Set-heavy and music-lite, Madonna’s latest tour is enough of a visual treat that musical issues barely factor.
Sometimes the best disappoint. It’s rare, but it happens. Sometimes, though, the best are the best, and they show you exactly why they’re the best. Seven years ago, I reviewed the Rolling Stones and the spectacle bordered on parody. About 10 days later, it was Paul McCartney, who took Mick & Co. to school. I went into those shows more of a Stones fan; I left the second one as more of a Beatles fan. A similar thing happened this year. If you told me three weeks ago I’d enjoy Madonna more than Bruce Springsteen, I would have never believed it. But after Madge’s show at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday — the first of two — here we are.
It’s not that I even want to compare them. I’d wager The Boss and the Queen of Pop have about three things in common. They became superstars in the ’80s, they’ve both a truck full of Grammys and each has headlined ballparks in the last three weeks. There are more, sure, but you get the picture: they’re not comparable as performers. But if I had to pick between the two shows right now, I’d tell you to shell out the money to see Madge. And I feel weird about it, because her version of musical theatre doesn’t exactly execute the music part in the best way. Madonna’s show is confluence of two entities that should lean heavily on each other, but one scores so much higher than the other that it’s in a class of its own. Worth the price of admission, then, are …
Jaw-droppingly fantastic in every conceivable way. The show is split into four sections, each of which has a different look and feel. (BlogTO has a few great wide stills here, plus an interview with the people who designed it.) It’s easily one of the top three visual shows I’ve ever witnessed, and that is no small feat.
The massive catwalk into almost the centre of the ACC made the arena feel tiny, an incredible achievement given how cavernous it can seem during some performances. Madge’s team of dancers and tumblers were a neverending spectacle themselves, upstaged only by the 54-year-old centrepiece herself. Is the plastic surgery a little weird? Absolutely. Does it detract from the fact that she’s 54 and putting on a show that would put a strain on most aerobic instructors? Nope. The sets and set pieces were so good, in fact, that they almost completely overshadowed …
Which I had more than a few issues with. For starters, it’s difficult to say how much Madonna is genuinely singing. During the first act, she’s buried in autotuner, if in fact her voice is buried at all. The first six songs were so choreography-heavy, the microphone seemed like a burden most of the time. I’d say we heard unfiltered Madonna on the hits — definitely on Express Yourself, Holiday, Human Nature and Like a Prayer — not so much on anything from MDNA, a stumbling block in and of itself.
The set was extremely heavy on this spring’s mostly overlooked and very definitely maligned release. Of the 20 songs that were actually performed (a number of pre-recorded tracks with tour-only videos, including Justify My Love, played during set changeovers), just under half came from MDNA, and one came from her uber-flop film W.E. The track used for Hung Up — perhaps the only post-Y2K song that ranks among Madonna’s best — was strangely flat, and the dirge-y, lifeless version of Like a Virgin was a massive disappointment. Sure, the tracks mentioned in the first paragraph were great, but, like I said, if you were coming for the music alone, you were probably disappointed.
Having said that, who comes to a Madonna show for the music alone? She’s been the spectacle queen for the better part of 30 years, and currently shows no signs of slowing down. I vaguely hope she’ll find a way to perform that doesn’t involve stripping down to her bra and thong when she tours again at 56 or 57, just as I wish I’d never seen Mick Jagger preening like a 20-year-old at the age of 62. But given how well she pulled it off at 54, I guess we’ll see.
Girl Gone Wild
Papa Don’t Preach
I Don’t Give A
Give Me All Your Luvin’
Turn Up the Radio
Open Your Heart
Like a Virgin
I’m a Sinner
Like a Prayer
Source: National Post