Back in 1989, Madonna and the rest of us didn’t have a lot of war to worry about, unless you count U.S. efforts to depose Panama’s Manuel Noriega. But we didn’t let it bother us too much. But times have changed. Madonna’s 1989 hit Express Yourself now must be delivered with camouflage, rifle-twirling and a black beret that’s very Che Guevara, albeit still kinda cute. And so it went with much of Madonna’s Re-Invention Tour, a sometimes awkward attempt to combine the flashy, trashy spectacle of the pop goddess’s choreographed past with her newfound spirituality and humanitarian awareness. And as the camouflaged dance hit proved, the singer’s look and personality are easier to reinvent than the songs themselves.
Still, the first of two sold-out nights at the MGM Grand on Saturday delivered most everything fans could have asked for from their ridiculously expensive tickets (top price: $382.50). It was edgy, full of visual surprise, loaded with more past hits than her most recent trip through town and even a little personal, if you paid attention to the details.
Photos of dead war civilians, women and children mostly, turned up on the overhead screens a number of times, contrasting with the video-game battle imagery that set the stage for the audacious American Life. As the singer and her dancers marched around a giant V-shaped truss that descended over the floor seats, the spectacle included men in cages, a pregnant nun and George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein looking cozy together on an overhead screen. Nobody ever said the two words in ‘pop art’ always fit together easily.
Yet the complex stagecraft of four moving video screens, carrying imagery to rival the Elton John show at Caesars Palace, also reminded us that Madonna was the first superstar of the MTV video era. The old hits, such as the Vogue opener, were completely synonymous with their videos; any radio play was incidental.
The singer still feels no need to talk to us when pictures will suffice. Bedtime Story even allowed her to leave the stage completely for one of her many costume changes, while her video image sang to three Cirque du Soleil-style trapeze artists. Some people might not have noticed she was absent. Other big production numbers included a skateboarder (Hanky Panky) and an electric chair (Die Another Day).
Her few asides to the audience were, like her most recent MGM tour stop, reminders that no one was supposed to take a seat. ‘This will not do. I’m spoiled,’ she announced. ‘People don’t sit at my shows.’ But they do sit down when they’re watching television. And if Madonna didn’t kill the video to be a bit more exposed to the audience, whose fault was that? The rare quiet moments included a cover of John Lennon’s Imagine and a reasonably toned-down Crazy For You delivered from an elevated tower and dedicated to fans ‘who have stuck with me through thick and thin’ (if not Shanghai Surprise or Swept Away).
The 45-year-old mother constantly reminded us that she has more on her mind than sex these days, from the opening buildup of recorded Revelation scripture, to her ‘Kabbalists do it better’ T-shirt or the plug for a Kabbalah organization called Spirituality for Kids (seriously).
Brazenly religious imagery, including Jesus on the cross, accompanied Mother and Father, the evening’s heaviest, most challenging tune: ‘There was a time that I prayed to Jesus Christ/There was a time I had a mother it was nice.’ A holiday weekend party crowd was more interested in oldies such as Holiday and Into the Groove, tricked up with current electronica rhythms, confetti cannons, kilts and bagpipes. At the end, the screen flashed one last communiqué, ‘Reinvent Yourself,’ before the house lights went up without even the tease of an encore. Madonna had spoken. At least, in her trust-the-message-if-not-the-messenger kind of way. It was a fitting send-off from a media creation who is gradually becoming more flesh and blood, but who still holds that guitar more than she actually plays it.
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal, Mike Weatherford