madonna incarnations (wedding dresses, cone bras). Others sported vintage T-shirts. And still more looked ready to walk the runways.
Giant M curtains towered over the floor, and Madonna made her entrance seated on a throne as 10 dancers gyrated around her. The pop queen was finally ready to see her loyal subjects.
There was burlesque charm during Candy Shop and Beat Goes On, which paired top hats with knee-high boots, gloves and a white Rolls Royce convertible. And she strummed the first of several guitar riffs during a brassy Human Nature, which featured a Britney Spears video appearance. (A virtual Justin Timberlake showed up later during a cleverly staged 4 Minutes.)
A backing track was sometimes apparent, but Madonna's voice was still surprisingly forceful. Up close, there are no signs of odd facial distortions rumored to be the result of plastic surgery, and her arms don't look so frighteningly thin. She raced effortlessly through intricate dance sequences that pop stars half her age couldn't master.
Vogue was a synchronized dominatrix-cabaret opus, mashed up with snippets of recent 4 Minutes. It gave way to a colorful stretch inspired by artist Keith Haring -- all jump ropes and short-shorts and '80s NYC street culture -- that included Into The Groove and newer tune Heartbeat.
The first few words of Borderline incited rapturous cheers, but Madonna wasn't interested in a complete retro-trip. She transformed the winsome pop classic into a revved-up arena rocker. And she sized up past personas during She's Not Me, which featured a quartet of dancers dressed in some of her most iconic outfits.
The entire show had an aggressive clubland sensibility that's lost on most major pop stars. It gave the tunes an electric undercurrent that regularly blasted through the surface. (Images of Al Gore and Barack Obama also drew roars from the crowd.)
Slower moments were filled with theatrical drama. Madonna crooned Devil Wouldn't Recognize You inside a video tunnel, shrouded in a hooded cape atop a piano. And You Must Love Me, her lovely Evita original, got an extra boost via somber scenes from the film. It also showcased an emotive vocal lilt.
The show's gypsy-folk sequence veered from the bilingual kick of Spanish Lesson to La Isla Bonita, which was transformed into a joyous, flamenco-fueled highlight. It was invigorating, especially with so many acts (George Michael, Janet Jackson, New Kids) relying on note-for-note retreads to sell tickets.
A twisting, tempestuous Like A Prayer kicked off a stretch that found Madonna in a silver bustier and blond bangs, soaring on risers like a superheroine. Ray Of Light pulsed with a delirious urgency, and Hung Up was recast as a riot-grrrl anthem before kicking into the familiar ABBA beat.
By the time she hit the remix finale of Give It 2 Me, it was an all-out Madonna freak-out. She stomped across the stage, dancers at her side, in a pair of black-framed glasses. The lights slowly rose as Madonna's candy shop came to a close, and Holiday played as fans filed out, still singing along and savoring the taste.
Is there such a thing as a bad Madonna show?
A friend asked me that question a couple days ago. He wasn't sucking up to Madge, the 50-year-old Queen of Pop, rather he was pointing out the obvious. Madonna is Madonna, and her well-documented past defines her as much as any live performance.
As a lifelong follower of Madonna, I can tell you there is such a thing as an off night for the diva. But her Tuesday-night bash, at the Pepsi Center wasn't one of them. Madonna was dynamic and effervescent on Tuesday, playing to the capacity crowd with every trick in her long and playful book. She'll repeat her performance tonight at the Pepsi Center.
Madonna can start the night (90 minutes late) with two lackluster songs — Candy Shop and Beat Goes On — and move onto a set that is as risky as it is expected. With an artist of Madonna's years of experience, the success of a big show comes down to one simple element: The setlist.
It's that simple. How many fans at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday were waiting to hear Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, a B-side from the new Hard Candy? Not many - as was obvious when the arena quieted during the unremarkable track. How many were wondering - out loud to their friends - if she would play Human Nature or La Isla Bonita? A lot.
Seriously. The arena was packed with thirty- and fortysomething ladies reliving their youths. Some were dressed up, veil and all, like Madonna circa her Like A Virgin days. Others simply bopped about like excited teenagers, gossiping about the Vegas setlist and the Britney rumors and the elaborate costume changes.
The show was obviously scripted to the very last step. But that's not to say it was all the expected.
A late-set La Isla Bonita was thrown into a upbeat, cumbia-gypsy haze, and the hyper-Latin approach worked wonders for a great, but aged, song. Human Nature is Madonna's sexy entry into the dark and moody world of trip-hop, but her current performance of the track posits it as a slow, angry rocker.
La Isla Bonita was the show's brightest, boldest, most daring moment — a triumph of reinvention, like Madonna herself. Human Nature was a low-point — a brave attempt at trying something new, but a low point regardless.
Borderline was a success story. With Madonna and her electric guitar, the song was gallantly transformed into an arena anthem from the 1980s - not all that unlike a great Journey song. Sounds weird? It was. And it was great.
At other times, Madonna kept with tried and true formulas. Into The Groove was a delightful explosion of color. No experimentation here, just pure pop goodness — set against the backdrop of bright Keith Haring animation.
Music was a buoyant and throbbing gay disco — the American arena equivalent to Berlin's Love Parade. Her courageous, late-set take on You Must Love Me — from the filmed version of the Broadway musical Evita — was spot-on and gorgeous with its string accompaniment.
It was also a needed opportunity to hear Madonna's actual voice. Madge let her back-up singers work a lot of the heavy lifting — hit choruses and the like — but with You Must Love Me, it was only her and the strings. And her voice sounded solid — a strong tip of the hat that we have many more years of her music ahead of us.
Madonna performs on stage at the Pepsi Center during her first-ever performance in Denver on Tuesday night.
OK, she wins.
Madonna was a pioneer of the big show, with larger than life theatrics, special effects, unparalleled choreography and eye-popping big-screen graphics. Along the way, others have tried to co-opt that crown, be it Janet, Britney, NSYNC or any number of others.
On stage at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night Madonna drove an antique car across the stage, played guitar in a Slash-like top hat, boxers sparred in a quickly constructed boxing ring, dancers appeared out of the floor, Britney Spears made a cameo via video, break-dancers performed on special rising stages, and Madonna vigorously jumped rope throughout an entire song – and that was just the first 20 minutes. No number of flyingBritneys or Backstreet Boys on floating ledges from years past could come close to the spectacle Madonna is making of herself this time around on the Sticky & Sweet Tour.
Think of a Broadway musical combined with a gymnastics exhibit, with Madonna as the lead gymnast. Critics make plenty of cracks about her age and her time spent in the gym, but her feats onstage would have been stunning for a 20-year-old – at an oxygen-thin altitude she hasn't played before, as this was her first-ever Denver show. She may not have been singing every note – there were some really questionable moments – but the fact that she was able to keep up a high-energy dance routine without so much as panting or a drop of sweat was impressive.
None of the themes or personas she adopted during the course of the evening made any sense, of course, be it the dominatrix in the automobile or the waif clad in Spanish clothes surrounded by dancing monks. Along the way she also had human models of herself, dressed for the different eras – Erotica, Material Girl, Desperately Seeking Susan and more.
Oh, the music? It was there. She managed to cram in 23 different tunes amid the costume changes and special effects. If hardcore fans had any complaints they didn't let them show. It does seem odd that someone with so many big hits stayed away from many of her biggest, best songs (though Into The Groove, Borderline, Ray Of Light and others did make the cut). Her signature song, Like A Virgin, isn't on the setlist this time around.
Her set started unnecessarily late, with Madonna taking the stage at 9:30 while parents in the audience fretted about sitters.
These spectacles sometimes feel they're of a different era, a throwback to the '90s and early '00s. With a packed house in a bad economy, Madonna's keeping them alive.
She entered upon a gleaming throne, leg draped over one of its shiny arms, exposing the goods like a little girl who keeps pulling her dress up over her head.
She speaks her mind and she grades on a curve.
"I'll give you a C," she told a near-capacity crowd at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday night, underwhelmed by the crowd's enthusiasm in joining her for an a cappella version of Open Your Heart.
It wasn't three songs into her set before she was flipping the audience the bird and bemoaning the relaxed vibe in the arena.
"There's a lot of laid-back people here tonight," she sighed at one point. "It's freaking me out. ... (Expletive) you."
But Madonna has always delighted in pushing peoples' buttons -- she's that kid in the back of the classroom, lobbing spitballs and trying to get the substitute teacher to lose his cool -- and she did her best to overwhelm at the first of two Vegas shows on her current Sticky and Sweet tour.
During the propulsive pop of Beat Goes On, she and a phalanx of dancers rode down the runway that jutted into the crowd in a sparkling white convertible, undulating to the beat.
She took to the stage skipping rope and playing double- dutch during the cardiovascular aerobics routine that was Into The Groove, interacted with a quartet of Madonna look-alikes from different eras of her career during She's Not Me and flung herself around a stripper pole mounted on a movable DJ booth at one point.
Through it all, an interesting duality emerged that defines a Madonna concert: They're highly choreographed, down to every more, and she lip-syncs (though not exclusively), not even pretending to sing the chorus on a show-opening Candy Shop, for instance.
But she also dramatically re-configures many of her songs live, transforming them into new shapes and forms, thus keeping the show from feeling overly canned despite how prefabricated it really is.
Few popsters would ever think of toying with some of their biggest hits the way Madonna does on stage.
Clutching a bright purple Gibson SG guitar, she turned early dance pop confection Borderline into a riff heavy rocker with flared nostrils that actually had some crowd members playing air drums.
Hung Up, the heart-pounding disco dervish from Madonna's last disc, Confessions On A Dance Floor, was given a similar treatment, slathered in muscular power chords until it could nearly be classified as a metal tune -- seriously (Madonna's live guitarist, Monte Pittman, actually plays with long-running headbangers Prong).
Ray Of Light was also turned into a bawdy, Bic-in-the-air sweat bath.
Elsewhere, Madonna ramp-ed up the BPM and added some serious torque to the bass lines in Music, once a spare and slinky little hip-shaker, which got turned into a concussive, full-contact rave up, as did Like A Prayer.
And during La Isla Bonita, Madonna brought out a fiddle player, an accordionist and a pair of older gents with guitars and wide smiles to add some indigenous instrumentation to the song, turning it into a raucous foot-stomper that sounded as if it were inspired by gypsy punk fireballs Gorgol Bordello.
Throughout the course of the show, there were a few moments of understatement, and they were a welcome break from the bombast, namely porcelain-delicate ballad You Must Love Me or the forlorn Miles Away, which she sang atop a piano cloaked in a flowing black robe.
Yeah, it was all patently ridiculous at times -- Madge in glittery red and silver shoulder pads during 4 Minutes. Huh? -- and we could have done without all the video interludes and dance routines, especially the one where a couple of dudes sparred to the beat in a makeshift boxing ring for no apparent reason.
But to lampoon a Madonna gig for its occasional detours into the absurd its kind of like critiquing a stripper based on her math skills, it's missing the point.
And the point is that bigger is almost always better, audacity certainly trumps reticence.
This was underscored by the time the show reached its sweaty conclusion with a seismic, hands-in-the-air Give It 2 Me.
"Don't need to catch my breath," Madonna howled on the tune, the rare sentiment that the crowd couldn't echo on this night.
10 reasons why Her Madgesty's L.A. bash proves – again – that she's leagues ahead of any other pop star.
Alternative title: Why it was worth crawling through four hours of ridiculous traffic to see the former Mrs. Ritchie's latest spectacle. We finally parked at 10 to 10, just as the lights went out nearly an hour and a half after she was due to start.
"She just went on!" exclaimed the woman behind us as she hopped down alone from her gigantic gas guzzler. Took her five hours to get there from Laguna.
We scrambled to our field seats while Madge and her dancers were piled high into a Rolls-Royce (I think) that slowly rolled to the satellite platform a conveyer belt away from the main stage. We were finally in place just as Britney Spears popped up to wave hello, mutter the monotone "express yourself don't repress yourself" hook, then disappear during Vogue. (Yes, that's all she did.)
Madonna doesn't hold anything back. Nothing can stop her from giving all, not even malfunctioning equipment. "Half of my stage is missing," she mentioned halfway into this two-hour extravaganza, just before its most intimate moment – when, flanked by a Romanian quartet on fiddle and acoustic guitars, she rearranged the Evita ballad You Must Love Me into a gypsy lullaby. Frankly, I bet most people would be hard-pressed to figure out what was missing, but Madonna was acutely aware: "The absence of light makes it hard for me to look into your eyes, and that's half the joy of performing. Come close... let me feel you."
All great performers should be able to shut out trouble and forge ahead; Madonna gets so compellingly in the zone she could have lit up the night even if this entire expanse had been reduced to a single spotlight. Her driving force: "When I dance I feel free," she sang in Heartbeat, "which makes me feel like the only one / The only one the light shines on."
She reinvents her songs as much as herself. Like Bowie, her music can be as chameleonic as her guises. Her brilliant rethinking of Borderline, for instance, rocked-up and Killers-ish, was a charging blast of sunshine, as was a remixed Into The Groove accompanied by Keith Haring-esque graphics and Madge jumping rope double Dutch style.
