First Night review: Madonna in Cardiff
“As one venerable pop institution wound to a close on BBC Two, another arrived in Cardiff to show us that her stock (or, for that matter, her bikini line) has never been higher” – Pete Paphides reports from the Millennium Stadium for The Times.
“To borrow from Gloria Gaynor, Madonna is back from outer space. That, at any rate, was how it seemed as she descended on to the Millennium stadium in a rocket ship-cum-glitterball. “Come with me,” she suggested from a huge screen, while – on two others – wild horses galloped aimlessly waiting for someone to tame them. Suddenly, the singer was revealed in her full riding regalia.
“Anyone near the front of the stage, who paid £150 for their tickets, might have noticed that those were $2 million of Swarovski diamonds embedded in that glitterball – while the ever-changing stage which paid host to Madonna’s first UK show in more than two years took 350 people five days to assemble. As a woozy symphony of synths ushered in the Future Lovers – the opening song from the “Equestrian” suite of this four-part spectacle – Madonna straightened her hard hat and prodded at her dancers with a whip.
It helped that this fantasy on a kinky show-jumping theme was played out over a rising torrent of arpeggios which mutated into a version of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. The resulting non-gender-specific screams of fans in pink cowboy hats suggested that there were no gays left in the villages of Wales tonight. Hereafter, the theatre of rugby and football dreams, became the unlikely setting for the campest pop celebration imaginable.
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Confessions on a Dancefloor – the album which heralded her return to the New York disco roots – received a thorough airing.
If it was brave of her to dispense Like a Virgin near the beginning, it was potentially foolhardy of this 48 year-old mother-of-two to sing it while pole dancing on a moving bronco over footage of horse-riding accidents. She sounded more assured than ever. Live To Tell was no less bold, but less successful. When that gleaming, tiled crucifix finally emerged with Madonna on it, the dramatic effect was akin to someone pretending to hang themselves in a particularly well-appointed shower.
A movingly restrained performance was concluded by a series of on-screen facts about the Aids crisis in Africa. One might argue that there’s a time and a place – and that place might not be a stone’s throw from a glitterball studded with diamonds.
Madonna had a response ready for her detractors. “The world is full of people who talk the talk. If only they walked the walk“, she said as the catwalk lit up like a landing strip for Like It or Not. If, as John Lydon once put it, anger is an energy, a blistering sequence of performances could have turned the national grid into a giant pinball machine.
She modified the lyrics of I Love New York to take in something unprintable about President Bush and bastardised a Stooges riff with finger-shredding intensity. When she tore into Ray of Light the response was almost enough to raise the stadium’s retractable roof.
Having proved her capacity to rock, she re-emerged to underscore what she does best of all. Following the equine dominatrix, the blood-red blouson and the leather-boy’s look, she euphorically sang an inspired mash-up of her 2001 hit Music and The Trammps’ Disco Inferno in a white flared trouser suit.
In the thrilling finale, the percolating synths of that Abba sample served notice of Hung Up. But those of us who remembered the leotard from that video were already whooping. Balloons rained down upon Cardiff – and she was gone. It felt like we were just getting to know each other.