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

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Keeping Pace with The Walking Dead :: Season 2 (Part 2)

Television dramas are their best when they are metaphors for our current daily lives. You may wonder what the correlation may be between real life and a zombie apocalypse, especially when it’s not particularly high on anyone’s list of things to do on the weekend, but seriously – don’t you sometimes feel like that’s exactly what living life in the grind is like? Don’t you fear that there are elements all around you that are threatening to consume you body and soul the minute you become complacent and comfortable?

Sure the tale that’s unraveling on the hit AMC series The Walking Dead is an extreme fantasy horror. Based on the popular graphic novel series, its heroes are forced to move nomadically across the country avoiding hordes of the hungry undead. Not the most idyllic situation.

Friend or's survival of the fittest!
In the series second season, now available on Blu-ray, our survivors may have found some respite at least for a hot minute. Their two youngest members of the group have not faired so well. A young boy was shot and a young girl, Sophia has gone missing. Our group is lead by Rick Grimes, at one-time a man of the law, and his deputy, Shane Walsh (played by Jon Bernthal) have two very different ideas of how to now endure in these difficult times.

With his son having recently been accidentally and fatally wounded, Rick had to stay by Carl’s side, while Shane retrieved the supplies necessary to save his life. To which Shane sacrificed a fellow survivor to a horde of walkers in order to escape a terrible predicament. At what personal cost? The act begins to change Shane into someone else – someone that perhaps threatens the wavering stability of the group, which is settling into life on Hershel’s farm.

When the group discovers that Hershel is actually harboring walkers, his infected family and neighbors in the barn on the grounds, it pushes Shane overboard who doesn’t think Rick is doing enough to protect the group or his now pregnant wife.

Taking matters into his own hands, Shane opens the barn unleashing the walkers inside. The group massacres the hungry mob, and Hershel and his children are helpless to watch their friends and family fall again. As penance for the insensitive act, one more walker stumbles out of the shadows and into the light. It’s the group’s missing girl and Carol’s (played by Mellissa McBride) daughter Sophia. Stunned by the discover, the gun-happy group takes pause...and as the threat of the hungry walker, Sophia or not, gets closer to them, he takes matters into his own hands and shoots the creature in the head.

The group is left to mourn again. Which in the world of The Walking Dead happens quite often. The survivors are faced with mourning their dead, question their restraint on the morality that kept them civilized, and relinquish all instincts but the ones to survive, because in this world, tomorrow is not guaranteed.

And no one is safe, even in numbers. The writers are constantly pushing that thread and boundary of right and wrong. The characters must make base decisions on a daily: do we eat today, or save for tomorrow? Do we kill or be kill? And in Season 2 they all experience contemplative moments where the mirror is raised and they must ask themselves where do they stand...where will they stand.

Certainly none of us will ever be faced with these dire circumstances (we hope and pray) but The Walking Dead does force one to reflect on exactly what you are – will  you eat or be eaten? We are talking after all about survival of the fittest.

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

Monday, September 3, 2012

Batman and Robin :: Daddy Issues

When DC Comics relaunched its pantheon of characters last year with the New 52 among those new developments that would survive the DCU reboot would be the recent introduction of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s son Damian Wayne, who had been indoctrinated into the Batman’s mythology as the latest sidekick to wear the cape and cowl of Robin. But this Boy Wonder was much more than even the Caped Crusader and company were prepared to deal with. Gotham’s villains beware!

Damian Wayne is the product of a dalliance between Wayne and Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Batman’s arch nemesis Ra’s al Ghul. For those of you not necessary versed in the Batman’s rogues gallery, “Talia” is played by Marion Cotillard in The Dark Knight Rises.  The tryst between the two star-crossed lovers results in a son that Talia grows in a test tube and is raised among the greatest minds available to the League of Assassins.

The Dynamic Duo get re-imagined for today!
Talia takes her son to task with the intention of turning him into a weapon that her father cab use in his plans for world conquest, until his existence is uncovered and the Batman intervenes. Damian is then “rescued” by his father and returns with him to Gotham City. It isn’t long before it’s learned how deeply intrenched Damian is in his manipulation by his mother – the new young Master Wayne is quite the assassin himself.

Once Tim Drake, the third Robin matures and assumes the more appropriate crime fighting identity of the Red Robin, Damian inserts himself as the second half of the Dynamic Duo. Bruce becomes a bit concerned by how ruthless his new Robin is in his violent assertion on the criminals of Gotham City. Batman has already lost one partner, the impetuous Jason Todd met with as sinister end at the hand of the Joker – and returned to action as the vigilante Red Hood. Concerned that Damian is on a similar path, Batman begins to try to temper Damian’s rage.

But no sooner does the Batman take his new charge under his wing, does the Caped Crusader meet what seems to be his untimely demise at the hands of Darkseid’s Final Crisis and is then resurrected as a zombie during the Blackest Night. All this doesn’t seem to bode well for young Damian who begins to grow more despondent...and deadly. If not for the intervention of Dick Grayson, the original Robin who has become the heroic titan Nightwing, Damian’s future would have been grim indeed.

While the Bruce Wayne goes missing, Grayson rightfully assumes the role of Batman and makes Damian his Robin. The two become a potent crime fighting team and Grayson even inserts Damian into the Teen Titans (we think...after the New 52 reboot it’s not clear whether Damian flew as part of that team of young heroes) but no sooner do the two develop a rhythm, than Wayne returns from the dead...and to the role of Batman.