Jeff, who wasn't as thrilled by those moments, considers the highlight the explosively colorful La Isla Bonita/Lela Pala Tute segment, which dovetailed into that haunting You Must Love Me. Vogue lost its tunefulness amid a house beat, he feels, and Like A Prayer was lacking its choir-ific finish.
Yet even in those moments Madonna performed as if acting on a dare to bring new meaning to her old material – whereas Dylan, say, often will just take the heart out of "Like a Rolling Stone" and leave nothing but a chanted chorus behind. Madge tries on costumes that may or may not work but has the confidence to also strip it all away and appear small and shy while fingerpicking her guitar during the Evita number. That's not a typical thing to say of a woman who's been this famous for this long. It's humanizing.
She sang every lick of every song. Even when sweetened with effects or the extra oomph of two backing vocalists, she still belted out every word – almost always amid choreography, never abetted by a TelePrompTer.
She looks unreal. Superhuman, even. It's unseemly for critics to talk about how close to the action we get to be, but this time it warrants pointing out that the press corps were 13 rows back and directly to the right of the satellite stage. So close that even over thumping beats we could hear her high-heeled boots clack on the stage. So close that we could be amazed at how insanely fit and yoga-toned and thin she is – she's not svelte, she's positively gamine now – yet also notice how cragged her hands are, much older than her 50 years would suggest.
She commands attention. Not just from the everyday fan but every type of celebrity. We were also close enough to see plenty: Heidi Klum was two rows behind us, Rick Rubin not far behind her. Ryan Seacrest flitted about. Dennis Quaid, Tila Tequila and Donald Sutherland were on hand, along with J.Lo and Marc Anthony.
She's still edgily sexy. We could spew 1,000 words alone on the number of naughty gestures that can't be discussed here. "See my booty get down," she hollered out at one point – and we did, vividly, as she dropped to her knees and started grinding her body like this was Like A Virgin at the '85 VMAs all over again.
She remains an unparalleled pop performance artist. Speaking of that "Virgin"-al gal, she turned up here, as one of four surrogates during She's Not Me. That slut bride in chiffon was propped up in one corner of the satellite stage while other personas were positioned at opposing posts – the Marilyn-cribbing Material Girl, the platinum-blonde peep-show harlot of "Open Your Heart," the cone-bra-toting sexual aggressor of her Blond Ambition Tour.
As the song churned to a crescendo, its defiance shifted from post-infidelity vengeance to a telling tear-down of Madonna's past – yank the wig off the harlot, mock-suffocate the cone-bra poseur with the "Virgin" slut's veil, kiss the bride hard till her lipstick smears, then pick up wardrobe pieces from all four and crawl away.
What's that all mean? As with the glam-crucifixion centerpiece set to Live To Tell on her last tour, you decide. But it was only one of several riveting theatrical moments – another was the quasi-satanic routine for Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, with Madonna cloaked in a black, Anton LaVey robe – that could suck you into new songs you might not otherwise give two thoughts to.
She's still edgily sociopolitical. With protests raging throughout L.A. and Hollywood, you knew this would be something of a rally. As the iconic poster of our president-elect appeared like giant postage stamps behind her, she declared: "We've got something to celebrate – it's called Barack Obama, (bleeper-bleepers)!" She also vowed to never stop fighting for gay rights – "If we can have an African American in the White House, then we can have gay marriages" – and turned Like A Prayer into another moving plea for religious tolerance.
Yet all of that was contained in her closing segment, kicked off by a video (for the song "Get Stupid") that contrasted the evils of a century (from Hitler to bin Laden) with famous forces of goodness, from Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa to John Lennon and Bono. It was an act-now, let-peace-prevail message even a warmonger could get behind.
She makes Justin Timberlake seem small. Britney was just another ploy to sell tickets, since this didn't come close to selling out. Her Hard Candy collaborator, however, was the real deal, turning up in the flesh for 4 Minutes, to the delight of women and gay men who rushed the stage like mad. (Timbaland, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams were seen in video sequences.) Next to Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl Timberlake looked like an equal. Placed alongside the Queen of Pop, however, he seemed merely a developing prince. There's a reason she went straight into the Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility while Janet hasn't even been on a ballot: She's incomparable, outpacing and outclassing her peers and progeny year after year with ease.
She's not without spontaneity. Case in point: the impromptu Dress You Up singalong toward the end, just when Obamamania inside Dodger Stadium started to peak. It was glorious fun, and you could tell Madonna knew utter jubilation was erupting: "Thank you, Los Angeles," she said. "You've been unusually responsive."
It was almost 10 o'clock by the time iconic music superstar Madonna hit the stage at Dodger Stadium last night, and the crowd happily lapped up her Sticky and Sweet candy infusion of spectacle and song.
Despite rumors of cancellation due to a broken stage, the 50-year-old megastar came out full force (later apologizing for there being some issues with lighting, which had caused the over two-hour long delay in the show's start) and treated the assembled crowds to two solid hours of visual and aural over-stimulation. Having long since learned that it's never too wise to stray too far from your roots, Madonna worked into her lineup a satisfying smattering of hits from the vaults, including a guitar-rocked Borderline, an updated take on Into The Groove complete with vibrant Keith Haring animation, a clubby remix of Music, and an acapella sing-along version of Dress You Up during the request segment. The most impressive greatest hits moment may well have been the rousing one-two punch of Like A Prayer, followed up by Ray Of Light, although near the start of the show the audience was bursting at the seams when none other than Miss Britney Spears showed up to join Madonna for the last half of the unapologetic Human Nature, ("I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me!")
Madonna (whom we believe we should now return to calling Mo instead of Madge, considering her split from Brit Guy Ritchie) proved that age ain't nothin' but a number as she powerhoused her incredible body into dance segment after dance segment, bounding from one end of the massive set to the other in brilliantly staged themed numbers. She was sassy and fired up, and demanded that her audience be the same ("Come on you rich fuckers in the front, SING!" she yelled). Not without timely political commentary, she opted to weave international images in video montages, then paused to express her delight in Obama's election this week, and her resolve to be a part of the fight for same-sex marriage in light of the passing of Proposition 8 this week, both to which the audience responded in wild applause and shouts of agreement.
For fans of Madonna's newer more dance-beat driven music, the night was indeed centered around tracks from her Hard Candy album. As rumored, Justin Timberlake joined Madonna for their duet 4 Minutes much to everyone's delight, and, not surprisingly, long after Britney Spears was gone and out of sight; the guest spots came with at least an hour's span between them, and according to E!Online, Brit left the stadium immediately following her ex-boyfriend's performance, with the two never meeting face-to-face.
Madonna had a little help from some friends at the Los Angeles stop of her Sticky and Sweet tour last night (Nov. 6) at Dodger Stadium, as both Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake turned up as surprise guest stars.
Spears, in her first public performance since the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, emerged from the back of the stage to the roar of the crowd, looking radiant in black heels and slacks, a white ruffled dress shirt and straight blond hair.
Singing with a mic in hand, she sauntered out for a diva matchup at the end of the catwalk. Meanwhile, every camera phone in the venue had already been whisked out to capture the moment while flashbulbs were firing at record speed.
After arriving alongside the guitar-wielding Madonna, the latter said, in mock surprise, "Oops! Hey Britney!" and then later, "she's not your bitch!" before Spears sang her own infamous lyric, "It's Britney, bitch." And then after about two minutes on stage, it was over. Spears was lowered beneath the floor and Madonna carried on to the next number.
Timberlake was another surprise, and he too received a thunderous response from the crowd on 4 Minutes, the song on which he guests from Madonna's Hard Candy album. Madonna and Timberlake reprised the choreography and staging they employed for the last time they sang the song live, during a promo performance at New York City's Roseland Ballroom in April. Much like Spears, once Timberlake's song was over, he vanished from the stage.
All told, Madonna performed nine of the 12 songs from Hard Candy, along with 11 older tunes like Ray Of Light, Music and Into The Groove. She played guitar on a hard-rocking version of Borderline and sang a moving rendition of the Evita song You Must Love Me. Most surprising was the segment of the show where she solicited song requests from the crowd. She ultimately decided on the 1985 oldie Dress You Up, and then led the stadium in a sing-a-long.
Celebrities on hand in the audience included Fergie, Drew Barrymore, Heidi Klum, Nicole Ritchie and Jennifer Lopez.
Madonna's Sticky and Sweet tour next visits the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday and Sunday. The North American leg of the tour wraps on Nov. 30 and then heads to South America on Dec. 3 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The tour is currently scheduled to conclude on Dec. 21 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Fans didn't have to wait long for the much-hyped Britney Spears and Madonna collaboration at the Material Girl's Dodgers Stadium show in Los Angeles on Thursday night (06Nov08) - the pop stars opened the show.
As expected, Spears joined Madonna for a version of Human Nature, but no one expected the pop pair to team up so early in the evening.
Wearing black pants and a white top, Spears stunned the sold-out crowd by singing and dancing with her heroine before she was lowered beneath the stage at the end of the number as portions of the crowd cried out her name.
It was a tame stage collaboration compared to the last time Madonna performed with Spears - the pair hit the headlines back in 2003 when they locked lips during a wedding themed routine at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Spears' ex Justin Timberlake was also billed to perform onstage with Madonna as WENN went to press - he was set to recreate 4 Minutes, the song he recorded with Madonna for her latest album, with the Material Girl towards the end of her Dodgers Stadium show.
The show was a big success, despite fears about the stage after a minor collapse on Wednesday (05Nov08).
Prior to Thursday night's show, Madonna said, "Even though my stage roof was damaged and some lights and effects aren't working, I want to do the show anyway because I don't want to disappoint my fans."
"This is the beginning of a whole new world!" an ecstatic Madonna declared last night, shortly before the conclusion of her nearly two-hour-long concert at Petco Park.
In previous decades, such a declaration may very well have been self-referential, as befits a pop superstar who long ago announced her desire to "rule the world." But not yesterday, when the source of Madonna's elation was the formidable victory of Barack Obama, who convincingly beat out John McCain in their election battle to become the next President of the United States.
"Are you as happy as I am?" she asked the crowd of 39,000, whose loud cheers indicated their answer was affirmative. "Let's hear it for Obama! It's the best day of my life."
A clearly delighted Madonna saluted Obama several more times during her 24-song concert, and the audience repeatedly roared its approval. It was a rare instance when Madonna was happy to share the limelight.
"She is an inspiration," said fellow Obama supporter Amy McCoy, who paid $165 (plus service charges) for her field level ticket, then snuck up to a more expensive seat close to the stage and proceeded to dance the night away.
Madonna, who is 50 but looks as buff as a 20-year-old, opened her concert with two infectious selections from her newest album, Hard Candy. Those songs, Candy Shop and Beat Goes On, were among the nine she featured from Hard Candy. (For those keeping count, that's 6 more songs than the Rolling Stones played from their then-new album during the legendary English rock band's Petco Park concert three years ago this month.)
Madonna's nearly two-hour concert last night also featured lively versions of Human Nature, Heartbeat, Vogue and Into The Groove, which she first performed in a stadium at 1985's Live Aid concert in Philadelphia.
She took to the stage Tuesday following a 30-minute opening set by English electronica DJ Paul Oakenfold (who appeared while all of the stadium's lights were on and many fans were still arriving). She was accompanied on stage by up to a dozen musicians and an equal number of dancers, although the musicians often played second fiddle to the impeccably choreographed dancers andthe concert's eye-popping production.
Madonna did not make any reference to Filth and Wisdom, her recently released directorial film debut, which stars Gogol Bordello singer Eugene Hutz.
However, she did take her critics to task when the film debuted in New York last month, saying that her detractors had a "bug up their (rhymes with glass)" because they think she should focus on music, not filmmaking. "There are certain kinds of resentment when (you) do one thing well -- not to toot my own horn or anything -- and then you try to go do something else," she said. "And that's their (bleeping) problem."
But Madonna did pay homage to her London performance at last year's Live Earth concert, where she was joined by Hutz and Gogol violinist Sergey Rjabtzev for a Gypsy-tinged version of La Isla Bonita. She gave the song a similar Eastern European tinge last night at Petco Park, minus Hutz and Rjabtzev, whose roles were ably filled by Moscow's Kolpakov Trio, led by 7-string guitarist Sasha Alexander Kolpakov. With Madonna watching from the lip of the stage with her dancers, Koplakov and his band mates performed the song "Doli Doli."
Madonna's emphasis on dancing and dashing to and fro across the enormous stage meant that her singing was electronically enhanced, or sometimes entirely pre-recorded. but that's nothing new for the tireless pop icon, who has long relied on lip-syncing in varying degrees at her concerts. Fortunately for her fans, her Petco show had more than enough razzle-dazzle to compensate, not to mention the added celebratory spirit brought on by Barack Obama's election victory.
There are certain things you expect, no demand, from a Madonna concert: You want lots of bare flesh, hot girl-on-girl action and a hefty dollop of swearing. The 50-year-old pop icon delivered on all counts Saturday at the first of two sold-out Sticky and Sweet tour stops at Oracle Arena. Plus, she offered fans that paid upwards of $400 for floor seats a chance to get a closer look at the world's most famous red-string kabbalah bracelet.
