MADONNA @ PEPSI CENTER | 10/18/12
Don't fuck with Madonna. She'll shoot you dead. Or, at the very least, if you're at the Pepsi Center on a Thursday night in October, she'll make you wait an extra hour until she goes onstage. But this is Madonna we're talking about here. She can do whatever the hell she wants, even if that means not going on until 10:45 p.m. -- and playing until 12:45 a.m. You will happily oblige for the Queen of Pop. Or so you would think.
See also: - The twenty best Madonnabes at last night's Madonna concert at the Pepsi Center - Slide show: Madonna at the Pepsi Center - Review: Madonna at the Pepsi Center, 11/11/08 - Slideshow: Madonna at the Pepsi Center, 11/11/08
Before the show last night, Madge's legions of fans weren't as patient as she had assumed. Between the forgettable set by tour deejay Misha Skye and the start of Madonna's show, some Denver fans booed and hollered, thinking -- mistakenly -- that such greedy behavior would get her to start her show sooner rather than later. Not so much.
Once the show did begin, however, it was worth the wait. Really fucking worth it. Striking hard and fast, Madonna played to her strengths immediately: sex, violence, religion, all mixed together. The themes may have been tried and true for Madonna, but she took them to new heights last night. Guns and God? Yes, she went there... when she pistol-whipped the stained glass off a stage church with an AK-47. (And people dared to boo this woman?!)
Oddly, songs that cheapen Madonna's recorded catalogue by mere inclusion, like "I Don't Give A" and "Give Me All Your Luvin'," came off great live. Madonna just brought a new energy to them that is nonexistent on record. The visuals were especially interesting. Nicki Minaj appearing on screen dressed as a nun to deliver her rap from "I Don't Give A" played perfectly into Minaj's own stage antics from her oddity of a Grammy performance earlier this year when she did "Roman's Holiday." (Lil Wayne donned priest garb to do the same for his guest verse on "Revolver.")
Likewise, Madonna could have gone the lazy route for the choreography to "Give Me All Your Luvin'," recycling already-used concepts from her Super Bowl Half Time show performance this year, but instead she only recycled the costumes. The choreography focused more on the drumline than on Madge herself, as drummers were literally carried on stage via harness, in an assembly line fashion, owing much of aesthetic to "Babes in Toyland." Here, "Give Me All Your Luvin'" wasn't juvenile; it didn't feel rehashed. Rather, the abundance of drummers gave Madonna the closest she'll ever get to a collaboration with the USC Trojan Marching Band, and that was as exciting as watching her tout a weapon.
For "Gang Bang," the standout of the evening, Madge swapped the AK-47 for a handgun and went on a killing spree. Madonna's shooting gestures to the pulse of the music were impeccably timed; the dancers' reaction moves could not have been more spot-on. The icing on top of her already gory cake, however, was the use of the screen projections to imitate bloodshed. Every blast of Madonna's gun was followed by a dramatic twitch by a dancer (one was even shot down from a harness mid-air) synchronized with a splash of blood on screen. It was the perfect combination of blood, sex and more blood.
Many other songs fell into the violence category, too. "Revolver" and "Papa Don't Preach," the latter of which saw Madonna give a notably strong vocal performance without her vocals being processed (rare for the mid- and high-tempo numbers last night), assumed new meaning when their lyrics were presented within the context of murder.
Whole sections of the concert were largely arranged according to themes, making the stage dramatics -- and sometimes lack thereof -- easier to process with the potency of the music and visuals. Madonna songs about guns, a woman scorned, Guy Ritchie to the front. Everything else at the end, like religion and obsession -- with love and sex more toward the middle. In this way, the structure of the show started on a high note with the theatrical peaks that were "Girl Gone Wild" and "Gang Bang" and went mostly downhill from there.
Catalogue duds like "Masterpiece" and "Celebration" were still a flop, with the night's wild ride ending on a bum note when set closer "Celebration" fizzled in execution as well as choreography. Not even fleeting moments of grandeur -- the raw version of "Like A Virgin" with backing only by a piano, the heavenly standard take on "Like A Prayer" powered by rent-a-choir pipes and the slackline-centric choreography that gave "Hung Up" a new meaning -- could compare to the ten minutes of sheer Madonna vengeance that was "Girl Gone Wild" and "Gang Bang."
We were spoiled, and we were spoiled early. And forget about "Material Girl" -- the jaded, beaten down, divorced Madonna would appear on stage in bra and panties before she would perform those superficial lyrics ever again. In fact, that's exactly what Modern Madonna did, and to "Like A Virgin" no less. Before the final chorus of the song, Madonna stripped down to her bra, panties and fishnets to not-so-subtly reveal whom she endorses for president. There, above the small of her back, was the name "Obama" (fake) tattooed. And this followed the only stage banter Madonna gave her fans the entire night, largely imploring them to vote -- not necessarily for Obama, but for someone.
"As long as you vote, that's all that matters," she said. "Take responsibility for your country... Look at these countries fighting for democracy. We're fucking lucky we can vote."
The concert became equally political during the interlude for "Nobody Knows Me," during which we were shown screen projections about socio-cultural injustices, particularly of gay teens who were killed because of their sexuality or the 99 percent versus the 1 percent in the Occupy movement. The one thing Madonna didn't touch on but we expected her to: Pussy Riot (though she was selling Pussy Riot shirts at her merch booth).
Oddly, it was Madonna's inaction on the subject of Pussy Riot last night that was surprising. This woman has been outspoken for their cause for so long -- and even mentioned her stance during prior shows, including one in Russia -- that it was odd she chose not to speak her mind for once. She must have been too focused on that damned handgun.
So were we.
Keep reading for Critic's Notebook and Setlist
Personal Bias: I'd seen Madonna before in Denver on the Sticky & Sweet Tour in support of her previous album, Hard Candy. That show left me disappointed, so my expectations were lower this time around.
Random Detail:I met the self-proclaimed best friend of Madonna's daughter, Lourdes, in the men's restroom before the show. He was putting on his heels and bridal veil -- it's a Madonna show, after all -- all the while every other dude was just trying to take a whiz. Fast forward an hour, and I see him dancing around just shy of front row center.
By The Way: "Gang Bang" was co-written by William Orbit and Mika -- yep, of "Love Today" and "Grace Kelly" fame.
Madonna Pepsi Center - 10/18/12 Denver, CO
Girl Gone Wild Revolver feat. Lil Wayne Gang Bang Papa Don't Preach Hung Up I Don't Give A feat. Nicki Minaj Best Friend / Heartbeat Express Yourself / Born This Way Give Me All Your Luvin' feat. Nicki Minaj & M.I.A. Turn Up The Radio Open Your Heart Masterpiece Justify My Love Interlude Vogue Candy Shop / Erotica Human Nature Like A Virgin Nobody Knows Me Interlude I'm Addicted I'm A Sinner Like A Prayer Celebration
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