The New York Times Review
Madonna begins her show by climbing out of a disco ball. It splits apart, like one of those chocolate oranges, and out she climbs: a star is hatched.
Wednesday night was the first time she did this at Madison Square Garden, although it’s not scheduled to be the last: the concert marked the beginning of a four-night engagement (not counting two nights later in July). And for the next two hours, she put on a spectacular and mainly successful show, returning again and again to a place she knows well: the dance floor. Just about everything onstage is covered in mirror tiles, even the cross on which Madonna is briefly crucified. (It’s a plea for AIDS relief, naturally.)
The show is largely given over to her 2005 album, “Confessions on a Dance Floor” which is as exuberant as its predecessor, “American Life,” was severe. Most of it was produced with Stuart Price (sometimes known as Jacques Lu Cont), who specializes in sleek and buzzy beats. The album has been praised as Madonna’s nostalgic return to her nightclub roots, but Wednesday’s concert suggested that something has changed. She’s still in the club, but she has a slightly different idea about why.
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One of the most dazzling sequences came near the beginning. Madonna rode a saddle that was mounted on a pole to sing “Like a Virgin“. The saddle slowly rose and fell, as if it were on a merry-go-round. And as Madonna contorted, it was easy to miss the disturbing story that was unfolding on screens behind her: there was a video montage of racehorses stumbling, throwing their riders, crashing to earth. This vague sense of terror kept coming back all night, as if to remind the dancers, including the ones in the bleachers, that there’s no such thing as innocent fun.
Like many recent Madonna tours, this one is a trade-off. Fans get fewer old warhorses than they want. (Near the end, she made more than a few nights by singing “Lucky Star.”) In return, they get more outlandish sets, weird conceits and eye-popping dance routines (referencing everything from the Los Angeles krumping scene to the French sport of parkour) than they can digest in one night.
The most indigestible moments are still the ones in which Madonna is burdened with something more inhibiting than a saddle: a guitar. Madonna with a guitar is generally the concert equivalent of cholesterol: it clogs the aisles with otherwise faithful fans who suddenly remember they have to buy a T-shirt, or use the rest room, or track down one of those beer mugs with the pretzel rod in the handle.
No matter: by the time she sung “Hung Up,” the ecstatic, Abba-sampling hit from “Confessions,” the draggy middle was all but forgotten. When pop stars sing about clubs, they’re often singing about leaving them: the whole reason you go is to find someone to leave with. But there’s not much that’s flirtatious or suggestive about “Hung Up.” It sounds, on the contrary, like the work of someone who’s realized that there is no after-party: the party is all there is, and what happens on the dance floor isn’t a means to a end – it’s the end. You don’t go there to leave, or to somehow transcend it; you go there to stay as long as you can. Maybe it takes a 47-year-old pop star to figure that out.
Source: New York Times
Review by Kelefa Sanneh published June 29, 2006.