Madonna spent a good portion of the two-hour set uttering four-letter words, prancing around in designer undies and alternately slapping around and seducing more than a dozen backup dancers. Between the breathless aerobic workouts that accompanied nearly every song, she also made a point to voice her support for same-sex marriage and Barack Obama.
Her personal life is a bit of a mess at the moment, with the very public split from Guy Ritchie and younger brother Christopher Ciccone's tell-all biography in bookstores. But with her 11th and latest album, Hard Candy, stalled outside the Billboard 200 Madonna doesn't have time to mope.
Taking the stage in a fishnet bodysuit with one leg splayed across a throne and her crotch on full display for about 20,000 people - a nod to the salacious Hard Candy cover photo - she opened the show with two of the record's most exuberant highlights: Candy Shop and Beat Goes On, complete with tightly choreographed dance routines, an enormous white Rolls-Royce and video-screen cameos from Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. Considering the number of tour buses and 18-wheelers in the parking lot, she probably could have afforded the real things.
Madonna played eight of Hard Candy's 12 tracks, while her old hits were tossed off with little fanfare and lots of chagrin: Vogue was stripped of its sleek house hook and served over a skeletal rhythm; Borderline was reinvented as a two-chord punk surge featuring Madonna on leadish guitar; and Like A Virgin was essentially handed over to thousands of off-key voices in a half-hearted sing-along. Other classic tracks were shelved in favor of surreal video clips and elaborate dance routines that gave Madonna a chance to change from one skimpy outfit into the next.
She wasn't making a complete break from the past, but she certainly didn't celebrate it, either. Divided into four parts, each segment of the concert revisited and revised the odd corners of her 25-year-plus pop career. Madonna went back to early '80s New York - not hers, mind you - by jumping rope in knee-high socks and short shorts in front of Keith Haring figures for an electric version of Into The Groove.
She then proceeded to attack four clones representing her at various stages in history for the acidic She's Not Me. Wearing white-rimmed Lolita glasses, she rubbed her backside when she sang the line, "She'll never have what I have." Then she ripped off "Material Girl" Madonna's glove and slapped her with it, tore down "Like a Virgin" Madonna's veil and wrapped it around "Vogue" Madonna's head for a steely kiss. Let's call that the fantasy sequence.
The real Madonna then returned for a bizarre gypsy folk interlude that saw tunes like Miles Away and La Isla Bonita reinvented with furiously strummed acoustic guitars and ended with three old guys performing the traditional song "Doli Doli." Along the way, there were black-hooded monks, flamenco dancers and a long cartoon of an alien woman chasing fish to the Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again." Why not?
The night ended with a strange pileup of politics and fanfare, as Madonna's election day and virtual Justin Timberlake-abetted save-the-world public-service announcement 4 Minutes gave way to a high-energy disco workout that incorporated thumping versions of Like A Prayer, Ray Of Light and Hung Up. The set-closing Give It 2 Me was a revelation, given all more impact when the song abruptly ended, the words "Game Over" flashed on the video screens and the house lights came on. Guess $400 doesn't buy you an encore.
It was OK. Even if the new songs feel a little like Gwen Stefani's leftovers, suggesting that, for once, Madonna has actually fallen behind the pop-culture curve she always capitalized on so brilliantly, she worked so hard selling them that by the end of the night, the audience felt breathless even as the singer kept bounding forward.
The initial reaction to Madonna's Sticky & Sweet tour, onstage at the capacity-filled Oracle Arena in Oakland on Saturday (and Sunday) is: Wow, that woman can work out! Jump-roping to a throbbing version of Into The Groove — in which the singer was attired in gym shorts — she didn't miss a lyric, nor did she seem to need an extra breath.
The tune came about one-quarter of the way through the stimuli-packed, two-hour show, which drew heavily from the buff singer's latest album, Hard Candy, but also, thankfully, managed to include some old favorites, most of which were reworked for the new century.
Perhaps the most evocative number was the new She's Not Me, in which the pop icon literally beat on dancers costumed as various incarnations of herself — the material girl, the 1984 Video Music Awards bride, Marilyn Monroe, et al. It came off as a nifty metaphor for the 50-year-old's 25-year career in the pop spotlight and proved a fun anchor for a somewhat varied show.
While most of the songs were backed by the constant electronic dance-party beat found on the new CD, there were a few notable exceptions.
A few tunes in which she accompanied herself on acoustic guitar revealed an almost-human side of Madge. Smiling, she sang the melodic Miles Away in front of video footage of people from around the world; in another quieter moment, she seemed to enjoy the crowd's adulation during You Must Love Me from Evita.
As always is the case with Madonna, no expense was spared on quality or concept. Video backdrops ranged from art by Keith Haring (Into The Groove,) to guests Kanye West (Beat Goes On) and Britney Spears (Human Nature) and myriad political and historical figures the likes of Oprah, John Lennon, Mother Teresa and Barack Obama in a "Get Stupid" video montage.
She danced with several screens boasting full-length images of Justin Timberlake on 4 Minutes, a number that was more technically dazzling than musically satisfying. Technology also pumped up Ray Of Light, Vogue and Like A Prayer.
The sound system was impeccable, the band and background vocalists were superb and the dancers nicely complemented their fearless role model.
Unlike many of her contemporaries or predecessors who sound great playing oldies, Madonna has forged a path into the 21st century. She's a consummate professional whose vitality — if not her earth-shattering artistry — keeps her in the limelight, showing kids half her age just how pop should be done.
It's been a long time since Madonna was this much fun.
Gone are the days of convoluted storylines (2001's Drowned World Tour), heavy-handed themes (2004's Re-Invention Tour) and controversial antics (2006's Confessions, during which Madonna hung herself on a huge cross).
This time around, the Material Girl just wants to make some dough and show her fans a good time, both of which she accomplished as she brought her Sticky and Sweet Tour to the Oracle Arena in Oakland on Saturday. She performs at the same venue at 8 tonight.
Despite ticket prices that topped out near $400, a capacity crowd turned out to see the 50-year-old pop icon on the first night of her Bay Area stay. As a thank you, the flamboyant vocalist turned in a two-hour show that was filled with good songs, nifty costumes, cool theatrics and, as always, great dance routines.
By Madonna standards, it was a fairly straightforward 24-song affair. In fact the most shocking thing about the show was that there was nothing really shocking about it. That's a refreshing change for Ms. Ciccone — we'll use her maiden name, since she's divorcing film director Guy Ritchie. Too often in the past, Madonna has seemed to focus more on stirring controversy rather than entertaining the crowd.
There is, however, much worth saying about the latter.
The concert began about 45 minutes late — which provided fans with extra time to shop the souvenir stands for $20 Madonna coffee mugs, $10 Madonna shot glasses and $15 Madonna heart-shaped sunglasses, as well as $25 "Vote Obama" T-shirts.
The house lights dimmed and the overhead screens showed a Willy Wonka-inspired animated segment, which tied nicely into the title of Madonna's latest CD, Hard Candy. The princess of pop then appeared at center stage on an M-shaped throne, as tux-and-tails-clad dancers helped her usher in the opening number, Candy Shop.
She followed with another solid new track, Beat Goes On, before reaching back into her bag of hits for Human Nature and Vogue. Those two tunes really brought the fans to life as they watched their hero gyrate about the stage and along the catwalk that extended half way across the arena floor.
The reaction from the crowd would swell each time Madonna played one of her classic numbers, such as La Isla Bonita. This tour, however, is more about showcasing the new material than it is about digging up the past.
It wouldn't be entirely fair to say that Madonna was reluctant to play the fan favorites, but she was certainly hesitant to do them in familiar fashions. Each hit performed this evening was arranged differently than the original recording, which might be Madonna's way of saying that she refuses to play the nostalgia game. Most of the newly realized renditions, especially a roughed-up, rocking Borderline, were quite intriguing.
The last half of the show was devoted mainly to newer material, with only three offerings, La Isla Bonita, Like A Prayer and Like A Virgin, hailing from the singer's classic '80s catalog. The song selection, oddly, only seemed marginally important. What mattered more was that Madonna was having fun — and it was contagious.
If there was ever any question that Madonna was still the Queen of pop, it was settled once and for all at her sold out show last night at B.C. Place.
Entering the stage almost an hour late, "Her Madgesty" propped herself onto an "M"-encrusted throne grinding to Candy Shop, the first track in her new album.
Flanked by a small herd of tuxedoed men, Madge belted out two songs from 2008's Hard Candy. But make no mistake: Despite the tophat and tails, this is no 1985, pink-gowned Material Girl Madonna. This is Sticky & Sweet Madonna. Think pink electric guitars, crystal-encrusted batons, and an army of scantily clad dancers shining her gloriously high-heeled boots.
And if fans were upset about having to wait until her eighth world tour for her to play for the first time in Vancouver, they didn't let it show. An estimated 55,000 fans packed the show, which sold out in less than 20 minutes when tickets went on sale back in May.
Indeed, Madonnas of all shapes, sizes and colours descended on B.C. Place to pay homage to a diva who has dominated 25 years of pop music since her debut of Holiday in 1983.
The show did satisfy fans desires for oldies, but if it were a slow ballad you were after, you were out of luck.
The entire two-hour show was truly a testament to the unstoppable energy of a pop icon who celebrated her 50th birthday only two months ago. And those reported three hour a day workouts have paid off for the mother of two. Madge had no trouble keeping up with dancers 30 years her junior.
With nine costume changes - almost as many as the Material Girl's reinventions in her own career - she really proved the moniker of "Her Madgesty." And you can't fully appreciate her kingdom until you witness firsthand 50,000 of her followers singing along to Like A Virgin.
Jumped-up sweet baby Jesus—how appropriate that the most rapturously received moment of Madonna's first-ever Vancouver visit would end up being Like A Prayer.
Radically retooled as a spirit-of-'98 rave anthem, the 1989 chart-buster was rolled out an hour-and-a-half into a spectacle that mixed beloved classics with plenty of surprises. The 60,000-strong capacity audience could have been forgiven for planting their asses in the football stadium's hard plastic seats and passively drinking it all in. After all, as was the case the rest of the night, it's not like there was a shortage of mouth-watering eye candy. Like A Prayer put Madonna square in the middle of a multimedia hurricane. With the crack band making a convincing case that ecstasy is its drug of choice, multiple video megascreens bombarded the audience with blizzards of written text (the ultimate message being that we are all God's children, regardless of whether we do our worshipping in a mosque, a church, or, for that matter, BC Place). For added visual stimulation, the blond-tressed singer was backed by a platoon of dancers dressed like modified versions of Pulp Fiction's The Gimp.
What was ultimately amazing about Like A Prayer, however, was the way it transformed the most unforgiving venue in Vancouver into something that looked like Sunday-morning services in East Harlem. From the high-rollers who blew a mortgage payment to be near the stage, to the unfortunate souls stranded in the nosebleeds, every person in the beyond-sold-out football stadium was on his or her feet, singing, dancing, clapping as one, and generally losing it like Christians at the resurrection. If you weren't lucky enough to be there, you can officially start wondering why God continues to forsake you.
Like A Prayer wasn't the only mind-blowing moment of a show that proved well worth the 20-year wait it took for Madonna to finally play Vancouver. The first bit of unadulterated magic struck when the one-time Boy Toy rolled out on a platform accompanied by a ragtag crew of backing musicians who looked—and sounded—a little like the Gipsy Kings possessed by Gogol Bordello. If Madonna started out all flash—including rolling out a white '20s-vintage roadster Liberace would have died for during Beat Goes On—she found her groove during this unofficial world-music portion of the evening. Spanish Lesson and Miles Away would prove sun-splashed warm-ups for a transporting, Calypso-tinted La Isla Bonita.
Major surprises on a night that saw more than one cougar clad in period-appropriate attire (standouts included a pink-satin "Material Girl" dress and a Who's That Girl polka-dot number) included the fact that Madonna knows how to rock. Wielding a black Gibson Les Paul, she turned the disco-thumper Hung Up into a guitar-banger grungier than Seattle circa '92. Likewise, Borderline ended up with a metallic crunch entirely absent from the recorded version, and You Must Love Me proved the singer does Andrew Lloyd Webber–brand weepers every bit as effectively as sticky-sweet club pop.
Those who judge a mega-event by the number of costume changes didn't go home disappointed. Hitting the stage on a throne and looking like she'd just escaped from the set of All That Jazz, Ms. Ciccone would gear down into a '70s–issue gym-strip ensemble, go Road Warrior–chic with sequined shoulder pads, and embrace her inner Tibetan with a folk-embroidered mini-dress offset by layers of hot-pink beads.
Despite what Guy Ritchie would have us believe (not to mention that fuckstick from The Vancouverite), Madonna was radiantly hot, and not just in an okay-for-50 kind of way. And she also proved surprisingly political, with the rapid-fire video montage during a "Get Stupid" interlude starting off with images of John McCain and Adolf Hitler, and Rolodexing through celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates to end up at John Lennon and Barack Obama.
Disappointments? Well, start with the fact that BC Place is so huge, you either watched the show on a video screen or focused on what looked like elaborately attired on-stage ants. And then there was the long list of hits absent from the show, starting with Lucky Star, Material Girl, Papa Don't Preach and Don't Tell Me. But compensating for that was the segment in which Madonna asked the faithful what they wanted to hear, and when the overwhelming response seemed to be Like A Virgin, launched into an all-hands-on-deck call-and-response number. As 60,000 fans screamed along in one glorious, harmonious show of solidarity, it wasn't just magical, it was a religious experience. If you arrived at the Madonna concert hoping for something rapturous, your prayers were indeed answered.
