Live Review: Madonna

The Material Girl, Queen of Pop, Granny Gone Wild? Whatever you know her as you are sure to have heard of Madonna

The Material Girl, Queen of Pop, Granny Gone Wild? Whatever you know her as you are sure to have heard of Madonna. She's been having hits since the 80s and made history earlier this year with her 12th number 1 album, a feat only bested by The Beatles. This week marked her first visit to Birmingham, performing one of just 3 UK dates of her MDNA Tour in the city. She certainly made an impact, but when doesn't she?

The NIA was a strange choice for her first Midlands show, given that it's the smallest venue on the the tour so far. Compared to the 50 thousand people she played in front of in Hyde Park days earlier the 13 thousand seated arena would be seen as an intimate Madonna show. It gave everyone in the arena, even those at the back, the opportunity to feel close to the action and the show was all the better for it. The small venue didn't stop her from arriving 30 minutes late however, the delay being much shorter than most other dates on the tour. Any longer and the crowd would have begun to become restless, as it had been 45 minutes since support act Alesso had left the stage. The crowd was made up mostly of early Madonna fans, who were hoping the hear plenty of her 80s hits. The fact that a lot of people bought their tickets on the door was mad, especially as they were paying around £100 per ticket on a whim and that the relatively small arena hadn't sold out prior.

Once the lights went down though, people were on their feet. Opening with 'Girl Gone Wild', the dark religious theme was apparent from the beginning, a swinging lantern accompanied by the sound of church bells echoing across the arena as she emerged from the back of the stage for the frenetic dance number. The opening showed off the impressive stage built for the show with a set of platforms that could raise and lower to form a variety of shapes. Whilst it could be a simple staircase one moment, the next it was a set of DJ decks, the next three pillars with dancers jumping between them. Screens on all of these made for a brilliant visual at all times, either continuing or contrasting with the screen that made up the back of the stage.

The next two songs saw Madonna clutching various guns and in the second, 'Gang Bang', shooting most of her dancers with some surprisingly violent choreography. 'Revolver' featured a video of Lil Wayne's guest rap repeated later on songs that featuring M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj. They were great performances, but unlike the opener the stage felt empty. Unbeknownst to the audience this was due to the fact that a huge Motel set hadn't been brought on forcing Madonna and her dancers to improvise. The fact that no one seemed to notice until she mentioned it later in the concert goes to show how professional all of the cast were, dealing with the technical fault and performing full out.

This was one of the things most people expected going into this tour, at 53 it was presumed that Madge wouldn't be able to perform as well as she used to. Vocally she isn't the best and she fully mimed one or two songs and sang with vocoder on others. That said, the times she got her guitar out or had her band with surrounding her she sounded great, the delicate performance of her Golden Globe winning song 'Masterpiece' was one of the highlights of the show. Madge's shows have never been about singing though and she held her own with some high energy choreography. The majorette/cheerleading section for 'Express Yourself' and 'Gimme All Your Lovin' was especially enjoyable, the fact that she sang the chorus of Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' during the song it supposedly ripped off made it even more memorable. Other notable moments included a performance of Human Nature where Madge flashed her backside during the end of the song, and the many video interludes including American Life track 'Nobody Knows Me' which sparked the political controversy she's known for.

An arena full of people singing and clapping along with the choir of performers on stage; Madonna was taking them to church.
The song choices at Madonna shows has always been cause for debate, where for every massive hit she performs there are 5 others she misses out. Many have complained that there were too many songs from the MDNA album, the least successful of her career, but isn't it called the MDNA Tour after all? The thumping club beats of 'I'm Addicted' was a personal favourite during the show, while the choice of 'Celebration' to close gave the whole thing an explosive farewell. That said, it's hard to deny that the best tracks were the older singles. Classics like 'Vogue' and 'Open Your Heart' got the best reaction from the crowd. The opening strings of 'Papa Don't Preach' was an early highlight too, quickly followed by a tightrope inspired performance of 'Hung Up'. The less said about the stripped back piano version of 'Like a Virgin' though, the better. The problem was that most of the audience didn't seem to know what most of the tracks were that she was performing. The choice of including a mix of Hard Candy album track 'Candy Shop' with 'Erotica' was brilliant but baffling at the same time. Compared to other recent tours there was a good mixture of album tracks and singles, but maybe it's time for the Queen of Pop to stick to her old songs and perform the show that the once dedicated but now casual fans want to see.

No moment echoed this more than the penultimate song 'Like A Prayer'. One of her best records, there was no need for props or a gimmick, this was a massive sing along and by far the best part of the show. An arena full of people singing and clapping along with the choir of performers on stage; Madonna was taking them to church. She was allowing the song to speak for itself, performing it in its original form and giving fans exactly what they wanted. It was a spectacular moment because of how simple it was and it could have been replicated with so many of the other songs in her back catalogue.

It's the problem with someone who has had sixty top 10 singles in the UK, there will always be hits left behind. There was nothing from Madonna or Ray of Light for instance, and it was the first time she hadn't performed 'Music' since the song's release. With her album sales faltering and none of her singles from MDNA breaching the top 20, perhaps this should be the last time she tours one album. It was still an epic show and showcased a lot of the reasons why she became a legend. The MDNA Tour proved that she could still go toe to toe with the likes of GaGa and Katy Perry but she's Madonna, she doesn't have to prove a thing.

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Sam Atkins



Published

22nd July 2012



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