Live Review: Madonna, Time Warner Cable Arena (11/15/2012)

Posted by Mark Segal Kemp on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 at 11:30 AM

Time Warner Cable Arena
Nov. 15, 2012

If you walked away from the Madonna spectacle Thursday at Time Warner Cable Arena with only the image of the 54-year-old pop icon's ultra-fit ass in your head, then you don't know jack about Madonna.

Sure, she flashed that ass. But nothing about the current MDNA Tour is wholesale gratuitous. Nothing is all that surprising, either, if you've kept up with news of Madonna's other stops on the tour, which kicked off in Tel Aviv this past May.

In one of several disturbing but exhilarating sequences, a hard and defeated-looking Madonna lay at the edge of a massive stage that extended halfway across the arena floor - the same place that two months ago saw chipper, smartly dressed Democratic delegates cheering the nomination of President Barack Obama. Clad in an all-black stripper's outfit, complete with thong and shiny stilettos, Madonna crawled and slithered about the floor in an ominous sendup of her notorious early performance of "Like a Virgin" at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. Taunting audience members gathered at the lip of the stage, slightly disheveled but revealing a still-firm bum and muscular arms and legs, she sang - slowly, menacingly, in a minor key and over somber orchestration - a radically reworked "Virgin."

Madonna was begging for money; she wanted cash, she said - dollars, big dollars. And she was getting it. As hundreds of bills showered the stage, she slithered about, completely decontextualizing her old "Material Girl" persona as she gathered up each one. "If you're going to look at the crack of my ass," she spat, "you better raise some cash."

The goal of the sequence - which came more than halfway into a two-hour show that ran from the dark violence of "Gang Bang" to the exuberance of her full-chorus treatment of "Like a Prayer" - was to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York City, the town that gave Madonna her start more than 30 years ago. But she wasn't going to just place donation buckets in the arena lobby. No, Madonna was going to do it Madonna's way - theatrically, provocatively, uncomfortably, in a scenario that was designed to polarize the audience.

And polarize, she did: Madonna's "Like a Virgin" sequence was one of about three that saw a few audience members get up from their seats and leave the arena. The first came early in the show, during the tour's much-talked-about bloody song sequence - "Girl Gone Wild," "Revolver" and "Gang Bang" - that evolved from a choreographed gunfight with men in a faux hotel room to soldiers in what appeared to be an Abu Ghraib torture setting. Another came during the singer's extended commentary in support of President Obama. That one got lots of cheers but also a palpable chorus of boo's.

MADONNA'S AUDIENCE in 2012 - fans mostly in their late 30s, 40s and 50s - may be an "oldies" crowd, but she's not yet prepared to be an "oldies" artist. Only a handful of songs - including "Virgin," a snippet of "Papa Don't Preach," "Express Yourself," "Vogue," and "Like a Prayer" - were household-name hits. And she reworked a number of those in ways that made them sound initially unfamiliar. The one bone she tossed her aging fans decked out in "Lucky Star"-era garb was a cheesy flash-back clip showing images from several of her video hits over the years.

But if you come to a Madonna show expecting just hits, you'll be as disappointed as a casual Bob Dylan fan who expects his concerts to include faithful versions of "Blowin' in the Wind" or "Mr. Tambourine Man." Madonna has continued to grow, not just as a musical performer but as a musical stage actor, deconstructionist and reconstructionist. Her MDNA Tour is not a concert - it's a theater event, complete with concepts and routines that range from well-thought-out to somewhat abstruse. The singer is as committed as ever to making statements and being provocative - that's her stock-in-trade, after all - and her non-hit material is every bit as adventurous and challenging as any of her hits. More so, in many cases.

Does Madonna use Auto-Tune? Yes. She uses it well. Does she lip-synch? Yes, of course she does. One couldn't possibly perform the huge, physically challenging routines she does with her parade of beautiful-people dancers without lip-synching. Does she hold a guitar, using it not so much as an instrument but as a prop to complete the concept of a specific piece? Yes. And if you are dogmatically opposed to Auto-Tune, lip-synching and musical instruments as props, you ought not be at a show that utilizes these effects.

NOT THAT Madonna failed to deliver anything to her hit-seeking fans in Charlotte. She dressed up in her Super Bowl cheerleader's outfit for "Express Yourself," as '60s-like pop art images of women in traditional and unconventional roles flashed on the giant screen; she struck all her memorable poses during "Vogue," offered a steamy and adventurous remixed version of "Justify My Love," and brought out a rainbow coalition of a chorus for "Like a Prayer."