A mega-show experience is completely different from a mere concert. Or at least it should be. Madonna has never performed in Vancouver.
That alone made last night in B.C. Place something to anticipate. The last act to pack the dome was no less than those Rolling Stones.
At the time of that show, writer Tom Harrison and I ran down a list of who else we thought could still fill a venue this large that was still active as a recording artist. The only name we could come up with was Madonna. So how come the buzz in the space was so much less electric than it was forSir Mick and that Pirates of the Caribbean guitarist and crew?
Maybe because of how few young people were there. Madonna fans appear to cut off around the mid-thirties for the most part. Or was it just not as big a deal? Hard to say. Madonna's recent albums certainly outsell other legacy acts. But most were there for Take A Bow and True Blue, not that Timba-lake single that took only two seconds to forget altogether.
That said, the roar when the lights went down was as huge as expected. Multiple video screens displayed a wild pinball animation and the dancers rose out of the stage as a wall rotated to display none other than the star attraction on a rhinestone studded throne.
She was sporting the whole Queen Top look with riding crop, corset and feather collar. Then, surrounded by her dancers, we were off.
By the third song a vintage Phaeton had rolled on stage, and Kanye West and Pharrell had turned up in song and on screen. All good.
But Human Nature was brutal. Her voice sounded terrible and I don't know if she should ever play guitar. She sure seemed nasty repeating "I'm not your bitch."
Far better was Vogue, where she could get her moves on and show off that insanely ripped stomach. Holy pilates.
Into The Groove kicked off with her skipping across the stage to a pole mounted on a mobile DJ booth. Yup, she rode that action and danced herself silly on this one. A highlight of the set. And what about that full-on hard-rocking version of Borderline? It was like Madonna as interpreted by Liz Phair. Didn't see that coming.
Which is exactly what you want from a major artist: an intense and entertaining overview of their career's work.
Perhaps the most joyous moment of the night was the double punch of the Romany-themed new arrangement of La Isla Bonita including some truly stunning dancers and killer acoustic band.
Doubtless this new love of gypsy culture is partially owing to working with Gogol Bordello lead singer Eugene Hutz on her directoral debut as a film maker, titled Filth and Wisdom.
It was genuine and heartfelt music-making. Unfortunately, followed by the heavy-handed pro-Obama video montage of "It's Time." It was the fourth performance video of the night and it really didn't do much.
Duh, 4 Minutes followed. Cool costume change though. The crowd was getting a bit antsy, but was back on her page with Like A Prayer. This was the musical highlight in terms of creating that 'stadium' thing. People were up off their feet, clapping along and pretty well losing it. So much so that they didn't notice all the dreck appearing on the video screens. Was this a concert or an evangelist rally?
Ray Of Light got things back on track turning the arena into a huge dance club. Very cool and electronic, but her voice blew out again on a few verses.
The lead-up to Like A Virgin was contrived, but the whole she sang a verse and we sang a verse was great fun. Then it continued for yet another heavy rocking re-working of Hung Up. Liking this rockist approach. And she looks a little like Zakk Wylde in that leather outfit.
The show finale was the new hit Give It 2 Me, and with it's declaration of no one's gonna stop me' you couldn't but agree that Madonna is certainly sticking around.
When it worked well, and it mostly did, we got the star revelling in her power and some engaging staging and songs. When it bombed, what was on stage was the kind of uncontrollable ego that is the product of believing that the way you are worshiped allows you to make grand statements and "get deep."
It's a precarious balance and one that fell over the edge quite a few times.
There was no doubt that something big was hitting Vancouver Thursday night. Traffic was at a standstill throughout the downtown core hours before the Queen of Pop hit the stage at BC Place.
Outside the stadium $300-tickets were flying out of the touts' hands. Pop royalty had arrived, and over 50,000 locals were ready to pay dearly for the privilege of its presence.
Inside, two giant pink Ms, sparkled – as so they should have, with their $2-million worth of Swarovski crystals. And between them, Madonna appeared, draped across a throne, tapping a black cane to the opening bars of Candy Shop.
"Get up onto your feet," she sang – but the crowd had beaten her to it. This was one party they were already up for.
From a set list heavy with tracks from current album Hard Candy, the opener and its follow up – Beat Goes On – hit hard, with the latter played out with a video backdrop of collaborator Kanye West, and a look-a-like driving down the stage in style in a white vintage roadster.
But the segue into Human Nature was strained, Madonna's robotic guitar-playing apparently only there to service a suggestive bump and grind against the upended instrument. It didn't help that the close up on the giant video screens reflected a face full of determination, but hardly ecstatic.
Nobody ever accused Madonna of being an actress, but at times during an off-key rendition of Borderline, singing seemed to be escaping her grasp, too.
She gave a convincingly angry version of She's Not Me, however – as song that berates a wannabe Madonna with a fierce warning that no matter how hard they try, they'll never be her. As she lay down and beat the ground with her fists, she looked like she meant it.
There was some great spectacle: for Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, a cylindrical cage dropped from the ceiling, projected images of rain and water tumbling down its sides. But when it was just her on stage singing Miles Away, the 50-year-old icon simply looked tired.
Thank goodness, then, for a spirited version of La Isla Bonita and a traditional folk song by a Romany folk band that finally gave the audience something to do with its feet. The same band elevated the schmaltzy You Must Love Me into a genuinely poignant moment, eliciting the first genuine smile of the night from the star.
And when she went off-script for an audience-requested burst of Like A Virgin, it felt like the tension dropped from her otherwise tightly coiled biceps.
It was a shame it hadn't happened earlier in the night: she finally seemed to be enjoying herself by the climax, pulling out a rousing version of Give It 2 Me.
"No one's gonna stop me," she insisted. And who would argue with that?
It is perhaps fitting that the first Madonna show in Vancouver falls on the night before Halloween.
Out on the streets, the pre-show dinner crowd resembles nothing so much as a Night of the Living Sex and the Cities, where pods of elaborately turned-out thirtysomething women range the sidewalks, three and four abreast, the sound of giggly, two-Chardonnay laughter and spike heels ringing out in the autumn night.
Eerily, the male half of the city seems to have disappeared, though some of the gaggles of girls have a token guy in tow. Inside the stadium, the haze of ladies is even thicker.
Indeed, some of the men in the crowd seem to have kitted themselves in some fabulous women's wear as well. Two hours before the Queen of Pop is due to hit the stage, the air is thick with estrogen and sparkles. It is, pardon the pun, a strange Madge-ic to witness
At 9:30, just an hour after she's scheduled to perform, the stage flanked by hot pink curtains bedazzled with $2-million worth of Swarovski crystals, comes alive with a bombast of visuals and driving beats, relentlessly teasing until She Appears, brandishing a sceptre and draped lasciviously across a throne.
Opening with Candy Shop, from her most recent album, the arrival of Madonna in Vancouver, after 25 years of patient waiting, was everything a fan could hope for. Clad in a revealing black leotard, flanked by an army of androgynous dancers and brandishing her infamously toned body like a particularly sexy weapon, the iconic 50-year-old was, well, an icon.
As if there was any doubt, the show was a eye-popping capital-S Spectacle with countless sets and costume changes.
With almost ruthless efficiency, the hits were picked off one by one -- a Rolls Royce (complete with a fake Kanye West as its passenger) for the recent single Beat Goes On, a guitar and sequined top hat for Human Nature, a bevy of lithe dancers performing the unforgettable choreography from Vogue, a boxing ring sprung out of nowhere for Die Another Day, a stripper pole for the singalong of Into The Groove -- all seeming to go by in seconds. As with all things Madge, it was determined, a show that positively bombarded the audience with stimulus.
Perhaps the strangest number of the evening was She's Not Me in which the furious-looking singer was surrounded by dancers dressed as various 'versions' of her throughout her career.
One by one she berated them physically, ripping off Marilyn wigs and slapping cone bras. It was a jaw- dropping stunt and the first moment she seemed to connect emotionally with her songs. As disconcerting as it was to see, the indomitable pop star seemed for all the world like a woman scorned. As if it wasn't clear already, the song laid it bare: you do not want to piss off The Queen.
From then on the performance loosened a bit -- the pace less hectic, and the once-Material Girl seeming to enjoy herself, especially during the campy fun of Music.
If Madonna's astonishing work ethic was evident in every choreographed step, it was admirable but also somehow tragic. The most famous woman in the world seemed very alone onstage, surrounded by accessories but seemingly intimate only with her own drive. It was only a brief moment, observable only to a keen eye, but it resonated.
Of course, before you could contemplate it, Madonna was performing another spectacular feat, working the crowd with all her heart. If she wasn't so dazzling, you might wish she'd keep a little for herself.
It's Madonna's job to create buzz. Hence the name of her Sticky & Sweet Tour—only slightly less misleading than her 2004 Re-Invention Tour, which suggested a career change but settled for a big-band version of Deeper And Deeper. In her latest show, Madge enters stage in an "M"-encrusted throne grinding to Candy Shop, but it's not quite the 50-year-old porn romp you might expect. By the time she transitions to Human Nature and Britney Spears shows up in a video trapped in an elevator and echoing, "I'm not your bitch/Don't hang your shit on me," it's the same as all her shows: A remixed mind-fuck.
Before 4 Minutes, the Top 5 duet with Justin Timberlake, it had been seven years since a Madonna single seriously contended on mainstream radio. (Part of me wanted to think she was selling out with Hard Candy. The same artist who sampled Main Source on Human Nature was suddenly tapping...Timbaland? But then the Pharrell-produced Heartbeat and Give It 2 Me are both as pure and as fake as anything she's made since her debut 25 years ago.) But as always, she's also in the news for a couple other things: her directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom, and her maybe-it-did-maybe-it-didn't-happen affair with Alex Rodriguez, which prompted Adam Sternbergh in New York to theorize that her "true art" is that "she's so good at making us talk about her." It's a cliché to say Madonna is a queen of self-promotion, but Sternbergh's scarily misogynistic description of the singer as a "hyperbaric cougar" and an "asexual-android" gets at what has nagged the singer for years: the media's constant fascination with eviscerating her.
So it's no surprise that Madonna's new show comes off not unlike an act of self-defense. She dresses in a boxer uniform for a Die Another Day backdrop, emphasizing her already-muscular arms. Unlike your run-of-the-mill diva, Madonna is willing to get dirty for her art, and she sometimes gets lost in her backup dancers' routine, though she's quick to remind the audience, "I'm still the one in control." Even so, Madonna has always been willing to make fun of her own image. During She's Not Me, she makes out with a younger version of herself (the horny bride from the 1984 VMAs), and then kicks her to the curb.
The most overtly political moment is a montage called "Get Stupid," which starts with an image of a swastika and ends with images of John Lennon and Barack Obama. A song about the freedom to dance (Beat Goes On) becomes an anthem for political frustration, and it's the only moment that's generated any real controversy, but she doesn't say anything about either the Republican or the Democratic candidate that she hasn't said before. The power of any great Madonna song is implicit: "Say what you like/Do what you feel/You know exactly who you are."
Past becomes present at a Madonna show. The singer is known for reinventing her old material—no classic is sacred (this time she turns Ray Of Light into even more of a drug-induced European dance party). There are some uninspired rock-star moments (basically anytime she holds an electric guitar), but Madonna's ability to redefine and recontextualize every song is still awe-inspiring. A little bit of her Erotica-era cheekiness reappears during Sticky & Sweet, from putting her dancers in bondage outfits during a mash-up of Vogue and 4 Minutes to jumping rope during Into The Groove, the backdrop of which pays homage to her old friend, the late Keith Haring.
Sternbergh's right in a way: "Of course it's Madonna." She makes the rules, but she also breaks them. Like a sex instructor, Madonna rules over her audience and tells them when they're allowed to get off (at one point mock-masturbating over someone's head). And when the words "Game Over" flash on the screen at the end of the show, you're just happy to have played along.
For the Average Joe, plumber or no, an identity crisis is a private thing, aided by psychological therapy and a lot of pharmaceuticals.
But for Madonna, an identity crisis takes a different toll: Mock catharsis before about 35,000 fans.
At the United Center Sunday, the first of two stops on her current Sticky and Sweet Tour, Madonna confronted the multiple identities she's rotated through since 1982. Using She's Not Me, a new song, she redirected the lyrics sung from the perspective of a jilted lover to four dancers costumed in the iconic images of her past hits: the virgin in the wedding dress, the "Material Girl" starlet, the blonde with ambition in the conical bra and the "Vogue" ingenue.
Each was assaulted by the present day incarnation. She ripped off their wigs, tore their dresses and otherwise thrashed against her past, which was finally killed -- appropriately -- by a kiss. And suffocation by bridal veil.
Madonna is a master of disguise, but even at age 50 she manages to elude. Recent news of her divorce did not make it to the stage -- well, suffocating her dancer in that bridal veil may have meant something -- because her current, and perhaps most lasting, manifestation is that of a stone-faced aerobics master who finds pleasure in choreographed combat.
