Sunday, September 9, 2012

Madonna :: The DNA of MDNA

Madonna’s MDNA World Tour has finally wound its way into North America and hit our hometown of New York City. The Queen of Pop played two nights in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium – a quick 20 minute ride on the 4 train from midtown Manhattan. This was the artist’s first time holding court in the historic home of the country’s World Series Champions and an audience of over 40,000 fans.

To say the least when Madonna finally took the stage 2 hours later than anticipated, and the crowd cheered without abandon, she genuinely paused at the enormity of it all – happy to be “home” and humbled to be performing for so many of her fans. There was speculation about how the mega pop star would “read” in such a huge venue. In the past, Madonna had always performed and sold out on multiple engagements Madison Square Garden (which she has just announced to have added another date on the current tour’s stop), but perhaps since the current pop goddess Lady Gaga just sold out that space 5 times over on her last tour venture, Madonna had to one-up the still  young upstart.

Madonna continues to "strike a pose" on tour!
Moving an audience in such a huge venue as a stadium is a pretty amazing feat – though not extraordinary by Madonna standards. Four months ago, when the first details began to emerge about her promotional tour for her latest album project MDNA, Madonna had said very openly she wanted to play stadiums and arenas around the world. In essence, her vision for this tour would be big...a blockbuster. And if the MDNA Tour is anything – it’s cinematic!

Madonna redefined the pop concert with her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. She incorporated theatrical elements, including thematic staging and lighting, introduced high-fashion and high concept, and developed a setlist using her music catalogue to evolve a cathartic experience for the audience – all the while singing and dancing as if the world was going to end. For two hours, the viewer would be transported to another world of Madonna’s design...and ever since she has always worked to outdo herself.

The MDNA Tour primarily conceived as a way to promote her new album also is giving her the unconventional opportunity to exorcise some demons, as is evidenced by the show’s opening act titled “Transgression” – and it suits the angry tenor she has demonstrated as a component of MDNA.

Opening to the deafening chimes of church bells, the show begins on the grounds of what would resemble a Franciscan Church. Cloaked monks prepare for the morning benediction as devilish gargoyles come to life. If this is a place of is also a place of demons. One may come here to meditate, but our heroine has a sinister intentions. The glass shatters and Madonna dressed in a black body-hugging cat suit and animal print bra peaking out of her top is determined to bring chaos into this peaceful place, which she does appropriately opening with her single “Girl Gone Wild”.

In true form, the opening antics are very high-energy and the Queen of Pop is determined to remind her fans that she’s got it. With a bevy of heavily-bodied boys, Madonna pushes gender boundaries and forces her troupe to perform in heels. Her men in heels – her ladies packing rifles and guns. After all a pistol is akin to a man’s penis.

The rest of the act goes into the obscure single “Revolver” (featuring the show’s first special appearance by hip-hop/rapper Lil Wayne) and proves that her sex is a killer – Madonna means business, and proves just how much when she gets into “Gang Bang” and one of the controversial moments of the night. Did you think there weren’t going to be any?

With all the shootings and gun violence plaguing the news, a little restraint and sensitivity could have been exercised when this homage to the popularized violence of pulp films was being put together, but how was Madonna to know that the world was going to go “gun happy”? Not defending her choices, but within the context of the show, this gun-toting, angry bitch is a very real approximation of how the Material Girl has been feeling of late.

The recently divorced, mother of four, is aging and bitterly struggling to stay relevant in a post-Gaga pop-music world. Stripped of several of her millions in the split with former husband film director Guy Ritchie, you bet Madonna is pissed...but she has regrets. She expresses that vulnerability swinging into “Papa Don’t Preach”, a melancholy lead into the “Hung Up” which Madonna performs strapped to a slack line supported by her dancers.

The tightrope act could be an allegory for the balances that she (or we) must endure in order to have everything she wants in life...mother, lover, stardom, credibility – we’re all hung-up. Regrettably...all things come to an end and so does Act 1. Marked by the interlude mash-up of “Best Friend / Heartbeat” Madonna sadly bids good-bye to her very best friend. Who that is could be anyone’s guess...but it solidly signifies an ending.

