Overwhelming, exhausting Madonna
Madonna’s Re-Invention Tour rolled into the Worcester Centrum Centre for the first out of four performances last night, and while there were new touches on several songs, the set-list emphasis was still on dance-floor thumpers, mostly from her last album, American Life. And the visual element was at least a co-star of the show.
The sheer scope was exhausting – costume changes after every few songs, a troupe of 10 backup dancers, a five-piece band, two backup singers, and four giant video screens showing different projections (as well as two more trained on the star of the show).
Heck, some of the Interludes that covered Madonna‘s several costume changes were more opulent than many bands’ tours. Some were borderline offensive, as when beefy background dancers made war look like a particularly strenuous dance number, while the video screens showed graphic war footage, all to cover Madonna’s change into faux Che-gear for “American Life.”
The next interlude, with a belly dancer, break dancer, tap dancer, skateboarder and guitar soloist, on the other hand, made interesting connections between seemingly unrelated disciplines.
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The near-sensory overload veered between moments of interesting juxtaposition and semiotic incoherence. The Weimar-style black-and-white “set” for the acoustic guitar-driven “Don’t Tell Me” was lovely, but what “American Life” was trying to say is anyone’s guess. It’s rare when an artist onstage gives an upturned middle finger, and you’re not sure whom it’s directed at. (The song also incorporated some of the video footage that was excised from the song’s video.)
Similarly, “Express Yourself” followed “American Life,” with the martially-dressed Madonna doing rifle tricks while singing “Don’t settle for second-best/ Put your love to the test.” Huh?
And so it went: The sequence of a gently swinging “Hanky Panky” and a hushed “Deeper and Deeper” gave something to hang onto, but then there were images of x-rays and the elderly on the too-slight “Die Another Day,” Hebrew letters and stigmata on “Mother and Father” (which featured some of Madonna’s best singing of the night).
Many of the songs worked as individual production numbers, but after a while the images became gimmicky – There she is with an electric guitar! There she is in an electric chair! – and detracted from each other.
Madonna’s voice has never been the world’s strongest, as she has said herself, but it was as strong as ever last night. There was some lip-synching, particularly on the first couple of songs.
As has been widely noted, “Into the Groove” began with an interlude of bagpipes and martial drums, and broke down to bagpipes on the bridge, but the effect was inconsequential – indeed, by the end of the show, nothing was a shock.
There’s something about the widely varied looks and images that works in aradio or video context – it’s a shot of variety and the unexpected, and in small doses it’s invigorating. In a live setting, with the condensed, cascading effect of so many numbers in a row, it’s easy to appreciate, even be wowed by, the sheer scope and the energy being expended. But to what end?
As a collection of dance-floor thumpers, the show had more than its share of moments – “Nobody Knows Me,” “Vogue,” the early “Burning Up.” But if the gaudy show business was intended to make a deeper point, it’s not immediately clear what it was.
The tour continues with shows tonight, Wednesday and Thursday.
Article by Rick Massimo, The Providence Journal