Madonna, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Jenny Hughes’ last Madonna gig was in 1993, when the singer brought her Girlie Show tour to Wembley Stadium. Unable to get a ticket she listened from the balcony of her flat. Thirteen years later and now living in Newport, she was finally about to see Madonna as well as hear her. “She keeps going, always reinventing herself,” she said.
Hughes was one of relatively few fans at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium old enough to remember Madonna before her image makeovers began. Most of the girls at this first UK tour date were of an age that considers pink cowboy hats a good idea.
A fortnight away from her 48th birthday, Madonna still causes enough commotion to warrant the closure of streets near the venue. Hours before show time, thousands of cowboy hats were swarming the city centre getting hyped-up for the Confessions tour, the name a reference to the Confessions on a Dance Floor album that saw her get her pop mojo back.
The tickets went weeks ago, despite costing between £80 and £150, proving that neither age nor a propensity for Miss Jean Brodie tweeds has diminished her saleability.
To counter internet chatroom grumbles about ticket prices, she has released a factsheet listing what goes into the show, which in the way of all major pop tours today is one part singing to three parts special effects. It reveals what it takes to make Madonna Madonna, from the 4,000 Swarovski crystals embedded in her belt to the 350 people needed to build the stage.
The result justifies the price tag. It’s such a blockbusting show that there’s probably no need to see Madonna ever again, so well does Confessions do its job. It is obvious why those 350 roadies are needed – the production is enormous with a glitter ball that turns into a flower, a huge crucifix, 22 frenzied dancers and, at the centre of it all, one small, blonde woman.
There’s a moment at the beginning of the evening – the show is divided into Equestrian, Bedouin, Never Mind the Bollocks and Disco segments – that sums her up. She dismounts the back of the male dancer she has been “riding”, removes her jockey’s hat and stands motionless, letting 59,000 pairs of eyes take her in. “Are you ready to ride with me?” she asks. She is imperiously removed from the madness around her, the dancers, lasers and explosions could be happening to someone else. The word iconic has been devalued in the last few years but she is the real thing.
When your daily grind involves challenging old-school morality, the Catholic church and gossip magazines that print unflattering pictures of your 47-year-old hands, your sense of humour is bound to suffer.
That is the show’s weak link. Madonna struts, Madonna preaches but she doesn’t laugh; perhaps she sees little to laugh about. The world is going to hell in a handcart is the message she sends in set pieces such as her “crucifixion”, complete with crown of thorns, during Live To Tell.
The bleakness is hammered home by a video montage accompanying I Love New York: there is Tony Blair, a bare-breasted African woman and suddenly a scream of: “You can go to Texas and suck Bush’s dick!” That comes from Madonna, who has changed into a leather jacket and is uneasily hacking away at an electric guitar.
So there is not much levity, unless Like A Virgin qualifies. It involves Madonna singing her classic hit (and oldest song in the show) in front of footage of horses falling over, a “jokey” reminder of her riding accident last year.
No matter, though. She has moments of girlish enthusiasm (“I’ve never been to Wales before”) that remind us she is human and her job is to command awed respect. And she does that better than any other entertainer in her league.
Sarah Morgan, 41, of Pontypridd, summed up the general adulation: “I have always wanted to see Madonna, and if she hadn’t come to Cardiff I would have gone to Paris or anywhere. She is unbelievable, and what she does with her body at that age is unbelievable.”
One suggestion, Madonna. If you must play guitar during the Never Mind the Bollocks punk segment, try not to look as though the instrument is a colicky baby who will scream at any moment.
From a review by Caroline Sullivan, The Guardian.