When we enter act to the backdrop shifts to animated multi-colored images that evoke a much more pleasant aesthetic. The familiar intro beats of the hit “Express Yourself” begin and Madonna marches in – literally. She is the captain of the squad and is affirmatively staking her claim as she pounces on the song’s powerful message, and doesn’t hesitate to play into the comparisons to the Lady Gaga track “Born This Way”. To which Madonna quickly trumpets – she’s not me!

The segment goes into a drum majorette boogie down with “Give Me All Your Luvin’”. It’s a playful wink and a nod to her own days as a cheerleader and she gives it up for the crowd before disappearing into the scenery. A video montage introduces some of her more famous radio hits of the last 3 decades before she reemerges onto the stage with a guitar in hand and rocks out to her latest single “Turn Up the Radio”. Fortunately for her, most of her fans can remember what a radio actually our digital age few people turn up the volume.

So to remind us all of a simpler time, Madonna brings the tempo down a notch for her next set of songs which she has rearranged to perform with the Kalakan Trio. She sprints into the classic “Open Your Heart” with elements of “Sagarra Jo” mixed in, before force feeding her audience “Masterpiece”. The one ballad played during the tour also fell victim to the necessary bathroom break for most of the onlookers. Shouldn’t have started your show 2 hours late Madonna! Folks might have stuck around for this slow number.

Which moves into another video interlude of a remixed version of “Justify My Love” which was retooled by William Orbit and has our heroine running madly away from a crowd of paparazzi, all the while looking very Fellini like! She addresses down to her undergarments and dons a harlequin mask before returning to the stage amid a stampede of fashion images for “Vogue”.

Madonna continues to play with the juxtaposition of the masculine and feminine for this segment. Some of her dancers are stylishly sporting black and white classically lined garments, her male dancers in dresses and the women in suit jackets. All this fashion leads into a burlesque club for a souped up version of “Candy Shop” mashed-up with “Erotica”. Again she flirts with the feminine and masculine, coquettishly lip-smacking and undressing the girls on stage, while the men smack her bottom.

It’s no wonder that when the mirror is held up to her she lets out with “Human Nature”, before stripping it all down on stage for the vulnerably revealing rendition of “Like A Virgin”. It’s Madonna and a piano quietly on stage...and one of the show’s more somber moments. You get that she’s lonely and that perhaps she knows that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind her, yet she still yearns to be touched...for the very first time. At every show she strips to her panties and bras and brazenly reveals a tattooed message on her back. Usually the message has been “No Fear”. Tonight it read “Obama” in support of the president’s upcoming re-election campaign.

“Protect your freedom,” Madonna said early on during her show. “You don’t know how lucky you are. It can be taken away from you in a second!”

At this segment’s close the final video interlude is a political one set to “Nobody Knows Me” with interchanging images of politicos and historical figures both positive and negative. In it Madonna also cites the current debate over marriage equality for the LGBT community and the tanking economy. Her message: know your history so you won’t make the same mistakes again.

The final act of the show is a loud techno-dance romp. Madonna has seen the light and is embracing love. It’s like a drug which prompts her to belt out the electro-funk of the new song “I’m Addicted” before realizing that she may have made mistakes. “I’m a Sinner” but don’t judge her for she is saved with her classic hit “Like a Prayer” which raises the roof off the the entire show. Her life a mystery, but above all it’s a “Celebration” and when she bids her audience good night she reminds us that the party still goes on.

The tour isn’t necessarily a revelation although it bears the title MDNA as if to insinuate that it’s peeling back the veil into the DNA of the artist. Perhaps. Perhaps not. It’s what we’ve come to expect from Madonna – it’s big, it’s loud, it’s in your face and it’s still undeniable.

JC Alvarez is the Nightlife Editor for EDGE On The Net and a pop-culture columnist covering celebrity and entertainment. He is the voice behind the nationally syndicated Internet radio show “Out Loud & Live!” that broadcasts every Friday @ 9pm EST on

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