After playing every role and foraging every musical style, what's left? Many of Madonna's favorite roles were reprised on this tour, but few felt freshly renewed. Most worn is her role as global messenger. A video interlude flashed images of world poverty and benevolent celebrities, but the underlying message of saving the world rang hollow. A more credible gesture may have been hosting tables in the lobby advocating Darfur relief, instead of images of emaciated children set to disco beats.
A good part of the show was dedicated to Eastern European music -- which included a gypsy band performing the Spanish-language La Isla Bonita, which led to a cantina sequence and You Must Love Me, a ballad from Evita. It was commendable how she transformed a part of her catalog that seemed most unshakable, but mixing all languages, dress, and musical styles made the sequence feel like global clutter.
Madonna is still best served on the dance floor. Almost two hours long, the show mostly consisted of songs from Hard Candy (Warner Bros.), a new album that combined hip-hop swagger and hard beats.
Older songs were remixed to keep up: Into The Groove and Like A Prayer thumped more intensely than ever. Strapping on a guitar, she also reminded the audience she came of age in the punk era: Borderline, her first Top Ten hit from 1984, became raucous pop-punk.
The most impressive sequence of the night was the return to the old school. Keith Haring characters danced in animation in the background while dancers break-danced and a DJ spun hip-hop. Together they looked like the cast of "Fame" and Madonna looked less the elder than just one of the gang.
She proved it too: Joining in the jump-rope line, she did the Double Dutch like she was 16, ending with her hands raised in victory.
"You can't touch this!" she yelled in a dare, less about sweat and more about stamina.
Smiles don't come easy for Madonna.
Instead, there are usually smirks, sneers, pouts, leers and thin-lipped, tough-as-nails displays of contempt for anyone who would dare mess with her. Madonna, she's one tough dominatrix, and she's got better developed biceps than just about any of the fans who filled the United Center on Sunday for the first of two concerts.
But smile she did Sunday, and often. Madonna having fun on stage? Exuding warmth rather than wielding a riding crop? Yes, it happened, a refreshing break from recent tours which presented a woman on a take-no-prisoners mission.
Consider the 50-year-old singer's three-decade history as a performer: Her dancing, endurance and high-concept sets are never less than ambitious. But usually they have all the spontaneity of a big-budget Broadway musical.
Her tours are always technically impressive, and this one was no exception, a four-part blitz of video, dances with 16 accomplices and costume changes involving (no lie) "3,500 individual wardrobe elements," according to a tour guide. And there were the usual canned vocals; about half the time, the massive "voice" coming out of the public-address system had little to do with the performer on stage. Once again the line between live performance and hyper-stylized MTV video was blurred --- a concept Madonna practically invented in the '80s.
In many ways, the Sticky & Sweet tour is more of the same. But it was less muddled by high-concept statements, and threw itself into a low-concept sweat. Here was a show that sustained an Into The Groove-like party vibe for nearly two straight hours. Big Ideas were conspicuously absent, save for a dunderheaded video interlude equating a certain presidential candidate with fascists and mass murderers and another candidate with saints and liberators.
Otherwise, Madonna switched off her brain and flipped on the mirror-ball switch. She muscled up to push a car full of dancers, then impersonated Joan Jett with an electric guitar-driven version of Borderline. Much headbanging ensued.
The fun quotient was never higher than on She's Not Me, with the singer interacting with four dancers dolled up like Madonnas of the past, including the Like A Virgin tease in a wedding dress and her platinum-haired Marilyn Monroe incarnation.
Things slowed a bit during the third segment, with a shrouded performer atop a piano in a cage-like cylinder, but peaked with a celebratory La Isla Bonita, complete with flamenco string band. A beaming Madonna strutted arm in arm with a retinue of female dancers, and it was almost possible to see her not as a pop icon, a hard-edged diva, but as the ringleader of a gang. Of course, she ruined that illusion by slipping into her big Evita ballad, You Must Love Me, which sounded more like a demand than a plea.
No matter. Like A Prayer soon rolled in, and then Madonna took requests. She stumbled through a few lines of Beautiful Stranger, then got back on script by strapping on her guitar for a heavy metal Hung Up. This was Madonna doing disco with feedback firing and devil horns flashing. Once again, she was grinning, this time like a 15-year-old listening to an AC/DC eight-track in the high school parking lot. It's a good look.
Madonna's Sticky & Sweet Tour stopped for the first of two concerts at United Center Sunday, toting a reported 3,500 individual wardrobe elements by 36 different designers, 28 onstage performers and nine hydraulic lifts. With a production this huge and a sold-out crowd paying $50 to $350 per seat, it would seem the economy is doing just fine.
By touching on each of her 11 albums (with Erotica and American Life relegated to wardrobe-change video interludes), the chameleonic pop icon should have had diversity on her side. Instead, her setlist leaned heavily on her dance music, as club-oriented material has sold the best for her in recent years. These hard-thumping songs celebrated self-confidence, sexuality and, uh, dancing, reflecting her career-long love of electronic beats, yet also selling her adaptability short.
Three quarters of Madonna's 2008 album Hard Candy were aired, including the hit Justin Timberlake duet 4 Minutes, which aside from its bright brass samples sounded identical in its hypnotic monotony to Timberlake's "SexyBack." That's somewhat understandable since both tracks share predictable megaproducer Timbaland, but it points to a larger problem with Madonna's recent stuff. Sure, it fits into the current pop landscape better than that of any veteran artist, but it no longer stands out.
Take the new arrangement of Vogue, which incorporated pulsing electro beats and elements of newer Madonna songs. This approach helped the decades-old track blend in with the sleek contemporary material, but to the effect of making it interchangeable with the rest. A rocked-up variation on early hit Borderline, one of several during which Madonna stummed a guitar, certainly sounded different, but lacking the bubbly enthusiasm of the original synth-pop setting.
Into The Groove fared much better, set to a thumping house rhythm with breakdancers and animated Keith Haring art nodding to its '80s origin. La Isla Bonita also sounded energized by a quicker tempo and Romany folk musicians injecting the evening's most genuine multicultural expression.
But, hey, who sees Madonna for the music? Her shows are more like theatrical productions, her dancers and lighting technicians as crucial to the night as her lithe, limber strutting. Although it started nearly an hour late, the spectacle was seamless and immense, from the ever-moving video screens (they held cameos by Kanye West and Britney Spears) to the bizarre boxing/dance routine accompanying the prerecorded Die Another Day.
Yet the biggest spectacle of all was naturally Madonna herself. She's in fantastic shape and almost never stopped moving while she was in front of the crowd, all of which spoke volumes about her self-respect. However, during new track She's Not Me, she flashed dozens of images of herself on the screens while dismissing a series of look-alikes, turning a pithy kiss-off to an ex-lover into a creepy parade of self-worship.
Two years after her last visit, and just one week after news broke of her impending divorce from husband Guy Ritchie, 50-year-old pop queen Madonna settled in for the first of two sold-out nights before 17,800 fans at the Bell Centre. And the party was most definitely on.
Relatively speaking, of course. The renowned perfectionist plans her shows to the T, and sticks to script every step of the way. But her music (particularly that of her last two albums) has stayed self-consciously young. And to her credit, despite rumours of her rigid stage presence - which was very much the case in 2006 - Madonna actually seemed to be having fun.
This was a looser show than the last - less bogged down by elaborate props, and leaving more room for Madge, her dancers and band to interact. A matrix of state-of-the-art screens, and hydraulic platforms provided the setting for her and her entourage to entertain.
After an elaborate video intro - featuring a candy factory/pinball game montage - she emerged on a throne, a leg provocatively straddled over one of the arms. The song was Candy Shop, off her new album Hard Candy. "Get up out of your seats," she sang, as she and eight dancers pranced about to the clubby groove.
Video cameos dotted the evening, with the main players of the pop new school - Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake - each making virtual appearances.
The performance was divided into four thematic segments: Pimp, NY Old School, Romani Gypsy and Rave Armageddon. A highlight of the first was the funky Beat Goes On (with Pharrell), in which she and her dancers rolled down the catwalk in a Rolls Royce.
It was the second set, however, that stood out most. With Keith Haring videos playing on the big screens, Madonna and her entourage literally skipped (with ropes) their way through a dance remix of Into The Groove, decked out in colourful '80s costumes.
Borderline was one of several songs she performed with electric guitar in hand (a first for her). She unmasked an array of Madonna wannabes (her dancers, dressed up as her different incarnations) in She's Not Me, and rocked the house in the subway-and-graffiti-themed Music. This last number drew huge cheers - Madonna was at her best when sending up her New York City roots.
Montrealer Ric'key Pageot got his moment in the spotlight. Playing keyboards for on the tour, he accompanied her in a dramatic rendition of Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, in which she crouched then stood atop his piano, clad in a black cloak.
If songs such as Human Nature and Spanish Lesson fell flat, those instances were few and far between. Miles Away was a mid-show standout, as the room sang and clapped along to the infectious chorus. It was one of the few truly communal moments of the night.
Madonna isn't one for singalongs. She would prefer her fans marvel at the spectacle. On this tour, she struck a compromise. Deadline meant an early exit, and missing the hits 4 Minutes, Like A Prayer and Hung Up.
But she had already pulled off an unlikely feat: getting younger with age. And she'll do it all over again, tonight.
If there were any doubts about Madonna still having it at the age of 50, her Sticky and Sweet tour should put those questions to rest.
If the British tabloids are to be believed, Madonna sought a divorce from film director Guy Ritchie, in part, because he was verbally abusive and said she looked like a "granny" on stage beside the younger, nubile dancers that serve as props in her shows.
But it's probably fair to say that most 50-year-old women would kill for the pop star's chiselled body, which she still flaunts for her fans.
The "Material Girl" opened with Candy Shop off her latest album Hard Candy, and the first image the audience was treated to was of Madonna sitting on a throne with one leg suggestively thrown over an arm of the chair.
She plays it as sensuous as ever, with nearly every song incorporating some sort of striptease.
Her set-list included most of the songs off her new album, but was also loaded with what the audience really came to hear u her classic hits.
Four video and dance interludes broke up the show, giving Madonna time for costume changes and to catch her breath. She also strapped on a guitar for several songs, which lent a new sound to some songs.
The downbeat Borderline was punched up with power chords and turned into a faster, louder rocker that had fists pumping in the crowd. Hung Up and Ray Of Light got the same treatment and some fans incorporated air guitar into their dancing; not what you would necessarily expect at a Madonna show.
For fans wondering if Madonna would lip sync, she surprisingly revealed the answer in the very first song: Yes.
Whether it was a flub or an act of artistic honesty, she chose not to sing all of the opening number's chorus.
Even though her voice cut through the arena, at times, her microphone was no where near her face.
But her fans didn't seem to mind, and after watching her dance with boundless energy through nearly every number - and sing most songs - any grudges were likely forgiven.
The tour kicked off in Europe and is now making its way through North America, hitting Montreal for two shows next week and another in Vancouver on Oct. 30.
A pair of those tickets go for more than $730 after service charges.
On Saturday those reserved seats around the stage were snapped up by fans happy to pay the price, as Madonna performed nearly within reach. Some fans were even handed the mic and got to sing along.
Fans attending shows on the tour may be hoping to hear from Madonna about her just announced divorce from film director Guy Ritchie.
At a recent show she reportedly introduced the song Miles Away by saying, "This song is for the emotionally retarded. Maybe you know some people who fall into that category, God knows I do."
Madonna repeated the first sentence of that statement at the Toronto show.
And whether the lyrics, "I guess we're at our best when we're miles away," are really about Ritchie, only Madonna knows.
Even for steadfast fans, taking pictures of one's concert tickets seemed a bit much. But if you'd shelled out $2,000 apiece for Madonna's Air Canada Centre concert last night like the Winnipeg honeymooners next to me, you, too, may have wanted more than a receipt to document it.
And all for what? A vapid dance pop singer who should be on her greatest hits lap? Hardly.
To an enthusiastic reception, she performed all but three of the dozen songs on her current album, Hard Candy, alternating with hits from her six other No. 1 albums.
The two-hour show's 23-song, mostly up-tempo set list was remarkable for the songs she didn't sing, for the realization that the Michigan native has accrued an impressive catalogue.
Show highlights included an acoustic rendition of La Isla Bonita replete with Gypsy musicians, and a rocking, guitar-heavy version of Borderline. Madonna sang live a fair bit, but didn't hit a single shiver-generating note.
Neither the music, nor the bells and whistles – 18 dancers, treadmill catwalk, immaculate 1935 Auburn Speedster, virtual appearances by Britney Spears and Kanye West – were as compelling as the Material Girl (no, she didn't sing that one, either) herself.
Sinewy is the word often applied to the physique of the 50-year-old mother of three who is one week into the North American edition of her sell-out Sticky & Sweet Tour.
That's an apt description of her chiselled arms with their prominent veins, but her abs and thighs recall summer Olympians.
At times, she executed the crotch-centric choreography with nary a sheen of perspiration, while the decades-younger dancers surrounding her dripped sweat.
That's the kind of thing that makes Madonna seem impenetrable. Like her going on with the tour as word emerges of the collapse of her marriage to Guy Ritchie (though she probably came to terms with that emotionally months ago). And how she hits all her cues on stage – skip double dutch without a hitch; high five DJ; grind pole – but the smile never reaches her eyes.
