Pop princess reigns supreme on damp night more like hen party than concert
MADONNA IS apparently afraid of thunder and lightning and was said to be anxiously watching Dublin’s cloud heavy skies in the run-up to last night’s concert.
As it happened, the heavens failed to light up and all the electricity came from the material girl and her blood-splattered S&M troupes who danced up a storm for close to two hours in front of a half-empty Aviva Stadium which was more like a giant hen party than a concert.
The heavens didn’t light up but they certainly opened. It lashed rain throughout and Madonna had to call on the services of a “priest” to hold her umbrella at times. At least she had an umbrella – a luxury not afforded to concert-goers who had to bin theirs at the entrance.
During her soundcheck Madonna invited 200 bedraggled fans in off the street to listen to her run through four songs before chatting amicably to them about the miserable weather and practising her cupla focail ahead of the main event.
Pop’s most enduring princess opened only her second-ever Irish concert with monkish chanting. The faux-religious schtick morphed into Girl Gone Wild from her latest album MDNA.
Few people court controversy like Madonna does and so far on the European leg of her tour she has scandalised the French far right, Turkish Islamists and the Sottish police.
She faced down French National Party threats by continuing to use images of party leader Marine Le Pen juxtaposed with a swastika and shocked an audience in Istanbul with an exposed nipple that may have been the result of a wardrobe malfunction. Or maybe she meant it. She stuck to her guns in Scotland over the weekend and kept a elaborate shoot-’em-up routine in the show despite being asked by police to leave it out in the wake of the Aurora shootings.
There was no shock and awe last night but the gun-toting dancers were are an integral part of Gang Bang, which sees Ninja Madge slaying foes with an energy that would be impressive in a person half her age. It was, by any measure, ridiculous.
OTT theatrics are fine but five songs in the crowd was getting restless but then it was karaoke time as the 53-year-old launched into Papa Don’t Preach.
Express Yourself is played out to a beat from marching drummers hanging from the sky and it is undoubtedly a highlight. Justify My Love has been given a 21st-century make-over and comes with added electro-beats. After Justify My Love there was the Pop Icon moment when she launched into Vogue. Suddenly 30,000 people were striking a pose like it was 1989.
The concert drew to a close with happy-clappy monks helping Madonna through an exuberant Like a Prayer.
Madonna is now and always has been about contrast. One minute she’s a terrifying cougar, the next a pregnant teen, then a nun with the hots for Jesus. It is quite ridiculous but great fun – the essence of pop music, in fact.
Celine Kenny from Dunboyne was up for it. “I’ve seen her before, in New York. It cost us $360 but that was back when we all had loads of money. I’m really hoping she plays Into The Grove – it was the soundtrack of my youth.” She didn’t. No matter, the crowd loved her anyway.
She’s the mistress of choreographed controversy.
In Istanbul, it was an errant nipple; in Paris – a swastika superimposed across the forehead of Marine Le Pen; in Edinburgh, a pistol – ill-judged after the carnage in Denver, they said.
Maybe Madonna was going to leave all that kerfuffle well alone for Dublin, embrace middle-age with grace and wear something high-necked, comfortably waisted and – given the weather – waterproof.
Well she did get out the big guns. Of course she did. Thank God for the Peace Process.
But would she use the giant screens as a backdrop for some strong words on clerical abuse or abortion rights? Express yourself, Madge, some of us urged. You owe us – for all the dodgy fashion we had to copy.
For all the raucous SEX you had (and took pictures of), but we didn’t. For trying too hard to grow old disgracefully. For having your own gimp stored under your bed. Yes really. Last night she did. And she shot him in the head.
In 23 days, Madonna turns 54. Most women of that age are navigating the menopause. Madonna is hot – alright – just not in the same way as the rest of us. As if to prove the very point Papa Don’t Preach and other classics truly rocked. The old ones are the best Madonna. Yes they are.
As a child of the 1980s, I spent a fair amount of my youth leaping around the house to True Blue, Holiday and all the early Madonna hits. My sister and I learnt all the moves – the surly pouting, the spinning and the crawling – our parents watching uncomfortably as we flung ourselves around to Like a Virgin though it never occurred to us exactly what that was.
So I was, unashamedly, part of the nostalgia crew that went to the concert last night.
