athletic at age 47, she crawls across the stage on all fours while
wearing a pink/purple Lycra leotard; she rides a giant disco ball,
and she feigns a kind of pleasure that can't adequately be described
in a family newspaper while sitting astride a mechanical saddle as
horses strut past her on the giant video screens and a troupe of
bare-chested boy-toy dancers wearing ball gags do the same in the
Those video screens also flash images of starving children; natural
disasters; members of the KKK; President George W. Bush; British
Prime Minister Tony Blair; Adolf Hitler; Osama bin Laden; Zimbabwe's
rogue President Robert Mugabe and Richard M. Nixon (Richard M.
Nixon??), while the aforementioned dancers earn more of their
pay by climbing around on a giant set of monkey bars and donning
generic desert military garb for some parade-ground marching.
Wearing a crown
of thorns, she also crucifies herself on a glittering 12-foot-tall
cross; does a bit of a stripper routine around what the San
Francisco Chronicle called some kind of "merry-go-round
contraption," and even stands relatively still for a bit while
fondling a Les Paul to play some mock punk-rock guitar -- a harried
mom has to take a breather once in a while, after all.
Oh yeah, in
between all of that, she does some singing.
You are forgiven
for stifling a yawn midway through that long litany of carefully
contrived, exceedingly well-choreographed shenanigans, because it
can, of course, mean only one thing: Madonna is on tour again.
Shock! Horror! Call the outrage police!
And wake us when
it's over, please.
Indulge me for a
second, you legions of angry Madonna fans who so enthusiastically
fill my voice and e-mail inboxes whenever I question the
infallibility of Our Lady of Ciccone, because I am trying to make a
point some of you might even agree with: I am and always will be
first and foremost a music fan. I could care less about videos and
Broadway-worthy spectacles; I have no desire to see Cirque du Soleil.
Call me terminally clueless, if you will, but I go to a Madonna
concert for the same reason I go to any other concert: the music.
And thanks to my survey of the reams of prose that already have been
written about Madge's Confessions Tour -- estimated revenues: $200
million, according to Billboard -- I'm actually looking forward to
it this time around.
With the release
last fall of "Confessions on a Dance Floor," the 11th studio album
of her 23-year career, popular music's all-time best-selling female
chameleon finally had exhausted the variety of underground dance
sounds she could plunder for mainstream consumption, and she'd
otherwise run out of strange ch-ch-changes with which to reinvent
herself after the nadirs represented by the Broadway turn of 1996's
"Evita" and the folk-dance hybrid of 2003's "American Life" update
of "American Pie." Uncertain of where to turn next, she confessed
her plight in "Sorry," repeatedly singing the startlingly honest
refrain, "I've heard it all before." Yes, indeed. And so had
So like the U2
of recent years or the Rolling Stones of the last two decades, Maddy
followed the easiest path, partnering with producer Stuart Price, a
k a Les Rhythmes Digitales, to essentially craft a
Madonna-by-numbers self-tribute album. The obvious choice in her
multi-platinum stratosphere would have been to follow the disc with
a greatest-hits tour that sprinkled a few new tunes in between a set
list devoted primarily to recapping her many chart hits, giving the
masses what they allegedly want for their top-dollar ticket price of
$380 a seat, if you count the Ticketmaster service fees.
Yet while she
hasn't shirked from recycling the glitzy mega-production aspect of
tours past -- and really, I can't be the only one who'd have
welcomed a show without dancers, videos and umpteen costume changes,
can I? -- Madge is actually offering more of a musical surprise,
honing to the sounds that currently excite her most: old-school
the tour last spring, the star said that her goal was to "turn the
world into one big dance floor," and indeed, the Confessions Tour
finds her skipping most of the standards that fill her two volumes
of greatest hits. Instead, she's working hard to sell us on her last
album by amplifying the songs' groovy merits in concert and trying
to place them in the context of a hefty, heaping dose of '70s disco
fever nostalgia. She covers Donna Summer's classic "I Feel Love."
She offers a set piece clearly modeled on "Saturday Night Fever."
And she wears that silly getup Olivia Newton-John sported on the
cover of 1981's "Physical." (Still a trend-setter, Maddy prompted a
Los Angeles Times fashion writer to gush, "It could mean only one
thing: Leotards are back, baby!")
None of this is
very original, but I'll take Madonna strictly adhering to a Disco
Queen routine over her "I can do anything" stylistic dabbling any
day. It is what she's always done best, anyway; what has always most
suited her still shockingly limited voice, and most of all what she
is excited about now -- which can only make for a more heartfelt
performance, even if every single syllable and dance move have been
methodically pre-programmed and set in stone.
downside to all of this is that La Diva is being almost fascistic in
insisting that we party down, shake our rumps and boogie-oogie-oogie
like it's 1978. At a recent show in San Francisco, she threatened
the crowd that they'd better dance or "I'm gonna get pissed!" And
midway through a concert in Las Vegas, she singled out a fan upfront
who wasn't shaking his money-maker and screamed, "If you are only
going to sit there, at least you can smile!"
for ticket prices that represent half of what many of us pay for
rent, we oughta be free to do pretty much whatever we want.