Flashpoint to the New 52 and Batman takes a more centralized role in Damian’s training as his partner, but with both personalities suffering from serious “daddy issues” it doesn’t take long for the riff between them to grow deeper and wider. Robin begins to resent that the Batman doesn’t take him out on patrol when a new menace threatens the streets of Gotham. He’s called NoBody and his intention is not just to stop crime – he means to erase it by any means possible.

NoBody turns his attention to the international cooperative of “Batmen” that Wayne has created. The skilled assassin confronts and subdues the “Batman” of Russia, and then slowly dissolves him in acid. While Batman begins to investigate the grizzly murders, he pushes Damian in other directions hoping to teach his son to be patient. What he doesn’t know is just how comfortable Damian has become in performing acts of cruelty. He begins by snapping the necks of bats in the Batcave when his father isn’t looking, and squashing fireflies in his hands.

His cruelty doesn’t go unnoticed to Alfred, the Wayne family butler, he sees how badly Damian takes to treating the new member of the household, a great dane puppy that Bruce purchases for his son, hoping to teach him responsibility. Damian has little or nothing to do with the new pet and instead is disobedient patrolling the streets of Gotham without the Batman. He attacks common muggers with an intense and unyielding rage that grabs the attention of NoBody. He immediately begins to plot how to use the new Robin in his plan to defeat the Batman...

I promise not to leave you hanging and finish the tale, but in the meantime you can get caught up on what was one of the most compelling storylines to emerge from the DC Comics relaunch of the New 52. It’s now collected in a single hardcover book Batman and Robin Volume 1: Born To Kill chronicles the first 8 issue arc of the new series by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray.

Not for the faint of heart, this is a really gritty re-imagining of the dynamic duo that is sure to attract fans in this post-Christopher Nolan world of the Dark Knight. It’s worth checking out!

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

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Keeping Pace with The Walking Dead :: Season 2 (Part 1)

With the third season of AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead looming on the horizon, I’m taking a trip through Season 2 which has just been released on Blu-ray and continues the adventures of a ragtag remnant of mankind surviving in an apocalyptic nightmare that is being overrun by the walking dead, a cannibalistic plague that is reanimating the deceased and who only have one thing on their mind – to feed!

 When the second season opened our heroes were vacating the perimeter of Atlanta which had become a major epicenter for the “walker” plague. Escaping the doomed headquarters of the CDC they found themselves on the open road, and it wasn’t long before while on the open road they eventually found their path blocked. Trapped on the freeway, the group loses one of their own. Sofia the youngest girl of the group when a herd of walkers crosses their path.

Rick Grimes is plagued by The Walking Dead.
Since finding his wife and son Sheriff Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) has assumed the role of the leader and protector of this group. He rescues Sofia from a pair of walkers, but loses the little girl in the forest. Finding themselves still trapped on the side of the road, the group spends several days searching for their missing member, when Carl (Chandler Riggs) is accidentally and fatally shot.

Lead onto a secluded farm owned by a wrangler named Hershel (Scott Wilson) who is protecting his family, Rick and his second-in-command Shane Walsh (played by Jon Bernthal) are left helpless as Hershel tries desperately to save the young boys life, but supplies is scarce. Hershel doesn’t have everything he needs to perform the delicate surgery necessary to save Carl’s life. With Rick needed to provide blood to his boy, Shane must make a local run, alongside Otis – the man responsible for accidentally shooting Carl – to the local high school to bring back the necessary medical equipment.

In the meantime the search continues for Sophia and Andrea (played by Laurie Holden) becomes more despondent with the survivors’ situation. Losing her sister and being cheated out of a failed suicide attempt at the CDC has left her feeling hopeless...and a world filled with the walking dead doesn’t seem all that promising.

Rick’s wife Lori (played by Sarah Wayne Callies) is brought back to the farm by Hershel’s daughter Maggie, and the fight to keep Carl alive begins. Soon the band find solace on the edge of Hershel’s farm – it’s a safe base for them to continue the search for Sofia, but Hershel is not convinced that Rick and his troop are a welcome addition to their solitude. For the moment, everyone agrees – even as they settle into life on the farm – that the most important thing is keeping Carl alive.

The beginning of the second season of The Walking Dead proved a study in patience for the fans of the gore and menace that dominated in the surprise hit show’s first season. Based on the graphic novel series of the same name, it introduced the popularity of an entirely new genre to mainstream cable television, and as was expected a series of copy cat horror series would soon follow. What makes The Walking Dead a stand-out is its dedication to the strong character development.

The series is more about the survival of these characters in the wake of a great crisis, and less on the menace of their predicament. Sure it’s horrible that the world as we know it has been transformed into a graveyard, and it’s a frightening possibility none of us would ever hope to realize, but how the characters resign to face their survival is what makes this so interesting. To that end the show delivers – not that it doesn’t in the “shock and awe” department either!

Many a nightmare have I suffered after each episode – and now being eaten a live is perhaps my greatest fear, but I’m riveted and tune in every week and Season 3 can’t come too soon!

JC Alvarez is the Nightlife Editor for EDGE On The Net and a pop-culture columnist. He is the voice behind the nationally syndicated Internet Radio Show "Out Loud & Live!" broadcasting on