She played a good mix of old and new tunes, and there were plenty of classic Madonna moments.
These included lots of religious symbolism (she blessed herself on stage before beginning), girating and a muscly crew of men prancing around her.
However, she hit a rather bum note when she waved the gun around, with images of blood splattering in the background.
Overall, it was a bit of fun but a also a bit bland – although I do think my eight-year-old self was particularly happy when she broke into Papa Don’t Preach in the lashing rain, holding a jacket over her head.
“I’ve never been to Ireland when it wasn’t raining,” she said.
Every single person in the audience was soaking but they didn’t seem to care – especially when she sang Express Yourself. This was definitely a high point.
She may have reigned over PopLand for a generation, but Madonna’s claim to the throne has been challenged by more than a few defiant youngsters in recent years. Still, her Superbowl half-time show earlier this year proved that she still had it in spades (admittedly helped along by a multitude of trendy friends and an elaborate stage set-up).
Her first Irish gig in eight years – playing to a stadium full of sodden fans in flattened cowboy hats, squelchy high-ponytail wigs and rain-smudged mascara – promised to show the kids how it’s done.
When it came down to it, though, Madonna’s Irish comeback seemed a little soggy. That was only partly due to the weather; it’s true that if there had been a ray of light cast over the Aviva, the party atmosphere may have been a little more buoyant. Even still, the setlist took a while to get going, with the first third nodding heavily to Catholicism, violence and general griminess. As darkness fell, the “cheerleader” phase seemed to stir the crowd, with digs at Lady Gaga in the midst of an enjoyable Express Yourself, and a bizarre version of Open Your Heart.
All half-heartedness was forgiven with Vogue. This was how pop music should sound – a shame it took an hour for her to hit her groove. Edging ever-closer to her mid-50s, is Madonna still The Queen of Pop? Probably, but she needs to step up her game.
Images of a sun-soaked La Isla Bonita seemed very far away from a rain-sodden Aviva last night. Madonna could have opened with her ballad Rain but opted instead for a pseudo Latin Mass – all hooded monks and incense for Girls Gone Wild, which involved wrestling with her dancers.
Religious iconography? Energetic model dancers? So far, so Madge. The first three songs are from the new MDNA album and for Gang Bang, she is black-clad, resembling Barbarella and holed up in a mini-motel room necking Bourbon (probably ice-tea?). It was a blood-splattered spectacle, with more than a nod to Kill Bill, full of the theatricality we expect of her.
Midway through the first big hit – Papa Don’t Preach – she is shackled and carried aloft before morphing into Hung Up. We’re used to seeing Madonna borne overhead in the arms of nubile male dancers but she was occasional held aloft (vocally) by Autotune.
The early part of the set is heavy on MDNA material but the soggy crowd were clearly baying for hits. And she delivered with a superb version – including marching band and cheerleaders – of Express Yourself. Madonna has detractors but her energy and passion cannot be understated. She’s a musical giant, but it felt hard to get excited. Playing hits she can’t be bettered, but the newer material just didn’t engage live.
Like most women born in the 1970s, I have a soft spot for Madonna. From Like a Virgin to Like a Prayer, she provided the soundtrack to my childhood. And now, 26 years after I perfected my dance routine to True Blue, I’m finally going to see her perform live. I can’t help being excited. And a little bit awestruck. I’m not the only one. Even the hideous weather (at one stage Madonna asks the crowd to pray for the rain to stop) can’t dampen the mood of anticipation.
Finally, the lights dim, a bell tolls, and soon the stage is full of monks chanting, giant crosses and hunks gyrating on podiums wearing bat wings. Business as usual, then. Then Madge herself finally appears, and the crowd goes wild. Unfortunately we all have to sit through lots of tedious new-ish songs. It does feel that we’re all sitting patiently waiting for the good stuff, and when it finally comes, in the form of the opening strings of Papa Don’t Preach, there’s a palpable feeling of relief. As the night goes on, she seems more relaxed, joking with the crowd and all is redeemed when she performs Express Yourself and sneakily slips in a verse of Lady Gaga’s derivative Born This Way to remind us that every pop diva since the ‘80s owes her, well, everything.
The show was okay, but a bit disappointing. Still, she is Madonna. She can kind of do what she wants.