Shut Up And Play The Hits
“There’s only one real complaint to be leveled at Madonna, and that’s that for someone with so many hits she played so few.” This is what my mate Phil Boyle said on Twitter last night. And unless you were a …
“There’s only one real complaint to be leveled at Madonna, and that’s that for someone with so many hits she played so few.” This is what my mate Phil Boyle said on Twitter last night. And unless you were a Golden Triangle or Golden Circle fan who spent most of the concert in the Aviva stadium last night enraptured and staring skywards towards Madonna’s crotch, it’s completely true.
As rain poured down over the stadium, most people seemed to wait inside as Alesso, a totally uninteresting kid on the Swedish house DJ conveyor belt pulled his fader down. Stadiums are one of the worst places to see live music. They are echoing atmosphere vacuums that unless there’s something bombastic and exceptional on stage, it’s hard to keep people jumping up and down for two hours. And considering the stadium wasn’t full, the atmosphere was further drained, with every note bouncing off empty seats and a pitch that wasn’t at capacity.
Madonna descended – a pint sized athlete in skin tight kit ready for her pop Olympics, every contour on her remarkable gym-chisled body visible even from the stands. Then the MDNA tracks gradually had a domino effect on those who had risen to greet her presence. Hmm. It’s going to be like this then, is it? – you could hear collective bubbles bursting throughout the grounds for those who hadn’t done their gig research and were expecting a wine-fueled evening comprising of ’Holiday’, ‘Music’, ‘Frozen’, ‘Get Together’, ‘Material Girl’, ‘Ray Of Light’, ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl’, ‘La Isla Bonita’, ‘Into The Groove’, ‘Borderline’, ‘Sorry’… in fact, she didn’t play any of them. Zilcho. Zippo. Nada.
Why? Well Madonna, darling, was putting on a show. This means that everything was timed to perfection. Her physicality, dancing, timing, energy, was just phenomenal. Not one heel out of step, not one lighting cue missed. The sound was brilliant – definitely up there with the best I’ve ever heard at a show that size. But just like when you switch on a telly award show to watch your favourite pop star perform and they end up doing some shitty remix medley of the songs that you just want to hear them SING, Madonna’s gig fell into an over-produced blender, where ‘Open Your Heart’ and ‘Like A Virgin’ were impossibly mangled.
With the premise of the show seeming to involve her dancers kicking the shit out of her – and each other – in an S&M binge for just under two hours, the production jackknifed from the hand-over-mouth-this-is-embarassingly-violent segue of ‘Gang Bang’, which involved her capping blokes in a motel room, to the audience being enthusiastic about anything that was even a semblance of a tune, hence the good reaction to the Paris Hilton off-cuts ‘Girl Gone Wild’ and ‘Turn Up The Radio’. This wouldn’t have been so frustrating if she wasn’t teasing us. At one point a montage of iconic Madonna videos flicked over the massive screen that was so torturously desired, I felt like writing wartime love letters to it from the trenches. You half expected an announcer to grab the mic and proclaim, “ladies and gentlemen, this is a taste of what you’re missing” and wait until everyone started crying before doing a mwoahahahahaha though the PA. I’m sure such tantric teasing was meant to remind us of how many great hits Madonna has. But we knew that. That’s why we were THERE. Unfortunately, the tunes were dispensed like gruel at an orphanage; sparingly, half-warm, and ultimately inedible.
Finally, somewhere over south Dublin, light pierced the sky, and a gospel choir arrived. The strains of ‘Like A Prayer’ filled the damp night. AT LAST! Those seated rose almost with relief, and the best moment of the night became a mass singalong to what is probably Madge’s best song. It was an epilogue for what the concert could have been like all night if her Madgesty would have so wished. Fans in the Golden Circle and Golden Triangle – the areas closest to the stage – spoke about how fantastic the detail was and how well-executed the choreography was. And that’s fine, but who goes to a stadium gig for detail? There weren’t even any large-scale acrobatics or pyrotechnics, save for drummers suspended from the air for ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’. I’m sure all of it looked fantastic in rehearsals, but when you’ve got thousands of people glaring at you over their mojitos seething “just play your bleedin’ tunes”, you’ve got a problem.
Why does Madonna do this? Well, she’s got a new album and she wants you, dear minions, to hear it. She feels entitled to put on the kind of show that she wants. And that’s fair enough. But these days, there are few stadium-sized acts left who actually do this. Prince doesn’t do it, Springsteen doesn’t do it. Beyonce is still going to play ‘Crazy In Love’. U2 always include a healthy smattering of whatever album they’re touring, but that doesn’t mean they dispense with ‘One’ or ‘With Or Without You’ or ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’. Why, when she has so many hits, would she mangle most of them (apart from ‘Vogue’, ‘Like A Prayer’ and ‘Express Yourself’ which were all deadly)? Who would sell themselves so short? Well, it’s what she does. This wasn’t a greatest hits gig or tour and was never going to be. Having paid fairly close enough attention to gigs elsewhere, I knew all about the ridiculous deconstructed version of ‘Like A Virgin’ that might seem ‘hmm, interesting’ on YouTube but in a stadium was actually laughable. I knew about the excellent version of ‘Express Yourself’ with the brilliantly bitchy gag of including a dash of ‘Born This Way’ and ‘She’s Not Me’. But whether Madonna likes it or not, she’s a heritage act. The age profile last night (in the stands anyway) was largely people in their late 30s. They’re not there to hear her latest collaboration with Nicki Minaj, they want ‘Holiday’. Know thyself, sure, but know thy fans even more.
There’s also the large neon elephant in the room, although it would have taken a herd to fill the empty spots in the stadium. Madonna’s sense of entitlement is misplaced. The gig fell far short of selling out. The new album is dismal, and the default mode should be to return to her bulging back catalogue to make an interesting concert out of it. It would have been amazing. But pleasing the masses has never been Madge’s modus operandi. Once the trucks roll away on the last date though, she might need to rethink that.
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