Madonna turned 50 earlier this year, but you wouldn’t know it from the way she looked Saturday night as she opened the North American leg of her Sticky & Sweet Tour at the Izod Center in East Rutherford.
The Material Girl looked as stunning as ever. It’s just too bad the show was a bit of a downer. Touring in support of her latest album, Hard Candy, Madonna played a two-hour set that was much more toned down than the high-flying Confessions on a Dance Floor mega-production. Fans who wanted to dance the night away on this tour were probably disappointed, as there were only a few numbers that took on a club-like atmosphere.
Madonna did not help the night get off to a good start by going on at 9:20 p.m., about 40 minutes later than a press representative said she would be taking the stage.
The show opened with a video intro that followed a pink ball around what was probably a candy factory before Madonna appeared, dressed in a hot black dress and hotter boots, singing Candy Shop while sitting on a chair holding a cane. That was followed by Beat Goes On, with large video screens projecting Kanye West, and featuring Madonna and her back-up dancers riding in a white car, which moved down the catwalk to the second stage at the center of the arena.
Video montages broke up the show into four parts. The first break featured Die Another Day, her James Bond theme song, as two dancers playing boxers sparred and eventually found their way to the ring on the second stage. Into the Groove, one of Madge’s best dance songs, was turned into an exercise video, with Madonna and her dancers jumping rope while wearing bright colors. But the melodic Heartbeat, from the new album, helped get things on the right track.
Borderline, which has not been performed live since The Virgin Tour back in 1985, featured a rock riff, which actually worked. There were a few other surprises in the show, too. During She’s Not Me, also from the new album, Madonna walked to the second stage where she played, and at times kissed, the female dancers who were dressed in some of her most iconic images: the Material Girl, the Virgin bride, the Open Your Heart outfit and the Vogue look. Then the song exploded into a rush of beats.
Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You, one of the best songs from Hard Candy, was performed with Madonna singing on top of a piano. It was a strong moment, but it would have been better had she not been practically concealed by the circular screen over the second stage.
Madonna tried to get the crowd going with Spanish Lesson an abysmal track from the new record, but the crowd was not buying it. Miles Away was nice, and established a real connection with the audience. But then it went away again with a mixed up version of La Isla Bonita.
Things reached rock bottom with a Romanian folk interlude, although the musicians did go on to help her perform You Must Love Me. The violin, especially, was beautiful.
The final video interlude featured Madonna’s call to action – showing horrors of the past followed by world leaders such as Mother Teresa, the Delai Lama – and presidential candidate Barack Obama (who received lots of applause).
4 Minutes, featuring vertical screens on the main stage with video projections of Justin Timberlake singing, was just OK. What was better was the techno version of Like A Prayer, which really got the crowd going. But then the show ended on a low note, with Ray of Light, which is overrated as a dance song; an attempt at an acoustic, crowd-interactive Open Your Heart, which failed; a rock version of Hung Up, which barely featured the signature Abba melody, and a lackluster Give It 2 Me, which does not have the pure joy or energy of a classic hit such as Holiday.
Madonna always wants to change and reinvent herself, which is fine. But when you are charging $300 or so a ticket, fans expect to see some of the songs they love. Would it be too painful to perform a classic version of her older hits? Just once?
Madonna performs at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Oct. 6, Tuesday, Oct. 7, and Friday, Saturday, Oct. 11, and Sunday, Oct. 12. All shows are sold out.