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Madge for it!

London Earls Court, 9 July 2001
Eighty-five quid? Cuh! If Eavis had got her for Glasto 2000 like he wanted we could've seen Madge AND Bowie AND The Pet Shop Boys for that, so this had better be something pretty special... Of course, there are probably few people alive as qualified in delivering the goods, and it's a pleasure to report that eight practice-free years (not counting Brixton, obviously) have in no way withered the live experience that is Madonna, and, make no mistake, this really does set out to be an experience, not just a gig.
Loads of it is pure theatre, of course, complete with numerous costume changes (the opening Union Jack wrap and bondage trews works particularly well, as does the inevitable cowgirl getup she sports midway through. Has there been a more bejewelled crotch since the heyday of Larry Blackmon? We think not.), the world's supply of moveable stagey bits, and, let's be honest here, a chunky old chunk of indulgence. Not all of it works - when she first whips out a guitar for 'Candy Perfume Girl' it's as jarring as if Fran Healy suddenly broke into a dance routine and, frankly, her decision to pull out a gun and shoot a dancer makes Eminem's chainsaw look tame by comparison - but when it does, and it usually does it's thoroughly remarkable. The dangling blokes during a wonderfully bare 'Paradise' make for a haunting image, for instance, and, as for the Crouching Tiger-style flying fight scene and the weird moley things scampering across a huge-sounding 'Impressive Instant', well, they're enough to make you grateful for the (blonde) ambition involved.
All well and good, we hear you cry, but what about the music? What indeed. Mrs Ritchie's come in for some criticism for not including much material from before '93's Girlie Tour, but if you'd recorded two of the most vibrant albums of the last five years wouldn't you want to do them justice? Besides, even hitting her almost-forgotten period makes sense, as 'Human Nature' is every inch the raunch we're entitled to demand and 'Secret' - from 1994, remember, wouldn't have sounded out of place on the last TLC album. Plus, beyond the spectacle, it's the personal moments that really stay with you, whether it's the wide-eyedly flashed gap-toothed grin that she gives as she strums away to 'I Deserve It', the heartbreaking honesty of a particularly powerful 'Gone', or the way she still dances like her life depends on it to - oh yes! - 'Holiday'. To say nothing of the fact that the latter forms the middle element one of the finest closing triptychs of the year; 'La Isla Bonita', ably accompanied by some flamenco dancing, has a gorgeous summery innocence to it even now, and it's fair to say that your correspondent gets utterly lost in 'Music'. Ho ho. The Drowned World show is a fair endeavour at justifying our money, but it's the songs themselves that unquestionably justify our love.
WORDS: Iain Moffat
PICS: Angela Lubrano

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