Madonna Celebrates 30 Years Of Survival
‘Survive’ on Madonna’s lower back.
I saw Madonna with my good friend Robyn in San Jose over the weekend. We were at the show on Saturday which just happened to coincide quite nicely with the 30th anniversary (to the day) of the release of her first single ‘Everybody’. Since the start of the MDNA tour Maddy has been doing something different at nearly every show. As someone who usually gives a very rehearsed, very structured show that deviates little (if any) from the script night-after-night, this is a rarity. With the Sticky & Sweet Tour she took a request from the audience each night, but that was the extent of difference.
With MDNA, she has flashed her boob, called president Obama a Muslim, and even added songs to the setlist. In addition, the nightly ‘speech’ section of the show is very different in each city. Because of all this variation, I was really hoping M would acknowledge her 30-year milestone in San Jose. I even dreamt of her performing ‘Everybody’ just for our little crowd of 18,000 plus. Well, she did both! I recorded the moments with Robyn’s iPhone, so you can listen to her speech (she gives a shout-out to San Jose for being a place of creation and innovation) and watch her entire, fully-arranged performance of ‘Everybody’ above.
Now with that set-up out of the way, let’s get to the night. I was underwhelmed. Ha! Sorry, but it’s true. I’ve seen nearly every one of Madonna’s tours since Blond Ambition (a watershed moment in the pantheon of pop-culture tour spectacles, btw), so I was hoping for a lot. There are some cool moments in MDNA, but it’s all over the place. Guns, blood, band majors, Rosie the Riveter, trains, and even a homage to kids who’ve killed themselves because of bullying. Madonna says it’s a journey and it certainly is, but it’s one of those journeys you take and then you’re so exhausted you don’t want to do anything else except uncork a bottle, draw a hot bath, and turn on the Kardashians to unwind. There’s no unwinding at MDNA.
I liked the more straight-forward moments. ‘Express Yourself’ was fun. She effortlessly mixed Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ into the performance, which only underscored that song’s similarities to the Madonna classic. I loved the giant moving boxes that made up the center of the stage. They could rise up quickly to provide a platform, or lower just as easily and disappear. The boxes had images projected on all sides and would move with Madonna and her dancers on and around them. It was a simple concept done well. I wanted more simple concepts done well with MDNA. Too much else seemed over-thought and overdone, like the super-slowed down take on another classic, ‘Like A Virgin’. The song was cool, but the performance of her rolling around on the floor and clenching wads of money for the camera was heavy-handed. I’m not sure what she was really trying to say.
And then there’s the setlist. As a fan of Madonna’s for nearly as long as she’s been around, I know all her music. I actually like the fact that she doesn’t come out and just sing her hits. But the problem here is that this show features her new album MDNA so heavily. It’s not a terribly strong record. Nothing from ‘Ray of Light’ or ‘Music’? Hmm…that just makes me a little grumpy.
‘Like A Prayer’ was the second-to-last song and was a crowd-pleaser. She finished strong with an energetic ‘Celebration’. So there were definite highlights.
And even with all of its disjointed, overwrought shortcomings, it’s still like nothing else out there. Madonna puts so much work into her performances that they always seem to come up larger than the sum of their parts. MDNA is a ‘show’ in the truest, most complimentary sense of the word. You always want to stick around and see what will come next. Even if you don’t love every part of it, you can’t deny its power to make you want to watch. And after 30 years, that’s saying something.