In between all that, though, was tons of recent material that ranged from smoky acoustic ballads to heavy African percussion, from the synthesized power guitars of "Turn Up the Radio," from her latest album MDNA, to the Indian sitars and percussion in the raga-based "I'm a Sinner." The latter song was a particular highlight, as it found provocative Madge chanting even more giddily, perhaps, than ever during her first performance in the buckle of the Bible Belt: "I'm a sinner and I like it that way."

You either like it that way, too - or you don't. There's no in between.

Gregorian Chant Virgin Mary Intro
Girl Gone Wild (with samples from "Material Girl," "Give It 2 Me")
Gang Bang
Papa Don't Preach
Hung Up
I Don't Give A

Best Friend (video interlude)
Express Yourself
Give Me All Your Luvin'
Turning Up the Hits (video interlude)
Turn Up the Radio
Open Your Heart

Justify My Love (video interlude)
Candy Shop
Human Nature
Like a Virgin
Love Spent

Nobody Knows Me (video interlude)
I'm Addicted
I'm a Sinner
Like a Prayer

Comments (7)

Showing 1-7 of 7

Still can't get away from the fact that she is musically dull. Even a theater event, say a broadway play, uses music to enhance the performance, as opposed to using props and gimmicky routines to hide the dull music. And making the crowd (fans) wait couple of hours for a gig (a regular routine for this tour, apparently) is just plain juvenile. I'd bet most wanted their C Notes back.

report 15 likes, 30 dislikes   
Posted by Samir Shukla on 11/16/2012 at 12:27 PM

what a great review. balanced and smart. bravo. and bravo Madonna who is on fire with this tour! go Madonna!

report 28 likes, 7 dislikes   
Posted by Carlo Vitelli on 11/16/2012 at 1:33 PM

This was the absolute, worse concert I've ever been to. The language she used throughout the show was soooo inappropriate! The 3 hour wait for her to even come out was exhausting! I live 2 hrs away and this was a complete waste of my time and $. Extremely disappointed!

report 11 likes, 20 dislikes   
Posted by Lawson on 11/16/2012 at 3:24 PM

it was the worst bc she used bad language, really? so you didn't know Madonna had a potty mouth before the show? ok.

the time she goes on is widely known - she has started the entire tour at the same time - this very paper ran an article about it just days ago - this is not news - since you were coming from 2.5 hours away you should have done the slightest bit of homework.

can you tell us about the actual show and what you thought ?

report 21 likes, 5 dislikes   
Posted by Carlo Vitelli on 11/16/2012 at 3:55 PM

the show was awesome. It's Madonna for christ sake..did you think you were going to see Debbie Boone or someting. Give me a break.
Awesome concert! One of a kind.

report 16 likes, 4 dislikes   
Posted by jeffrey on 11/16/2012 at 7:36 PM

I'M SAD! i broke my foot and required surgery recently,, YET, MY BIGGEST sadness was MISSING MADONNA,, i am excited by seeing the videos of the concert, THO.. BUT, i know from experience seeing it IN PERSON cannot be matched!! i'm shocked that ANYONE would complain about madonna's use of bad words,, GET A GRIP, IT'S FUCKING MADONNA! FUCK YEAH..... were you also shocked at the pretty boys, pretty girls, and sexy fun RIDE of your life??? THERE IS NO ONE LIKE MADONNA, they try, and do pretty well,, BUT MADONNA IS TRULY AND ONE OF A KIND AND TAKES CHANCES,,, SHE COULD have worn gorgeous gowns and sang under blue lights,, but that's NOT madonna, i'm SO sad i couldnt see her this time, BUT SHE IS STILL MY FAVORITE ENTERTAINER,, AND SINCE i read she's sold like 1.9 million tickets worldwide SO FAR,,, she's doing something right.. i say ROCK IT BITCH,, IF U LOVE HER , THEN LOVE HER, if you don't then DON'T GO to her concert ;) xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx z

report 11 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by ZANE Z. ;) on 11/17/2012 at 12:26 PM

Musically dull? Obviously you did not see the show. It is a spectacle! It is a show that needs to be seen a couple of times in order to take everything in. Start times have been widely publicize throughout. In fact my ticket said the show time started at 10 pm. Doors opened at 7. Foul language offended people? I hope these same people don't watch movies because her language wasn't nothing compared to the typical movie release these days. What about the message she shared about making a difference in life and taking the love out into the world? What about the $70,000 she has raised for Hurricane Sandy victims? Am I defending Madonna? Probably. But I happen to get her and understand her.

report 6 likes, 3 dislikes   
Posted by Todd on 11/18/2012 at 2:59 PM
Showing 1-7 of 7

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