Not to say she lacks warmth, spontaneity or vulnerability, but that she long ago donned a mask to separate her private self from the public without us being any wiser. In the end, it feels like a business transaction, all $2,000 of it.
You must love Madonna.
And not just because of the ballad, You Must Love Me, which the 50-year-old Queen of Pop turned into a much more likeable gypsy folk song with the help of some incredible Romanian musicians last night at the Air Canada Centre during the first of two sold-out shows.
You have to give The Material Girl props for looking as good as she does at a half-century in the middle of an increasingly nasty divorce from British filmmaker Guy Ritchie and continuing to put on a first-class pop show in spite of all the endless chinwagging. As she herself delicately put it later in the show: "I'm working my ass off."
Madonna danced, skipped, crawled, gyrated and thrust her way around the stage for two hours on her Sticky and Sweet Tour while reinventing old songs and highlighting slick new ones from her latest album, the urban-flavoured Hard Candy.
The energy kept up for another new tune, Beat Goes On, which featured Madonna and her dance crew riding the stage in a vintage white convertible along the catwalk to a smaller stage closer to the audience of 17,000.
She can be forgiven then for strapping on an electric guitar for the formerly edgy bondage tune, Human Nature, while video of Britney Spears stuck in an elevator played above her on a circular video screen. Thankfully, the reinvention of Vogue, complete with the horns from her latest hit, 4 Minutes, worked better than later rock versions of Borderline and -- again with that electric guitar!
For the most part, it was Madonna's new material that shone brightest like Heartbeat while video of collaborators Kanye West and Pharrell Williams played with her expertly working the conveyer belt on her catwalk, and She's Not Me, which featured four incarnations of Madonna -- the Marilyn Monroe/Material Girl, the stripper from Open Your Heart, the wedding gowned bride from Like A Virgin and the cone-bra wearing button-pusher.
But it was the thunder and lightning enhanced, visually stunning new song, Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, featuring Montreal keyboardist Ric'key Pageot and Madge in a black cloak atop his piano, that was the evening's showstopper as they rotated on the smaller stage while water imagery danced across the circular video screen enveloping them.
And the trio of 4 Minutes -- with video of her duet partner Justin Timberlake -- an electrifying electro version of Like A Prayer and the show-ending new song, Give It 2 Me, are as about as good as it gets at a Madonna concert.
Still, the moment everyone was waiting for, was the new song Miles Away, which everyone believes to be about the woes of having a long-distance relationship with Ritchie.
"This is sort of a love song -- can you dig it? -- for the emotionally retarded," she said while strumming an acoustic guitar during the song's intro.
News flash: Madge has been introducing this song this way since the launch of the North American leg back on Oct. 4 in New Jersey, which The Sun attended, and not just since the divorce was confirmed this past Wednesday.
Much more telling was the chess-imagery that played behind her on a video screen during Hung Up and her declaration: "In exactly 29 moves the queen will topple the king!" There was also her much-talked-about video segment comparing John McCain to Hitler and Barack Obama to Nelson Mandela, and a request segment where she sang a few bars of Express Yourself and Holiday. [rating: 4.5 out of 5]
The ticket prices may be high, but the production values for Madonna's Sticky and Sweet Tour are certainly world class.
It's not rock 'n' roll exactly, and much of it feels like disco revisited, but it sure is a show.
Last night's two-hour concert at the TD Banknorth Garden, Madonna's first of two sold-out shows there this week, featured a 10-member dance troupe, innumerable costume changes and stage sets, a separate catwalk stage in the middle of the arena floor with its own revolving and rising platforms, a gypsy-style acoustic quintet and a white Rolls Royce convertible which rolled down the length of the catwalk and back as part of one dance number.
Madonna, 50, was every bit the focal point of nearly every number, with just a couple of "video interludes" for breaks, where her music played to accompany intricate video productions. This tour is designed to promote Hard Candy, her 11th studio album, released earlier this year, and the 23-song set list included nine of the CD's 12 tracks. The rest of the set included a pretty wide cross-section of her 25-year career.
The soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Guy Ritchie made no mention of her impending divorce, which was announced Wednesday. Interaction with the adoring crowd, which spanned all ages, was sparse, aside from voting advice and a brief snippet of her 2003 song American Life, which she added to the set list after seeing about eight fans down front with signs requesting it.
The night began with a huge silver box on the main stage, as a surreal pinball video played on all the huge screens. Platforms on either side of the box rose up with two male dancers in shirtless tuxedos and top hats at each side, and then the box fell away to reveal the star herself, sprawled over a throne in her black satin top and a skimpy pair of black underwear.
Madonna's band consisted of drums, guitar and three keyboard/synth players – with two backup vocalists. The pounding dance pop Candy Shop from her new CD opened the show. Beat Goes On, also from the new CD, saw Madonna lead her entire dance troupe down that catwalk, before the Rolls appeared and joined the fun. As the luxury car was spun around and rolled back, Madonna pantomimed pushing it, her white top hat at a jaunty angle.
Into The Groove was another musical and production highlight. Madonna spent much of it jumping rope, while two male dancers squared off in a mini-boxing ring set up on the catwalk stage. Hearing that wildly infectious beat, you might've felt Madonna could revive disco all by herself.
Madonna strapped on an electric guitar for Borderline, and the older tune was delivered almost as heavy metal. The new She's Not Me featured some real musical theater. Four female dancers popped up on the catwalk stage in various glamorous outfits, and Madge shimmied down there and systematically sabotaged their haute couture, as the rockin' R&B tune throbbed away.
The homestretch of the two-hour show was filled with fire, from the torrid 4 Minutes, with video screens providing the Justin Timberlake and Timbaland duets, to the pounding techno of Like A Prayer. The new Hung Up came across as hard funk, while the final Give It 2 Me was industrial dance pop.
"Boston rocks because people here use your heads," Madonna said near the end. "Just remember to take some (bleeping) responsibility for your country," she said, adding her election preference.
She's still got it. Performing some of her most beloved and well-known hit songs along with new upbeat tunes from her latest effort Hard Candy Madonna gave 100 percent to a full house at the TD Banknorth Garden October 15 in Boston. The provocatively named Sticky and Sweet tour featured elaborate stage structures, impressive lighting and enticing dancing, as per Madonna's usual offerings during performances.
In her first stage appearance since announcing her divorce to husband Guy Ritchie, Madonna kept it light making only one fleeting reference to "emotionally retarded" people before singing Miles Away off of her 11th and latest album. She addressed the audience asking "Maybe you know some of those people. I know I do."
She is the ultimate survivor and evolutionary pop icon, as proven by her complete commitment to putting on an energetic performance for her sold-out show. After such emotional and personally turmoil she still put on one hell of a show boasting colorful costumes, some of the best dancers in the business and digitally-recorded video duets with Kanye West, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake along with Miss Controversy herself, Britney Spears.
Her "duet" with Spears to Human Nature was a fresh take on a song that caused a stir during the 90s when the S & M themed-video first appeared. La Isla Bonita and Into The Groove were crowd-pleasers, for those who actually remembered her earlier songs and didn't mouth incorrect lyrics. As for Borderline her very first single, the audience loved it.
Choice tracks from the new album that translated well to dance-filled stage numbers include Heartbeat and Give It 2 Me. A hands down personal favorite had to be She's Not Me, an ode to Madonna's undying fame and an overall pick-me-up for any woman. Because anyone can relate to the feeling of a significant other being "stolen" by another, and the imminent instinct that no one will ever provide the same things as you can in a relationship.
As for agenda-pushing, the Material Girl made it abundantly clear that she wanted everyone to vote … for Obama. Her political commentary and video imagery were liberally filled with material for the Left. And while audible sounds of "Just get back to the music" could be heard uttered by disgruntled republicans, the majority of the audience was in a united uproar to unite for her, and Obama's campaign. Madonna relayed to the audience that she was told to "not mention Sarah Palin, speaking of ridiculous things," and that was all she said on the matter.
50-year-old Madonna bumped and grinded all over that stage, even showcasing a soft-core number on the floor as she had her feet tied with rope as she gyrated and pulsated on all fours. If anything can be said for her, it is that her dancing is still flawless and effortless and her body is in amazing condition. More muscular than Michael Phelps, Madonna seemed to feed off of the energy of knowing that she represents decades of reinvention and that she herself will never be replaced in the public eye, no matter what Ms. Spears does.
The overall favorites had to have been Hung Up from the Confessions On A Dance Floor album along with Like A Prayer. The latter was performed to a background of Hebrew, Arabic and other foreign language texts and religious quotes from texts ranging like the Torah, the Bible, the Koran and Buddhist teachings. What would a Madonna concert be without a lesson in theology?
I'll just have to say it again, she's still got it. She never faltered and she never showed less than complete enthusiasm and dedication to her career and her fans. And despite her personal issues and sticky situation, she remembered the one thing that has kept her career afloat.
The show must go on.
Yesterday was not, by all accounts, Madonna's day. Her publicists confirmed her eight-year marriage to Guy Ritchie had hit the skids. Blogs were abuzz with renewed rumors that she's dating A-Rod. Her Boston fans worried aloud on their Facebook pages that her tour might be in jeopardy. And even the high-minded BBC went crazy with continuous coverage of her divorce bombshell.
Everyone was worked up about Madonna's latest drama. Well, everyone except Madonna.
In an act of defiance at the TD Banknorth Garden last night, Madonna went on with the sold-out show (which continues tonight) just as expected. She made it clear that 25 years of being a provocateur has taught her this: Madonna will let you know when she's in crisis mode, and last night was not the occasion.
No mention of the divorce. No catch in her voice when she sang the heartbreaking ballad You Must Love Me, surrounded by a quintet of acoustic musicians. If you read between the lines, maybe you picked up on something in her preface to Miles Away, which she has claimed Ritchie inspired. "This song is for the emotionally retarded," she said. "Maybe you know some people who fall into that category. I know I do."
Otherwise, it was business as usual, starting with a DJ whose opening set rumbled out of the speakers with a mash-up of Madonna's Give It 2 Me.
Madonna is on tour for her latest album, Hard Candy, but make no mistake about her sweet goods. "My sugar is raw," she declared.
True to her penchant for change, she revamped the classics to mixed results. Borderline, put on a strict diet of electric guitar and serious attitude, lost its infectious heartbeat. Hung Up, with Madonna admirably attempting some guitar distortion, suffered the same grinding fate.
She redeemed herself earlier with La Isla Bonita, this time reimagined as a pan-world celebration with Romanian gypsy musicians, flamenco dancers, and break-dancing. Into The Groove morphed into a joyful Bronx block party from the '80s, replete with Keith Haring images on the jumbo screens, double-dutch jump-roping, and berets in Madonna's hair.
For everyone who criticizes Madonna for her impossibly taut physique, there's a reason she has that body: this tour. The show is punishing in its choreography, but Madonna pulled it off in an unexpected way. Twenty years ago, when Madonna writhed onstage, you wanted her, fantasized about her. Now she's 50, face down and dry-humping nothing in particular, but the sexual desire has given way mostly to an admiration of her stamina and longevity. Madonna, ever fabulous, reminds us that we really should spend another hour at the gym tomorrow morning.
As usual, her stage production was a marvel, mechanical in its efficiency and thrilling in its lighting and visuals. She swore she was laying off the Sarah Palin jokes, but then images of John McCain and Mike Huckabee flashed on the screen during "Get Stupid." Later, Barack Obama's smiling mug appeared to a swell of audience applause.
After two exhausting hours, Madonna closed exactly how she began - with Give It 2 Me. Given the day's bad news, the chorus felt like a mantra for a maverick career spent in the trenches. It left you feeling either happy or terribly sad for Madonna: "When the lights go down and there's no one left/ I can go on and on and on."
Cougar? That doesn't quite capture Madonna being back on the market. How about maneater? The queen of pop doesn't meow, she roars.
Yesterday morning Madonna announced - through a publicist, of course - that she and hubby Guy Ritchie were splitsville. But the Sticky & Sweet tour must go on. So last night at her first of two sold-out TD Banknorth Garden shows (the second is tonight) the Material Girl proved divorce - and increasing age - are no match for her blonde ambition.
There was plenty of time for Madonna to rip Ritchie or talk about how much she loves her kids, but that ain't her style. Instead she filled any free space with commands her fans to vote for Barack Obama - without the British accent, guess she's losing that in the divorce.
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The tour's set list was planned months before yesterday's announcement (yet maybe not before the couple knew the marriage was doomed). But cynics could read loads into her choice of songs: Beat Goes On, You Must Love Me (from Evita), Borderline - as in, you keep on pushing me over it - and, best of all, Human Nature.
But it was hard to read anything into her stage demeanor. While Madonna may have wrinkles, she's a live perfectionist who isn't about to show cracks in her pop-star facade.
Madge may forfeit her Scottish castle to Ritchie, but she's not going to forfeit a single fan. Her talent for staying current and recycling her classic hits kept her Boston fans enraptured.
The evening opened sweetly with Candy Shop, one of eight songs she pulled from new album, Hard Candy. Tops from this was Beat Goes On, in which she and her stellar dancers rolled out a vintage Rolls-Royce down the catwalk and got busy on the dance floor.
