Philadelphia MDNA review by Brian
MadonnaTribe reader Brian shares his review of the Madonna show at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on August 28th, the opening night of the MDNA Tour 2012 leg in North America.
If I’m very lucky, at a concert once in awhile, I’ll get that feeling of vertigo. It’s something that’s hard to explain: It’s like I get lost in the music and can’t find my way out and don’t really want to. I destabilize.
For me, the moment came again during Like a Prayer at Madonna’s MDNA Tour. It’s not like this came as a shock that this song was a highlight for me since it’s always had such a resonance to me and is a big part of why I became the fan I did. Somewhere in the middle of it, with Madonna at the point of the catwalk doing the Just like a prayer/ I’ll take you there breakdown, I felt that emotional vertigo. I was screaming and dancing and singing every word with my throat already raw but I was close to tears or something like them. It was undiluted euphoria. It’s the power of that song for me: Every time I hear it, I get caught up in that emotional undertow. There were no real gimmicks to that song; no new remixes. She just sang the hell out of it, getting the packed Wells Fargo Center on its feet.
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I very much enjoyed the show and there were no songs I didn’t like. The tour is a definite step up from Sticky and Sweet, which had a lot of dead spots. The costumes were a notable improvement over the last outing. Madonna moved and sang well and seemed very happy and relaxed. As it was the first show in America (fun fact: Philadelphia is the only city in the world that Madonna has visited on every tour), she made plenty of references to being home and was happy to be back in a country with freedom of speech, referencing the recent oppression of dissidents and gays in Russia.
In my country, we have freedom of speech, freedom of expression, she said. Never forget how lucky you are to live where you live Don’t get fat and lazy and take that freedom for granted.
The concert started on a dark and violent note but I thought the gunplay was cartoony and nothing more offensive than in any movie. Madonna was silhouetted behind a confessional booth wearing a crown and a veil and following religious chants, the swinging of a giant incense censer and an Act of Contrition, she made her grand entrance in a pushup bra and waving a gun around, looking like a character from Faster Pussycat Kill Kill. This was for Girl Gone Wild, a song from MDNA that I don’t like but that was effective live. The gunplay continued for Gang Bang, set in a Quentin Tarantino-esque motel room, with Madonna swigging whiskey out of the bottle and tussling with her opponents before shooting them. Madonna’s voice had a feral growl that was hair-raising.
There was a penance of sorts after with a shortened version of Papa Don’t Preach, and it was nice to hear the warmth in this song. My one complaint about a few of the songs is that they were a little abbreviated and she didn’t really finish. But I guess for Papa Don’t Preach, it worked at this stage of her career to cut out the keeping my baby lines and focus more on the rebellion aspect of the song. My only other complaint was that the sound was muddy but maybe that was my seats. I’ll be happy to have a bootleg or DVD to get a clearer idea of the sonic details.
Things lightened up considerably shortly afterwards, with the performers decked out in red-and-white cheerleader uniforms, with a marching band suspended from the ceiling. She did a kick-ass version of Express Yourself, incorporating a few lines of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way to emphasize the similarity between the songs. This was deliciously mischievous but the attention paid to this fight between the singers buried the lead: She performed Express Yourself. Give Me All Your Luvin was more fun than I expected, since I think it’s kind of an insipid song.
Soon after, there was a real treat: A rare performance of Open Your Heart for the first time since 1990. She did this as a stripped down, gentle, almost tribal song with the Kalakan trio singing backup. It was really lovely and warm and I was thrilled that I finally got to hear this song live. The subsequent Masterpiece was better than I expected (the stunning ballad Love Spent should have gone here) with Madonna and Kalakan creating gorgeous harmonies.
A Madonna show always provides an original video to serve as a backdrop during a costume or set change and this time out it was a new Justify My Love video. As a sort of update to the original, Madonna cavorted and acted as a voyeur in various states of undress to an eerie remix of the song. This transitioned to Vogue, maybe my favorite performance of this song ever. She brought back the infamous cone bra, only this time it was this black wire bra and corset that fit like an exoskeleton over a white dress shirt, long black gloves and black men’s pants. I adored this look and this performance. Vogue was always had some indefinable magic for me and this performance really captured that.
After that, the singer stripped down from her corset of armor, metaphorically and literally. I was surprised how good Candy Shop was since it was my biggest complaint going in about the setlist. The song had more of a jazzy, loungy vibe and it helped that she inserted a few lines of Erotica, which got the crowd roaring (though she also could have just performed the fan-favorite Erotica). By the end of the defiant Human Nature, Madonna had stripped down to her bra and was emotionally vulnerable for a very different performance of Like a Virgin. She sang this as a heartfelt ballad to a piano and violin in her very deepest register, rolling around a little on the floor like a more heartbroken and world-weary version of the girl who writhed on the floor in 1984. It was a very unusual performance and a daring way to invigorate the heard-it-a-million-times song.
By the last section of the show, the emotional arc made sense to me. MDNA started in darkness and ended in redemption with the last few spiritually inclined songs. I’ve always thought I’m Addicted was like a dance floor prayer, with the lilting hymn-like quality of the verses before the chorus builds to an electrifying climax. This blew me away live, with Madonna dressed in this chainmail-like outfit, looking like Joan of Arc, with her and the dancers doing these precise martial-arts moves. The dance was almost like a spiritual meditation during the cacophony of the song. I’m a Sinner was a resolution of sorts, with the singer making peace with her human frailties. The end segued into a few verses of the old B-side Cyberraga with some beautiful harmonies. I was proud of myself because you know you’re a hardliner fan if you can sing along to a B-side in Hindi.
Then there was the catharsis of Like a Prayer. The last song, Celebration, was good, with the entire cast dancing on these lit-up cubes that popped up from the floor. But it was odd to have this song (which I never liked) as the ending because after Like a Prayer, there’s really nowhere to go.
As always, good show, Madonna.