It’s been 25 years since we’ve had the Material Girl live and in the flesh — and strangely enough, it appears she hasn’t aged a bit.
“It’s been a long time, Minnesota,” Madonna said to a roar of screaming fans. “It’s been too long, Minnesota. Sorry it took me so long to come back.”
It may have taken more than two decades — and several minutes — before she took the stage, but as Madge fans are accustomed to know, Madonna always does what she wants.
That was true in the opening act, when a somber scene, including monks and priests, was followed up with anarchy and “Girls Gone Wild.”
The show’s open had a running theme — almost a storyline — about Madonna’s journey straight to h-e-double hockey sticks. Her bloody and at times, overly violent, rendition of “Gang Bang” seemed to be her shock-and-awe moment of the night — complete with guns a’blazin’ and giant, graphic blood splatters on ceiling-high monitors.
While this was my first taste of some of her most recent work, “Gang Bang” reminded me of an upbeat, electronica version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang” — without the melancholy undertones.
The song, which references shooting a lover dead, in the head, worked quite nicely as the precursor to “Papa Don’t Preach” — a song where Madonna begged for forgiveness before being carried away by what appeared to be dancing militia.
Still, her new stuff in a nutshell, likely isn’t the kind of music that’s going to produce chart-topping hits — and I couldn’t help but cringe at the overuse of auto-tune. Perhaps it’s naive, but in my understanding, auto tune seems to be used for those who don’t have vocal veracity. So with Madge, it was like putting ketchup on a $50 steak.
The concert’s timing and flow was spot on — with entertaining contortionists and shirtless dancers amusing the crowd in front of racy video of Madge while she made her way into her next costume and hairstyle.
The sequences between one song to the next was flawless — proving to the Gaga’s of the pop world, Madonna is the originator and the reigning queen.
And my goodness, the woman is 54 years old. She has four children — and yet, as she showed both literally and figuratively, she still kicks ass. I love her for her energy and ability, but hate her for her arms and toned abs.
No surprise, Madonna’s best moments were during some of her oldest songs. Her beaten down and pained rendition of “Like A Virgin” took the song to new depth — it wasn’t a sunny, innocent chorus, complete with flirtatious gasps, it was a dark, lonely and raw plea, a desperation for a time that was — and a highlight of the entire night.
And sure, while we’ve seen the black-and-white bit a hundred times, “Vogue” live with the legendary diva in a cone-shaped brassiere still is one of the best things to happen on a stage.
From beginning to end, Madonna pushed the boundaries, and played with the shocking — and sure, to some that seems overly unnecessary and contrived. But the point, which seems to be the same point Madonna’s been stressing in her long, lustrous career, is just that — a reaction. If you walk away talking about the shocking or the provoking, you will find yourself tangled in Madonna’s web.
She may urge you to think the way she thinks (“I don’t care who you vote for as long as you vote for Obama,” she said at one point) but it seems the point is more to think, period, to be affected and to feel something more. After 25 years, that message remains the same.
By Eric Henderson
What makes Madonna such a compelling artistic force? First and foremost, her blond ambition, which throughout her career has usually reared its perfectly-coiffed head most decisively during the moments everyone has been primed to finally write her off as passé.
So even as she releases new material that, for all its scattered merits, can’t hope to stand up against her impressive back catalog (“I guess I’ll just end up another 100-hit wonder,” joked comedian-impersonator James Adomian, playing Madonna in a recent episode of Adult Swim’s Children’s Hospital), you could never accuse her of using her greatest hits as a creative crutch in concert.
If anything, she sometimes comes off as though they’re holding her back. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sorry for the hundreds and hundreds of soccer moms I saw roving in packs at the X, dressed up in their love of “Material Girl”-era Ciccone, clad in fishnets and denim. Just because Madonna hasn’t been in the Twin Cities since before the Berlin Wall fell didn’t mean she was going to play catch-up with Minnesotans clamoring for a fresh (but not too fresh) take on “Holiday.”
Her setlist Saturday night featured nearly all of the dozen songs from her newest album MDMA (an OK-ish collection that, while certainly no Like a Prayer, is also pretty far from Hard Candy), and many of the hits that peppered the evening were flipped, remixed, inverted, or mashed up into … well, lets just say few in the room were singing along karaoke-style to her tour version of “Hung Up.”
Most of her creative energy had clearly gone into envisioning gloriously dark scenarios for the likes of “Gang Bang,” a visceral, gruesome depiction of perpetual violence that, to my twisted sensibilities, was the highlight of her new material. Though I also greatly appreciated the massive flying drumline that accompanied “Give Me All Your Luvin,” in part because they drowned out the actual song.
Also, though it was mainly used as an opportunity to give Madonna a breather and costume change, the montage-blitzkrieg video presentation accompanying “Nobody Knows Me” (from American Life) blows through practically every available provocation before concluding with a heart-stopping series of slides commemorating the too brief lives of gay teens who committed suicide (a declarative exclamation point coming just off the heels of her “Vote No” command).
To say it’s a grueling program would be an understatement, both conceptually as well as physically. “I made it through the wilderness” might stand as the signpost refrain of the evening, as the newly twice-divorced 54-year-old, having invited the audience to take a look at the bruises on her backside, climbed atop a piano and slowly, deliberately savored the bitter ironies within the lyrics of “Like a Virgin.”
While she never completely lost her sense of humor (as when she motioned to her fans in the pit to toss her a few dollars), she also clearly utilized the tune — among her most effervescent, adolescent songs — to take a fearless plunge into the abyss of accrued time.
If the payoff is wisdom and life experience, the price is self-awareness. Which, of course, is not something Madonna has ever lacked.
Madonna will perform a second show Sunday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. For tickets, click here.