Up close it was clear that, at 50, she's still stunning. You can bounce a quarter off, well, any part of her toned physique. The 40-year-old Ritchie may be loosing more in the split than he thinks.
Between new songs, Madonna dropped big lumps of pure pop sugar into the set with plenty of '80s hits. Vogue set the hyper-speed tempo early. Into The Groove punched it up a notch. And Borderline got a power pop makeover with Madonna showing off her fresh guitar skills.
All these confections came wrapped meticulously in a stage show no one can touch - not JT, not MJ, not Pink Floyd: epic lasers, moving video screens, fast and flawless costume changes, all done with grace and energy.
Madonna may not make great movies or marriages but she makes great music. And even in her (almost) golden years she's still a ray of light.
The Madonna concert ended nearly 12 hours ago, and this reviewer is still tired. And that's just from watching.
Of course, I'm not in quite as good shape as the 50-year-old Material Girl, who has metamorphosized into a lean, mean machine of muscle and sinew. That pumped-up toughness also is evident in her music as performed in this latest arena extravaganza, dubbed the Sticky and Sweet tour and promoting her recent CD Hard Candy.
That album is generously highlighted in the course of the two-hour show, a good half of which is devoted to such cuts as Candy Shop (the opener, in which Madonna makes her entrance while seated on a throne), Beat Goes On, She's Not Me and 4 Minutes.
She cherrypicks from her hits, forgoing most of her best-known tunes -- with the exception of such songs as Borderline, Into The Groove, Ray Of Light and Like A Prayer. Most of these are dramatically rearranged to give them a harder-rocking edge, with heavy doses of electric guitar and thumping bass beats. As with the performer herself, the sweetness in them seems to have been drained away.
There's a relentless drive to the proceedings that is almost unnerving. The headliner almost never stops moving, constantly whipping through intensely choreographed set pieces with her corps of backup dancers as if determined to burn off a certain number of calories per show. At one point, she even showed off her Double-Dutch jumping-rope skills.
She doesn't let the audience rest, either. Late in the show, she refused to begin one song until she had made sure that everyone in the massive arena was on their feet.
The one relatively quiet interlude was more bizarre than restorative. It featured an acoustic, Gypsy-flavored rendition of La Isla Bonita, followed by the evening's sole ballad, You Must Love Me, from the Evita soundtrack.
The singer showcased her physique in a series of revealing outfits, though they were mostly more redolent of the gym than the usual S&M garb.
Unlike her most recent go-around, there was little in the way of controversial material on display, with nary a crucifixion in sight. The one exception was the video montage accompanying "Get Stupid," which interpolated images of Barack Obama with figures like Nelson Mandela and John McCain with, among others, Hitler.
The Sticky and Sweet tour plays Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on November 6.
Madonna may have toyed with dominance and submission on this year's Hard Candy, but there was no question who was carrying the cane at the first New York City date on her Sticky & Sweet Tour last night (the trek's second stop in the States). Emerging on a throne to the thumpy sound of Candy Shop, the 50-year-old singer kicked off a tightly choreographed two-hour set designed to accentuate her physical and musical strength and flexibility.
Skipping rope during a section evoking the 1980s New York where she began her career, Madonna pranced on the DJ's table during a beefier Into The Groove as colorful Keith Haring figures spelled out the lyrics on giant video screens. With some chunky power chords, Borderline became a Cheap Trick-style power-pop song, Vogue was mashed up with the funky brass of 4 Minutes and La Isla Bonita morphed into a Gogol Bordello-esque hoe-down featuring fiddle and accordion.
"You know who's not invited to my party? Sarah fucking Palin" Madonna shouted after a montage of images that included Oprah and Bono urged "Get up – it's time – your life – your choice." As expected, she did permit another embattled mother to share her spotlight briefly: during a punchy Human Nature, Britney Spears paced a stalled elevator in a video. When the song reached its final refrain of "I'm not your bitch" Spears spoke: "It's Britney, bitch!" and the crowd erupted. Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell also made virtual appearances.
The focus quickly returned to Madonna, of course, and her impossibly muscled body. Strutting down the set's catwalk during a defiant She's Not Me, tearing out guitar chords at the noisy conclusion of Hung Up or reinventing older hits like Like A Prayer, she made a solid argument for her continued durability as the Jumbotron showed off her sinewy arms and steely legs. (She rarely sounded winded, though she was singing live.) Unlike the Confessions tour, where her dancers and costumes stood out fantastically, Sticky & Sweet was all Madonna, all the time. It was her Candy Shop, after all, and when the lights came up after a spectacular clubland rendition of Give It 2 Me, Holiday came over the sound system, and fans danced their way to the exits.
When it comes to Her Madgesty, at least, there's no economic implosion.
Fans who hadn't secured tickets to Madonna's show at the Garden Monday night milled around outside offering top dollar to score last-minute seats.
"We are willing to pay $500 if the seats are good enough," said Ashley Love, 25, wearing a black lace "Desperately Seeking Susan" ensemble.
Michael Rosen, a 33-year-old Brooklyn dancer, won his floor seats in a bidding war.
"I went on Craigslist and paid $600 for this ticket," said Rosen, bedecked in a black boa. "I haven't missed a Madonna show in almost 20 years and I wasn't going to start now."
Cassandra Gardner, in bondage gear to replicate the cover of Madonna's Hard Candy album, spent $2,000 for her night. That included tickets, travel costs from Albany - and the Madonna tattoo on the back of the 23-year-old's neck.
"She is a goddess. She is my queen," Gardner gushed.
When the queen hit the stage around 9 p.m., she ruled over her people in a skimpy black leotard and carrying a riding crop, bringing them to their feet with her hit, Candy Shop.
When some of her subjects sat, they were duly chastised.
"What are you people sitting down for? This isn't a Barbara Streisand show!" she shouted.
The singer also got political, showing images of Republican John McCain with those of war and of Democratic Barack Obama with those of peace.
"It was worth every penny," said a breathless Janine Smyth, 29, from Long Island of the $200 tickets she bought for herself and her sister.
Last night's show was the first of three sold-out nights in Madison Square Garden on Madonna's Sticky & Sweet world tour. She does it all again Tuesday night and Friday night.
For devotees, it really is the music that brings the people together. The scandals? Not so much. "I don't give a crap about all this gossip with Alex Rodriguez," said Lorraine Hands, 45, a teacher from Fairfield, Conn., who has tickets for tonight as well.
For Madonna, the adulation pays off big. She has already raked in $120 million from this, her seventh world tour.
"Tick-tock, tick-tock," sang Madonna's backup singers as video screens and subwoofers blasted to life at the Izod Center. Time obsesses Madonna on her Sticky and Sweet Tour, which made its first American stop here on Saturday night.
Time means beat and rhythm, and it means the pop history encapsulated in the hits she has been making since 1982. It also means the aging that Madonna defies with workouts, image makeovers and what looks like plastic surgery. A 50-year-old working mother, Madonna can no longer be seen as a clubland ingenue, a Hollywood glamour queen, an iconoclast rejecting a Catholic upbringing or a kinky provocateuse, and she won't be any kind of dowager yet. Time has brought out her core: careerist ambition and a combative tenacity.
Has there ever been a colder pop sex symbol? For all the invitations in her lyrics, Madonna has always projected more calculation and industriousness than affection. She works; her audience looks and pays, becoming another conquest.
"I can keep on going through the night," she insisted in Heartbeat from her latest album, Hard Candy (Warner Brothers), which provided nearly half of the concert's songs. That was the point: There she was, 50 be damned, spreading her legs, strutting, pushing her dancers around, even doing double-dutch jump rope steps without a tangle.
Madonna built her career on her assets — her ear for hooks and beats, her looks, a predictive fashion sense and an instinct for pushing cultural hot buttons — and the Sticky and Sweet show insists, even demands, that they still have their effect.
She pumps up the volume, piles on the beat and mixes the unstoppable and the baffling, the thrilling and the ridiculous. The set had four thematic sections: the present-day dance floor, the old school, the big wide world, and political and spiritual aspirations (via the dance floor). For thumping electro songs from Hard Candy, she had the album's hip-hop guests — Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Timbaland — performing on towering video screens, sharing the proudly mercantile sentiments of songs like Candy Shop.
The old-school section, with a backdrop of animated characters invented by the artist Keith Haring, riffled through original elements of hip-hop culture — break dancing, disc-jockey scratching, double-dutch and graffiti — along with (inexplicably) some pole dancing. Since punk and hip-hop were contemporaries, Madonna also picked up an electric guitar for a enthusiastic punk-pop version of Borderline. Her moves were aerobic, not erotic; in one song, other dancers spotted her as if they were personal trainers.
Then came a high-fashion, geographically scrambled international romp, as dancers did flamenco, tango, Indian and Middle Eastern moves. The Spanish-language La Isla Bonita moved to Eastern Europe as Madonna brought out a gypsy-style band, with fiddle and accordion. It accompanied her in the one song that exposed her voice: the ballad You Must Love Me, with woeful sustained notes.
Madonna turned to messages: a save-the-world video that torpedoed its good intentions with overkill, juxtaposing John McCain with Hitler and Barack Obama with Gandhi. Although her outfit and a mop-with-bangs wig made her look like a bad 1970s comic-book character, Madonna was close to inspirational in an electrocharged version of Like A Prayer, with golden-rule religious teachings projected overhead. She followed it awkwardly, with guitar-slinging rock versions of Ray Of Light and, returning to earthly things, Hung Up, with a feedback finish. She wants punk's old rebel credibility.
"No one is ever going to stop me," Madonna proclaimed in her finale, Give It 2 Me. But as the show ended, the last glimpse of Madonna was a video close-up of her sweaty, unsmiling, exhausted face. She had worked hard, and showed it.
Stubborn button-pusher that she is, Madonna couldn't make it through her Saturday night concert at the Izod Center in East Rutherford -- the opening show of the American leg of her Sticky and Sweet Tour -- without a few Sarah Palin references.
First came a short rant: "Sarah Palin can't come to this party! She is not in my show! She will never be in my show!" During her punk-metal version of Hung Up, she introduced a purposely grating guitar solo with the line, "This is the sound of Sarah Palin's husband's snowmobile when it won't start."Finally, she donned eyeglasses for the show's closer, the ecstatic dance number, Give It 2 Me.
Palin's ticketmate John McCain got far harsher treatment. In a video interlude, Madonna grouped McCain with history's villains (example: Adolf Hitler) and Barack Obama with history's heroes (example: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). Even by pop-concert standards, this was absurdly heavy-handed.
Then again, Madonna wouldn't be Madonna without a little overkill. The show, which is also coming to Madison Square Garden and Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, was a characteristically lavish affair, with correspondingly lavish prices ($55-$350). She made her grand entrance on a throne, and led a cast of 27 (including dancers, instrumentalists and backing vocalists). There were lasers for Ray Of Light and Give It 2 Me; a catwalk with conveyor belts, extending out to a mid-arena mini-stage; a boxing ring for two dancers to face off in during one of Madonna's costume changes; and, during Into The Groove, an elaborate group jump-rope routine, plus videos adapted from the artwork of the late Keith Haring.
A video featuring a piece of candy working its way through some intricate, futuristic machinery accompanied Candy Shop. And Madonna's costumes often had a whimsical flair. During 4 Minutes, for example, she wore a football player's shoulder pads, turned into something colorful and glittering.
For She's Not Me, a song directed at a romantic rival who "started dyeing her hair/And wearing the same perfume as me," some of Madonna's dancers dressed as former versions of herself -- the street urchin, the dominatrix and so on. Madonna ripped the wig off one and threw it on the ground, then indulged in a full-blown, theatrical tantrum.
Guests vocalists on Madonna's recent Hard Candy album (Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Timbaland) appeared via videotape, singing or rapping their parts. Four video Timberlakes actually contributed to 4 Minutes, moving around the stage on portable screens.
An extended gypsy/flamenco segment featured support from the Russian group the Kolpakov Trio and included, among other songs, a radically reworked version of La Isla Bonita. Borderline got an overhaul, too, with a spunky new-wave pop arrangement. And Music was remade as old-school electrofunk.
When not reinventing her old songs, Madonna was usually playing new ones -- nine of the show's numbers came from Hard Candy. There usually wasn't much substance to the lyrics ("My sugar is sweet," she boasted in Candy Shop, while Spanish Lesson offered lines like "Yo te quiero means I love you"). But generally, the beats and hooks were strong enough -- and there was so much else going on, visually -- that you didn't notice.
There were a few pensive moments in the show, such as the longing Miles Away (a new song about the difficulties of a long-distance romance) and the stately ballad You Must Love Me (from Evita). Late in the evening, Madonna asked for requests and, after fans held up signs for Open Your Heart, sang that oldie with the audience clapping along and just one musician, the drummer, playing along.
But in general, the show was about the new. It was also about spectacle, and dancing (Madonna's middle-aged athleticism is nothing short of astonishing), and blowing off a little steam. "Express yourself, don't repress yourself," she sang in Human Nature, and she followed that advice, no matter how fanciful or (in the case of the McCain/Hitler video) puerile her ideas were.
