Madison Square Garden, NY, 7/19 & 6/29
Madonna is Madonna for a reason. Long after she has ceased to be a motor of cultural change or an instigator of social critique and commentary, she will be remembered as one of the most dynamic and thrilling live entertainers of the modern era. At first glance, the bawdy, brazen chameleon may have little in common with a Jim Morrison, a Judy Garland, a Billie Holiday, or a Beatle. But in the grand scheme of culture, there are few mortals who can give a live performance that so electrifies their audience as to render it a life-changing or perception-altering experience, and thus, raise themselves to immortal status. Madonna is one of these extraordinary creatures.
Yes, she takes a beautiful picture. She has an uncanny ability to leave images burnt on the back of our retinas that are stunning, arresting and provocative. Yes, she knows how to push the buttons of our collective unconscious and our cultural repressions. Yes, she understands how to massage any medium into her message, bending everything from the entertainment news engine to the music video, and recording industry to her will. Yes, she has impeccable taste in collaborators. Yes, she has an incredible ear for trends, and an innate ability to stay in touch with what will resonate with this fickle, youth-centric culture. She evolves with the times and always manages to learn something about herself in the process. She works through her sissues while she forces us to address ours. Yes, she is, has, and does all of these things. But despite all of this, she has always been, first and foremost, a live entertainer.
That is the key to Madonna's power: she delivers the goods. You may not like her voice. You may not like her music. You may abhor her message. You may deride her attempts to act on film. Even if you count all of these strikes against her, once you see her perform live, you will be compelled to concede that she is in a class of her own.
Madonna is at her best on a stage. She is a perfrectionist, a detail-oriented, holistic visionary, and a type-A personality. Take all of these things and apply them to a live entertainer, and you get a level of commitment that reliably yields spectacle of such a high calibre that it is instantly unforgettable. When you spend over $300 face value for floor seats, you know she will wring every penny's worth out of that ticket in sweat and pure, electric energy. She is committed to her own standards of perfection, and, most importantly, delivering for her fans -- rewarding them for believing in her. "See, it really was worth it. You don't regret staying with me for all these years. I've still got it, and I'm giving it, unadulterated and with no screen as barrier, to you."
This is all well and good, you say, but what about this tour -- the Confessions on a Dancefloor Tour? It is the multimedia-meets-Broadway-musical-number that we've grown to expect from Madge. And as always before, she adds something new to the mix, so that we don't ever walk away feeling like it's just the last tour Part II. In the case of the Confessions Tour, she introduces of-the-moment and oh-so-current phenomena of krumping and the musical mash-up. But instead of just making use of them as toss-off cultural references to keep on-trend, she applies them to her own lexicon of dance floor disco, confessional self-awareness, and politically outspoken rabble-rousing.
It's a shame that the industry standard of allowing photographers to shoot only the first 3 songs of a concert means that the bulk of the images to represent the tour will imply that the whole thing is an equestrian bondage fantasy. However, it does save all the subsequent themes, sets and costumes as surprises for the ticketholder alone. Which means only the initiated get to experience her gravity-defying flights of fancy, ferocious fights, and fantasy disco dancefloor fabulousness.
My favorite memories and lasting mental images? Lady Madonna's entrance, emerging from a mammoth disco ball that had just descended from the heavens (read: ceiling). Her dancers' incredible feats of derring-do, leaping from deranged heights during "Jump." Madge as Bianca Jagger-meets-John Travolta in white disco tuxedo, hitting us with some unforgettable Saturday Night Fever moves during "Music Inferno," itself a mash-up of "Music and "Disco Inferno." Perhaps Madge on the cross might have had more oomph if it hadn't been one of the most widely publicized "controversial" elements of the tour. On the other hand, Isaac Sinwani, the Cantor who sings the Yemenite chants in the song that bares his name ("Isaac"), opened the song by blowing the shofar -- a long, curled ram's horn blown during traditional religious services. It sent chills down my spine to hear the sound echoing around the rafters of Madison Square Garden. Unforgettable. And the image of George Bush batting his eyelashes at us during her political rant mantage, "Don't Speak," brought down the house.
That said, I do think Madonna is slowing down. Alumni of her Blonde Ambition, Girlie Show or Drowned World tours will recall that every last song brought an explosion of Madonna's dance energy that didn't quit. In this tour, the dancing queen allowed her dancers to carry much of the burden of boogie during the middle third of the show. Dare I say it? I must! She trotted out the guitar for no less then 4ish songs, which made me wonder if she was merely loving the rocker chick image, or hiding behind the guitar, catching a sorely needed breather? Overall, the choreography lacked the luster of the Girlie Show -- with the notable exceptions of the equestrian bondage number at the start of the show, the aforementioned acrobatics of "Jump," the krumpers that led into "Live to Tell," and the roller derby and disco trifecta of "Music Inferno," "La Isla Bonita," and "Erotica."
The underlying message is this: Catch Madonna now. You're in for a show that is, without exaggeration, unforgettable. And though future tours will undoubtedly be incredible, you'll be glad you saw her while she still has this level of energy to give. It is sure to wane, however slowly, as time goes on.
Here's a quick link for her full tour:
Read CityGuide's review of the Confessions Tour:
See more in the Confessions Tour photo gallery: