Like I told y'all yesterday, I really didn't have high hopes for the money I spent; I was waiting to be thoroughly whapped over the head with whatever rhetoric Madonna's selling these days or whatever. (Not that I don't agree with her, but sticking it all in a pointy bra doesn't really resonate, ya dig.) But she was just amazing -- looked great, sounded great, danced great, the whole package. And the lighting and images were divine. If you can, pay the money and go see her when she comes to town.
As added icing, BFKAS, B-Dubs and I had a really good time, though I must admit it was more than a little disconcerting to hear my 56 year-old birth mother singing "Like a Virgin." Yes, I know she would've been only 35 when the song came out (to my 15). Doesn't matter.
The Orange County Register
It very likely will be the pop spectacle of the year – a politically charged combination of Cirque du Soleil, performance-art commentary and dance-party explosion that more or less sums up everything she has been striving to say and show this decade. But that much we expected, even without knowing what tricks were hid under her skin-tight leotard. No one – but no one– stages elaborate eye-candy productions like Madonna, whose highly impressive Confessions Tour opened Sunday night at a packed Forum so sweltering it seemed as though it were being prepped for the world’s largest Bikram yoga session.
Every other diva cut from roughly similar cloth, whether equally iconic (Cher, Janet Jackson) or simply a progeny trifle (Britney Spears), ranks so far behind the not-so-notorious chameleon that they belong in a lesser league. They merely present dazzle; Madonna effortlessly builds mounting anticipation for hers, trumps theirs within the first 10 minutes, then adds depth for most of the remaining 100. Of course, at $350 a ticket (and that’s just face value), she had better deliver a bonanza far beyond her contemporaries’ abilities. There are those who find that price obscene, and it’s worth noting that by demanding so much for entry into her momentary wonderlands Madonna continues to largely lock out middle-class and poorer fans, who just might revere her more than wealthier devotees.
It’s one of the downsides of mounting such expensive tours and insisting on an enormous paycheck: What is intended as an over-the-top yet populist celebration of all races, nationalities and religions often winds up a rather elitist experience. But, then, the same charge could be hurled at the Rolling Stones, and they charged $100 more for choice seats when they played the Forum two months ago. And though this is definitely a case of comparing apples and oranges, Mick Jagger and his graying mates certainly didn’t offer a sight half as ridiculously delicious as a remarkably fit middle-age woman in equestrian-dominatrix gear gyrating and grinding atop a rodeo saddle spinning in circles via a carousel pole.
That’s how the 47-year-old Madonna performs "Like a Virgin" this time out, after being lowered to the tip of her stage’s catwalk via a mirror ball that opens like flower petals, then launching into the most darkly lascivious number she’s presented this decade. Set to a blending of the new song "Future Lovers" with Donna Summer’s classic "I Feel Love" – and preceded (and interrupted) by footage on a giant, wrap-around screen of the lithe sexpot sliding a riding crop between her teeth and writhing half-naked with a gagging harness strapped to her head and her hands tied behind her back – Madonna slowly parades around her bare-chested, abs-flexing dancers in a top hat and tails (and not much else), occasionally whipping and riding one like a horse. It’s enough to make you think this production will be as racy as her Blonde Ambition Tour, or perhaps finally provide the climax that the tour-free "Erotica" never quite achieved (unless you really enjoyed her "Sex" book).
Yet that’s only a tease; indeed, by the time she actually revives the song "Erotica" late in the disco finale of her two-hour show, any remaining lust has been stripped away. Even amid the raciness of the opening section, she hints at where she’s headed, singing in "Get Together": "Do you believe that we can change the future?" The next line is "Do you believe that I can make you feel better?" – but it might better have been amended to "make you think." After concluding her coming-out with a bounding gymnastics display attached to the track "Jump," she suddenly shifts into bleaker, more challenging terrain, quickly emerging with a centerpiece that is sure to stir resentful feelings with the same people who didn’t like her controversial "Like a Prayer" Pepsi ad many years ago.
Hanging mock-crucified on a huge mirrored cross, a crown of thorns atop her wavy blond locks, Madonna sings an inspired rethinking of the heretofore sappy ballad "Live to Tell," its usual bed of tinny synths replaced by churchy organs, its lyrics – "A man can tell a thousand lies / I’ve learned my lesson well" – seemingly directed at powers-that-be she deems dogmatic and hypocritical. The bridge, during which almost all background music faded out, was especially captivating. "How will they hear?" she asks. "When will they learn? How will they know?" The meaning of that and the equally outspoken moments that followed is wide open to interpretation, considering that it took in all manner of subjects, from burka-shrouded women breaking away from servitude and the plight of AIDS-ravaged African children to a visual attack on world leaders past (Hitler, Mussolini, Hussein, a number of popes) and present (Bush, Blair, bin Laden).
"Forbidden Love," for instance, instantly changed from just another gay anthem to a moving plea for spiritual harmony, with an array of religious symbols (formed out of thousands of blood cells) intersecting and colliding. A turbaned vocalist introduced as Isaac blew shofar to introduce Madonna’s new song of the same name, while a woman draped in gray danced as if a caged bird. "Like It or Not" was transformed from merely a self-satisfied statement of defiance into that aforementioned skewering of political figures, with the star hollering, "I can’t take it / Don’t speak / I’ve heard it all before." It was multimedia, cross-cultural preaching to the choir on a scale only U2 has reached lately. But unlike that band’s recent performances, the momentum here isn’t maintained; it’s just one portion, followed by a rocked-up section (in which she straps on a Gibson for thicker takes on "I Love New York" and "Ray of Light") and a house-heavy finale, kicked off by a mash-up of "Music" with the classic "Disco Inferno" and Madonna making moves in a white Travolta three-piece suit. Only the tender acoustic pairing of "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" and "Paradise Not for Me" reminds of the thought-provoking sentiments she puts forth earlier in the performance.
Is that a flaw? Depends on how you view it, I suppose. I sensed a little life go out of the show in the last fourth, when the choreography grew routine and the hits came too few and too radicalized ("La Isla Bonita" was far too rapid for her too keep pace verbally). Surely some will be dismayed to learn the show features all but two songs from her latest album but relatively few staples. They should have attended the last tour, which was largely about reinventing such material. This show is about summation and reconfiguration – the same formula presented unpredictably. Since the decade began – and Madonna returned to regular touring – she has been leaning toward something like this, something that encapsulates all of the various theatrical strains she incorporated just before 9/11 and the sociopolitical invective she added after that fateful day. This one isn’t perfect – yet. By the time it’s on HBO, it may be fine-tuned for more power. For now, however, it’s quite possibly the best production she’s ever concocted.