In a show defined by throbbing dance music, tight choreography, spectacular stage sets and stunning visuals, perhaps the most stirring moment during the kickoff concert to Madonna's Sticky & Sweet tour came when the Material Girl stood onstage with just her guitar and a few musicians for an acoustic set.
As she sang the emotional song from her movie Evita, Madonna couldn't help but wink and smile at the roaring sold-out crowd as she sang the song's main refrain and title: "You must love me."
Maybe that's because she knew she was right. Even the superstar's most cynical critics couldn't walk away from her two-hour extravaganza at the Izod Center on Saturday night without being thoroughly wowed. It was not only the spectacle of the concert, but the performer herself, as she reasserted her musical relevance and dominance in her 25th year in the spotlight.
Madonna is not the world's most gifted singer or dancer or even musician, but she may be its greatest performer. From the moment she first appeared on stage, looking taut and chiseled in a black bra and shorts with a mesh layer overlay, she turned the arena into a massive dance club and a nonstop party. The zooming Candy Shop, off her most recent CD Hard Candy, set it off as Madonna strutted onstage flanked by an army of dancers. While they may have executed the show's most intricate dance moves, the ever-fit Madonna dazzled on her own with sinewy steps that belied her AARP-status.
Though the show's first moments were devoted to her new album, it didn't take long for her to seamlessly groove back in time, performing one of her '90s gems, Human Nature. The already funky, synthesized tune got an even funkier update, as Madonna utilized the vocoder trend with her background vocals. The unapologetic anthem was highlighted by a video that showed Madonna being watched by a security camera in an elevator; as the song went on, Britney Spears' image intertwined with her blonde musical mentor, looking frightened and frail under the camera's lens beforestriking a decidedly confident pose at the song's end.
It's a testament to Madonna's musical chops that her new music blended so expertly with some of her greatest hits: Elements of 4 Minutes were mashed up with Vogue for a flashback that managed to be both classic and cutting edge. While she sang many of her classics, such as Like A Prayer, La Isla Bonita, and Ray Of Light, those moments weren't relegated to short renditions during the retrospective medley part of the show, like many veterans do. They were given full attention with colorful, dazzling displays and new arrangements that made them seem as exciting and fresh as when they first made their debut. Into The Groove was re-imagined with the help of a DJ, a double-Dutch playing Madonna and cartoons by the late Keith Haring. During one of her many guitar-playing moments, she gave a rocked out performance of Borderline to the feverishly energetic crowd.
While the Sticky & Sweet tour would have been a triumph in any year, it was particularly impressive coming off her somewhat lackluster Confessions two years ago, which seemed more like a labored, carefully designed exercise than a joyful performance.
Not so this time around. Instead of performing at the crowd, she was performing for and with them, bringing them into her world with warmth and appreciation. Even when she scolded the few in the audience who weren't on their feet with unprintable language, she was jovial and endearing.
Jabs at Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — "Sarah Palin is not in my show!" were not daggers, and she even added, "Nothing personal." And the one preachy moment — in which she implored the audience to "save the world" through a series of video images that interspersed the world's atrocities with her ideas hopeful images, including Democratic candidate Barack Obama — wasn't as over the top as might be expected (with the exception of the interloping of video of Republican candidate John McCain in with world dictators and Adolph Hitler).
With her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year and her 50th birthday, it would have been easy for Madonna to turn her latest tour into some kind of nostalgia show. It probably would have been an enjoyable experience nonetheless.
But then again, it wouldn't have been Madonna — the consummate artist who always stretches the limits, exploring new ideas to stay relevant. On Saturday, she proved to be more than relevant — she's still music premier performer.
50 is the new 25. Or at least, that's what Madonna seemed intent on proving at her first U.S. concert since reaching that half-century milestone.
Kicking off the U.S. leg of her Sticky & Sweet tour at the Izod Center, the pop icon exhibited the energy, not to mention the muscle tone, of a woman half her age during a 23-song set that chronicled her storied career, from '80s hits to songs from this year's release Hard Candy.
Intent to give herself and her fans a musical workout, as well, Madonna put a slightly different spin on familiar tunes. As she has on recent tours, the singer played guitar on several numbers, lending a garage-rock edge to Borderline and Hung Up.
Into The Groove was presented as a pumping club mix, with Madonna jumping rope to emphasize its aerobic intensity. By that point, she had changed from a black-bustier-and-boots ensemble to a sportier but similarly revealing number set off by red gym shorts and black socks that stretched up to her gravity-defying thighs.
Audience members were impressed, and titillated. "If I were a lesbian, I would go for her," said Mary Beth Murdza, 45, a resident of Wall Township who added, "I don't think I've missed one of Madonna's tours."
Manhattan newcomer Barry Sherman, 29, came dressed in fishnet and spandex in homage to his idol. In his old house in Vermont, he added, "One of the bedrooms is a shrine to Madonna."
Madonna herself paid tribute to world music and different cultures throughout the evening. Devil Wouldn't Recognize You had an Asian flavor, underscored by Japanese dancers, and was followed by a segment that drew on Latin influences and included Rumanian gypsy musicians, including the songs La Isla Bonita, Miles Away and, from Evita, the ballad You Must Love Me.
The visuals were similarly exotic and often stunning, from an anime-inspired montage to footage of various foreign landscapes and people. Ray Of Light and Like A Prayer were accompanied by spiritual imagery, with quotations from the Bible floating across the screen.
Madonna's recent collaborators Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake popped up on video, as did Britney Spears, who filmed a special black-and-white clip as a backdrop for a frenzied Human Nature.
An already controversial segment showed famous and infamous figures ranging from Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong Il to Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama and John Lennon. Current presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama were also included, McCain in closer proximity to some more patently villainous types and Obama nearer to those viewed more favorably, who also included Mother Teresa and Bono.
Madonna did not patently link McCain to any of the ogres, or verbally attack the Republican contender. She did, however, have a few choice words for his running mate. "Sarah Palin can't come to this party," she declared, after leading the audience in a festive a cappella version of Open Your Heart. "She is not in my show. She will never be in my show."
She reinforced that message, humorously, by imitating "the sound of Sarah Palin's husband's snowmobile when it won't start" with a loud, purposefully irritating burst of guitar.
Madonna broke another convention at the first U.S. date of her Sticky and Sweet tour, held at the Izod Center in the Meadowlands Saturday night.
After a career spent sneering at the stricter rules of religion, sex and gender, the star has a fresh foe in her sights - age.
Seven weeks after qualifying for her AARP card, the 50-year-old put on a show that could have winded the most sinewy of teens. For nearly two hours, Madonna commanded the stage - first, quite literally, by entering on a throne - then by throwing her rigorously toned body through tricky dance moves, including leg splits, crotch grinds and even a double Dutch jump rope drill.
The sight had to inspire admiration, even if it did nothing for the cause of spontaneity and even less for the realm of sensuality. Then again, Madonna's shows have never had much use for such things. They're multimedia workouts, geared more to awe - or alarm - than charm.
Luckily, the staging of the show has enough razzle-dazzle to excite. And the material that dominated had enough fury in the beats and fluidity in the melodies to make up for any of the night's self-consciousness or rigidity.
Half the show's repertoire drew from the new Hard Candy CD, which ranks as Madonna's most fun, fleet and danceable work since her very first one.
She started right out with a newbie, Candy Shop, and from there kept the momentum going with consistently fresh arrangements of even the oldest songs. The yearning pop ballad Borderline became a punk pop anthem, sounding more likesomething The Stooges would thrash out. Vogue earned a new electro-clash boost. And for some reason La Isla Bonita got an enjoyably weird Eastern European arrangement.
Nearly all the music swung in a more punishing direction than on its album, and Madonna allowed only one true ballad, You Must Love Me, which had its own form of overstatement in her pleading vocal.
The video followed the tough theme, with brutal images even of candy canes. In one of the few more sprightly passages, Madonna dipped back to her 1980s roots, using a playful backdrop of Keith Herring electric babies. Thankfully, she had just one political moment, the now infamous video montage that juxtaposes John McCain with images of fascist leaders and Barack Obama with peace activists. Maybe it would have been more effective if the music behind it didn't endlessly repeat the phrase "Get Stupid."
The clumsiness of it all only threw into even higher relief the welcome lack of pretension in the rest. Mainly Madonna aimed to push her true forte - cutting-edge dance music. She did so effectively enough to make the audience dance nearly as hard, and as youthfully, as she did.
With her bride-of-Skeletor physique, a songbook of her most popular tunes and some pretty spectacular dance routines, last night Madonna lived up to her reputation as the queen of pop.
At the Meadowlands, the Material Girl showed off her muscles in an array of titillating costumes such as short-shorts and transparent leotards during the two-hour hits show.
Her Madgesty came on hard and fast from the show opener Candy Shop (more about movement and visuals than voice) through the hip-hop influenced Beat Goes On and the dance classic Vogue, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
The Material Mom made her big political statement of the evening as concert-goers cheered and danced through "Get Stupid" late in the set, showing an image of John McCain in a video along side Adolf Hitler. Barack Obama fared slightly better, appearing with Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
Madonna was our lady of perpetual motion and it worked with the fast dance-powered arrangements. The production was terrific entertainment with well-thought-out dance routines that showed off Madonna's ability to move to the music she makes.
She took a couple of breathers with ballads such as You Must Love Me, from Evita, and Rain/Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, from her current CD, Hard Candy, but the big, bad booty shakers were what propelled this show.
Songs such as Into The Groove, in which Madonna jump roped in red gym pants; Music, in which she conjured her club appeal, and the Latin influenced staccato Spanish Lesson, in which she twirled in a sheer black and DayGlo hippie girl mini dress moved the crowd.
Madonna has the knack for being erotic without getting slutty. This may be the best tour she's ever stitched together.
Madonna continues with performances tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 12 and 13 at Madison Square Garden.
Madonna has become the poster girl for aging gracefully in the youth-oriented world of pop music.
Still at the height of her performing powers at the age of 50, The Material Girl kicked off the North American leg of her Sticky and Sweet Tour in front of a sold-out crowd at IZOD Arena on Saturday night - including her famous pal Rosie O'Donnell visibly seated near the front - with an action-packed, hi-tech, and yes, briefly political two-hour show that took a few jabs at Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin.
Frankly, it was hard to take your eyes off Madonna's bulging biceps, despite such distractions as various raising platforms and slick-looking, moving video screens, and if she didn't always successfully reinvent her older tunes, the nine new songs represented from her latest urban-influenced album, Hard Candy, were among the best offerings of the night.
Opening dramatically with the new tune, Candy Shop, Madge first appeared on a throne, holding a cane, seemingly announcing The Queen of Pop isn't going anywhere except for a ride in a vintage white convertible that was eventually driven onto the stage.
Backed by a seven piece band, including Montrealer Ric'key Pageot on keyboards, two backup singers and various dancers, Madonna expertly moved around her impressive stage which fanned out to include a long catwalk with a conveyor belt to a smaller circular stage in the centre of the floor where she spent a lot of her time getting closer to the fans.
The strong opener was followed by another catchy new tune, Beat Goes On, with her Hard Candy collaborators Pharrell Williams and Kanye West appearing via video, as did Justin Timberlake and Timbaland (4 Minutes) later in the evening.
It was when she began what would be a trend of reinventing older songs, starting with Human Nature, featuring Britney Spears trapped in an elevator on video, and Madonna on electric guitar, that the concert faltered slightly.
The energy flagged until the next song, Vogue, which was reconfigured to include the horns from 4 Minutes, and made sexy by the presence of four scantily clad female dancers in black bobbed wigs and hardly any clothes.
"Some people are still sitting down," Madonna gently scolded about half-way through the show. "I'm not sitting down - fair is fair."
Also sadly missing their original arrangements were Into The Groove, which featured a youthful Madonna both twirling around a stripper pole and skipping rope, and Borderline and Ray Of Light, both of which became rock songs with Madge on electric guitar.
Still, there were some nice segues like two male dancers dressed as boxers and actually fighting in a ring as Die Another Day played in a video version and downright striking versions of new songs like Heartbeat, She's Not Me - with Madonna poking fun at her various incarnations including the bride from Like A Virgin and the cone-bra wearing provocateur - Spanish Lesson, Miles Away, 4 Minutes, Give It 2 Me, and the old chestnut Like A Prayer.
"It's good to be in America, I'm so glad to be back," sang Madonna, who started her latest tour in Europe with a stadium show in Cardiff, Wales, on Aug. 23.
Not known for her ballads, she also proved to be incredibly adept at the two in her set list, even if she couldn't hit the high notes during an impromptu version of the requested song, Open Your Heart.
First up was Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, with Madge decked out in a black cape and lying on top of a piano while cool-looking water imagery was projected on circular video screens enveloping her.
The now famous Get Stupid video segue, which included images of Hitler and John McCain alongside those of Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela, was trotted out again by Madonna, who actually called out Palin by name several times as her show wound down.
"This is the sound of Sarah Palin's husband snowmobile when it won't start," she said producing guitar feedback.
Madonna has two shows at Toronto's Air Canada Centre on Oct. 18-19, Montreal's Bell Centre on Oct. 22-23 and Vancouver's BC Place Stadium for her first-ever show there on Oct. 30. [rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars]↑ Back to top of page