Over the course of her
two-decade career, Madonna has accomplished many things: She has been a
champion button-pusher, a fashion trendsetter and a provocative performance
The 45-year-old singer has also recorded some extraordinary music (along
with a fair amount of pop fluff). But judging from her spectacle-laden
performance at the United Center on Sunday, that's the accomplishment she
cares about least.
The dance diva's skimpy 105-minute show -- the first of four in Chicago
-- certainly gave her fans a lot of high-tech, whiz-bang gimmickry for their
hard-earned dollars. (The top ticket price: $317.50.) But the music was
essentially an afterthought.
AT THE UNITED CENTER
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday
Where: 1901 W. Madison
Tickets: $45-$300; scattered seats still available
Phone: (312) 559-1212
Judged against the standards of, say, the Cirque du Soleil, a modern
Broadway production or the videos-come-to-life concerts by Madonna offspring
such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, it was a heck of a show. But
call me old-fashioned: I went for the music. And in this department, the
Reinvention Tour needed serious reanimating.
After starting 40 minutes late and turning off the arena's
air-conditioning in order to preserve her platinum pipes, Madonna played a
mere 24 songs -- that's counting the ponderous "I am a prophet"
faux-Biblical introduction -- and she wasn't even onstage for three of
Yes, the set list spanned her career, and she overcame her longstanding
reluctance to play her older hits. But several of these were delivered in
arrangements that were so bizarre that they played like parodies. That is,
unless you agree that bagpipes and martial drummers were always lacking in
1984's "Into the Groove."
(What was with the Scottish kilts and the odd choice of sonic filigree?
Maddy and British director Guy Ritchie were married in a Scottish castle and
like to vacation in the highlands -- that's the only fact that I could find
to explain this strange detour, one of several in the show that made no
sense to anyone besides the singer's self-indulgent choreographers, set
designers and wardrobe artists.)
"Vogue" was reimagined as a soundtrack for the court of Marie Antoinette;
1983's "Burning Up" got some incongruous, generic heavy-metal guitar and
"Lament" from the musical "Evita" served only to underscore that Madonna was
poorly suited to perform in musicals like "Evita." (And no, the set piece
that found her strapped into an electric chair wasn't enough to distract
from her melodramatic crooning.)
The singer also played six songs from last year's abysmal techno-folkie
flop, "American Life." Contrary to what some critics have said, the material
fared no better in concert than it does on the flat and uninspired
recording. Madonna continued to overuse the electronic vocoder effect on her
voice (perhaps to mask the insipid lyrics), the sultry come-ons of her
"Erotica" era were still sorely missed and the show came to a screeching
halt with the dumb and stilted rap in the middle of the maudlin "Mother and
Musically, however, the nadir was an anemic, histrionic and soulless
electronic reading of John Lennon's "Imagine" set to a barrage of video
images of children from around the globe plagued by the ravages of hunger
and war. (War and hunger = bad! Imagine no possessions = good! That is,
after you've gone into hock buying concert tickets.)
As a political commentator, Madonna made Bart Simpson seem as
sophisticated as Noam Chomsky. And her attempts to enlighten us about her
arcane spiritual belief system didn't fare much better --though she
mysteriously traded in her "Kabalists Do It Better" T-shirt for one that
read, "Italians Do It Better."
Imagine no facile preaching from Madonna. It's easy if you try. Or have
you really forgotten the Material Girl who fellated a water bottle in "Truth
or Dare" and acted out pretty much every risque fantasy imaginable in her
dirty-picture book Sex?
In the end, if you removed all of the spectacle -- the half-pipe
skateboard ramp, the bagpipers, the fake explosions, the dancers' military
drills, the descending catwalk and the multiple video screens -- you had an
aging singer with an impressive catalog and a voice that (at least on the
dance numbers) is arguably stronger than it's ever been.
Sadly, Madonna lacked enough faith in these assets to rely on them being
enough to entertain us. Instead, she beat us over the heads with yet another
dizzying and superfluous MTV-style visual assault.
The most radical reinvention that Madonna could have chosen at this point
in her career was to simply emphasize the music. (You know, that stuff that
"makes the people come together/Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebels/
Think of yesterday.")
Believe it or not, Maddy, it's your music that will endure when all the
rest is gone, after the last bagpiper has hung up his kilt and the
skateboarder no longer has enough hair to grow a Mohawk.