MADONNA @ PEPSI CENTER | 11.11.08
There's a reason that Madonna's been around as long as she has: She's among the last of the bigger-than-life performers. Although her outsized, oversexed persona has often preceded her -- from her highly publicized flings to her tawdry acts of salaciousness over the years, she was TMZ headline fodder before there was such a thing -- her showmanship trumps all of that, as she deftly proved last night with a meticulously choreographed set at the Pepsi Center. A consummate pro, Madonna is an icon who's virtually unmatched as a performer.
An ostentatious Vegas-worthy presentation, replete with arresting visuals played on giant, morphable Time Square-esque JumboTrons and half a dozen dexterous dancers, the show was heavy on spectacle, if light on musicianship. Although Madonna offered up some serviceable rhythm guitar work on several numbers (most notably on the rocked-up version of "Borderline"), her crack band mostly held things down, particularly vocal doppelgängers Kiley Dean and Nicki Richards, whose supplemental vocals were so dead on in terms of tone, phrasing and delivery that when Madonna wasn't singing, it was hardly noticable.
Of course, few fans were watching her lips or taking note of any missteps - mostly because there just weren't any to speak of, really. That, and they were no doubt transfixed by seeing Madge in the flesh. Looking a bit like Drea de Matteo, with shoulder-length, golden-blond curls, Madonna, who's suprisingly agile for her age, held the crowd spellbound as she showed off her sleek, chiseled physique, which poured out from underneath the slinky black showgirl outfit and velour gym shorts she donned for the better part of the set.
And those who weren't mesmerized by her or distracted by the vivid Mind's Eye-styled imagery were surely captivated by the various props, such as the vintage, cream-colored speedster that Madonna and her crew joyrode down the runway.There were plenty of other highlights, including the Keith Haring artwork that served as a backdrop during "Into the Groove" as she strode atop the roving, LED-encased DJ booth while it moved from stage right to stage left.
"Into the Groove"
That was a nice touch, as were the four different lookalikes who ascended through the wide end of the catwalk during "She's Not Me," with each one depicting Madonna at various stages of her career and her dismissing each of the imposters by flinging off pieces of their garments, adding visual punctuation to the chorus. A few songs later, a silo-shaped video screen at the end of the catwalk was lowered and then raised to reveal the robe-clad singer crooning on top of a grand piano. A sped-up alt version of "La Isla Bonita," which mated Charlie Daniels-esque fiddle playing with Latin flourishes, was equally memorable. If the folks in Denver came for a show, by God, she gave it to them.
"She's Not Me"
And some of these folks had clearly been waiting for this show for a long time - like, since the Reagan administration. Seriously. My friend Nicole told me about a gal she'd run into on the way to her seat (whom I later spied on the way out) who was decked out in full-on Like a Virgin-era regalia -- wedding dress, veil, lace gloves, crucifix, the works. Considering that last night's show marked Madonna's first trip to Denver, you had to wonder if she'd pulled this whole getup from mothballs after waiting to see the Material Girl since junior high or something.
For her first time here, it seemed rather curious that Madonna didn't treat the crowd to more of her hits. (Personally, I was holding out for some "Papa Don't Preach" or "Crazy for You.") You'd think she'd be eager to make up for lost time and play more of those tunes -- or at the very least, engage the audience a bit more. It wasn't until the last few songs, when she said, "You guys look a little sleepy. You guys ready to go home? Come on, Denver. Wake up!" and then led the throng through a few lines of "Like a Virgin," that she really even acknowledged the crowd and the fact that she was in Denver. Aside from the obligatory aside about the lack of oxygen, she could just as well have been in Newark or Toledo.
All in all, Madonna put on one hell of a show, even if, at times, it was a bit too mechanical, by-the-numbers and impersonal for my taste. If you didn't make it last night, there presumably are still tickets available for tonight's show. If the overall vibe last night is any indication, Madonna fans will undoubtedly have the time of their lives this evening. There wasn't a single long face in the building last night. It was smiles for miles.
And the excitement was palpable, even before the show. Everyone was so thrilled they could hardly contain their enthusiasm, phoning friends in disbelief and firing off pics with their camera phones. Folks were twice as euphoric when Madge actually took the stage, and then after the last song "Give It 2 Me" (there was no encore), everyone seemed to be basking in the afterglow on their way to the parking lot, as though they had all just gloriously climaxed together at once.
Sticky and sweet, indeed.
Personal Bias: I'm fairly unbiased. I fully appreciate Madonna for the pop icon that she is and respect what she's accomplished as a performer. Random Note: There was a lot of down time waiting for Madonna to take the stage. By the Way: DJ Enferno, who manned the turntables prior to the show, was reportedly handpicked by Madonna herself to warm up the crowds on this tour.
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Madonna Sticky & Sweet Tour Denver, Pepsi Center, 11.11.08 Set List
Candy Shop Beat Goes On Human Nature Vogue Die Another Day (remix) Into the Groove Heartbeat Borderline She's Not Me Music Rain (remix) Devil Wouldn't Recognize You Spanish Lesson Miles Away La Isla Bonita Doli Doli You Must Love Me Get Stupid 4 Minutes Like a Prayer Ray of Light Hung Up Give it 2 Me
"Like a Prayer"