Madonna slights both music and fans.
David Cheal has misgivings about Madonna’s new world tour as he sees her at Palau Sant Jordi, Barcelona. He feels she should concentrate more on the music than the stage act.
It’s one thing to leave your fans feeling hungry for more, and quite another to whip their plates away before they’ve even finished the main course – and then refuse to produce a dessert menu. The opening night of Madonna’s new world tour, which reaches Earls Court in London on July 4, did exactly that, leaving thousands of Catalan fans either yelling for an encore that never came, or simply staring at the empty stage in disbelief.
Shortfall: ‘the finale that ended so abruptly it was almost rude’
The problem wasn’t just that the show, at little more than 90 minutes, was too short; it was also poorly paced, with a surfeit of slow songs in the middle section, leading to a finale that ended so abruptly it was almost rude. And while, as a theatrical presentation, the evening featured some extraordinary scenarios and pushed to its limit that fast-developing form of popular entertainment, the arena pop show, amid all the costumes and hydraulics and immaculate choreography, Madonna and her artistic collaborators seem to have neglected one crucial element: music.
All too often, the songs were little more than backing tracks for a series of sometimes stunning, often bizarre and occasionally deeply pretentious pieces of pop theatre (most notably Nobody’s Perfect, during which Madonna was harassed, distractingly, by a Samurai swordsman).
Sometimes, the theatrical stuff worked. Frozen, for instance, which opened with three dancers suspended above the stage by their feet and shrouded in cocoons, was genuinely chilling. The moment when Madonna emerged from the bowels of the stage on a hydraulic podium wearing a kimono with a 52ft wingspan was greeted with a huge roar.
There was also a stunning homage to the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon during which Madonna and her troupe engaged in aerial combat suspended on wires. And while its significance escapes me, the sight of a posse of dancers wearing electric torches as eyes being stuffed, wriggling, into a hole in the stage like lizards in a bucket during the final moments of Impressive Instant is one that I will always treasure.
Less successful was the episode with the sword, as well as the sequence in which a female dancer was violently subdued and left for dead – one of a number of scenes themed around dominance and submission. Also, am I the only person who is thoroughly bored with punk imagery? Kilts and Mohican haircuts, the dress code for the ensemble during the opening section, have long since lost their visual potency; if they speak of anything today, then it’s lack of imagination. And as for the bit when three couples danced tangos to an instrumental Don’t Cry For Me Argentina: what purpose did it serve, other than to give Madonna a chance (again) to get her breath back?
For me, the show was at its best when, rather than trying to superimpose a bogus visual “theme” on songs to which the visuals bore no relation, there was a synergy between music and spectacle. Ray Of Light, for instance, with the dancers going bonkers and the video screens showing a dizzying showreel of images, was simply sensational. And for the closing number, Music, which featured much celebratory cavorting from dancers who seemed delighted to be liberated from the theme-world straitjacket, even the traditionally surly press corps were on their feet. But then, with stunning suddenness, it was all over bar the shouting (and, it must be said, some whistling, too).
If she wants to avoid incurring the irritation of her London fans, who will have paid #40-#80 for their tickets, Madonna would be wise to add a couple more up-tempo numbers (Like A Prayer and Runaway Lover are among the omitted songs that spring to mind) to the show’s celebratory final section. I suspect that punters will be prepared to forgive Madonna her artiness as long as she gives them something they can get up and dance to; on that basis, this is a show that urgently needs a rethink.