Friday, September 12, 2008

Gig Review: Madonna plays Wembley

The last time Madonna went on a stadium tour, with 1993's Girlie Show, it was a creative and critical flop. So much so that it would be eight years before the Queen of Pop returned to the stage. When she did, it was in the smaller and more controlled environment of the indoor arena, where she could better realize the intricate, theatrical extravaganzas she's now become famous for.

So it was with some trepidation that I travelled out to Wembley for the Sticky and Sweet show. Would the acrobatic drama of the Reinvention and Confessions tours translate to such a huge venue - or would it be swamped by the scale?

I should never really have doubted the Queen of Pop. She has enough personality to fill three Wembley Stadiums - and the technology behind these massive concerts has progressed light years since 1993. Flanked by two massive "Ms" and about seven video screens, Madonna could project her (Blond) ambition into space if she wanted.

Highlights of the show included Into The Groove's double dutch skip-along, a ballsy hard rock version of Borderline and a gypsified La Isla Bonita. Practically every song had a new visual theme, and the choreography was almost entirely devoid of cliché. My particular favourite was Heartbeat, in which a "crippled" Madonna was posed and manipulated by her dancers like a marionette - a sly dig at the critics who claim she's getting too old for this pop lark.

And, while we didn't get the skateboard ramps or multi-story climbing frames of her recent tours, there was plenty of visual splendour for the audience's hungry eyes. Dancers donned classic Madonna costumes - the conical bra, the Like A Virgin wedding dress - for She's Not Me; while Devil Wouldn't Recognise You saw the Queen Of Pop enveloped by a curtain of lights.

Song-wise, the show was a bit too Hard Candy heavy - opening with the underwhelming Candy Shop and closing with a slightly muddled Give It 2 Me. At the same time, those new songs, which sound a bit anaemic on CD, were given some much-needed muscle by the fantastically accomplished band. Madonna wisely threw in a few hooks from her older hits into the mix to keep the fans happy, too.

In fact, Madonna's willingness to rejig and refresh her music is one of the things I admire most about her. It shows a real creative hunger in comparison to the "wheel out the old hits" mentality of most performers of her stature. One truly splendid example was Like A Prayer, which was transformed into a thumping rave anthem by virtue of a mash-up with Felix's Don't You Want Me.

It was so good, in fact, that the crowd forgave her en masse for singing completely the wrong words - which made the pre-recorded guide vocal somewhat obvious.

There have been a few gripes about the ticket prices for the Sticky and Sweet Tour but I honestly believe the show is worth the price of admission. Compared to similarly-priced events by the Rolling Stones or the Police, your cash investment is clearly being spent on the creative endeavour, rather than Sting's yoga lessons.

However, can I make one heartfelt plea to set designers around the world? If you could raise the stage a mere three feet higher off the ground, then short-arses like me could see the whole thing, rather than paying £75 to watch a giant TV for two hours.


Candy Shop
Beat Goes On
Human Nature
Vogue (with 4 Minutes, Give It To Me, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life)
Die Another Day (video interlude)
Into the Groove (with Jump, Double Dutch Bus, Toop Toop)
She's Not Me
Music (with Put Your Hands Up 4 Detroit)
Rain / Here Comes The Rain Again (video interlude)
Devil Wouldn't Recognize You
Spanish Lesson
Miles Away
La Isla Bonita (contains elements of Lela Pala Tute)
Doli Doli (dance interlude)
You Must Love Me
Get Stupid (video interlude)
4 Minutes
Like a Prayer (with Don't You Want Me, Feels Like Home)
Ray of Light
Hung Up
Give It 2 Me

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