July 22, 2012
Review: Madonna MDNA Tour at Murrayfield Stadium


All photos in this post by Chrissi McAlpine :)

Before I review the show in earnest there are a few things I’d like to get out of the way first. I’ll do a track by track review after and if you just want a quick summary of my thoughts skip all the blah and go to the end ;)

“It’s the worst concert I’ve ever seen”
Nonsense. Either it’s the only concert you’ve ever seen or you’ve only been to the closing night of the Ziggy Stardust tour, the Bad tour and the Blonde Ambition Tour so far. What I’m saying is it might not be the best show you have ever seen or ever will see but saying it’s the worst is just pure hyperbole in my opinion.


“She doesn’t play The Hits”
I don’t hold any truck with the criticism coming from a lot of the media reviews that she isn’t playing enough back catalogue. This isn’t being billed as a greatest hits tour, she has an album out right now and the tour is in fact named after it so to expect the Celebration tour is foolish. Any artist that considers themselves still functioning will play a similar balance of new to old - unless you do what Bowie did when I saw him in 2003 and play a beast of a setlist that accomplishes both. But then he did end up having a heart attack two thirds of the way through that tour so maybe not. Whether the tracks from her current album are as good as they should be or hold up well enough live is a different matter, however saying that she shouldn’t be playing new songs is not really the issue to me.

The fact that the audience were generally going home unhappy with this balance last night (comments overheard ranged from ‘It’s a lot of money to pay to be disappointed’ to ‘I’ll know not to go and see Madonna again’) doesn’t surprise me though - partly because she hasn’t had a genuine hit from this album and partly because the audience last night was exactly the kind of drunk-to-oblivion hen-party horror show that really should have been at an 80s revival disco instead. It was without doubt the most annoying crowd I’ve ever been in - and I include 2 hours stood at the front of T in the Park during Black Grape in 1995 in that. So no, I’m not surprised they didn’t want to see a world music version of I’m A Sinner. But then again who does really?

One thing that was immediately apparent to me was that for all her trend chasing and Niki Minaj features at 34 and ¾ I was at the younger end of the average age bracket last night. It’s like trying to get a date - the more desperately you want it the more it turns people off. The Kids can smell it and they are staying away in droves. I’m absolutely convinced that if she relaxed on the ‘still relevant’ push she would actually pick up more younger fans - or at least ones in their 20s!

I do think there is also an element of people reading reviews in the Daily Fail or whatever and just going along with what they are told to think though. A lot of the comments I heard afterwards (‘the violence was unnecessary’, ‘she didn’t play the hits’) seemed to be verbatim regurgitations of the press reviews. And maybe that just means it’s a consensus of opinion but i guess I have a little less faith in people’s ability to form their own opinions ;)

“She lip synchs the whole show”
I was very pleasantly surprised by how little of the show appeared to be mimed - and all the better for it. There were a couple of numbers (Human nature I think stood out particularly) where she sounded a bit ropey but generally her voice was good - Papa Don’t Preach, Masterpiece, Express Yourself and Like a prayer all sounded particularly strong.

“She’s too old to be doing a pop show”
I genuinely, and again to my great surprise, was really not aware of the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ issue apart from during he majorette section where a combination of an unflattering costume and dance routine did make her seem a bit wobbly and trussed up. Generally I just felt I was watching a pop star not a grandma. The question of whether she can keep up with the choreography is a funny one though. It’s really hard to explain but I was impressed at how well she managed consistent, high energy and quite complex routines but at the same time I was aware of it. It’s like that thing about how good design should be invisible and there was an element of feeling ‘god, she’s doing it so well for a woman her age’ rather than it just being effortless. I think taking it down just the tiniest notch would have erased this though because the parts of the show where she is moving less frantically felt absolutely perfect in that respect.


The staging
It became pretty apparent to me when the show started why she’s been coming on so late at a lot of venues. I had assumed it was just because she was fannying about doing the downward facing dog in her dressing room or whatever but the strict curfew at Murrayfield meant she came on just after 9pm in pretty much daylight and I have to say the reliance on huge video screens to form the basis of the set really didn’t work well in the light. She made a comment during the show about having to keep it moving or they were going to pull the plug on her and as it was she cut two songs from the set (the two I was most looking forward too grrrrrr) and I highly suspect this was because she was holding back starting until it got darker.

I was standing a little to the side at the front of the general admission area but due to the fact there was a VIP area and a golden circle then some space then the GA area I had a good view but was still really not that close to the stage and from where I was the first section of the show looked surprisingly flimsy and the stage quite empty. The motel set was particularly disappointing from a distance in the light. Everything looked so much better as it got darker though.

The stage as an object is massive but the actual stage area was surprisingly small, or seemed so from where I was. In general I think the screen-based sets would have looked amazing close up but were not so good from where I was in the crowd. I think the show will look fabulous on DVD and certainly the sets looked much more dynamic even on the live feeds but for some reason felt a little flat to me in person. Of course this could just be down to where I was standing but since I had a fairly good spot I can imagine it would have been much the same if you were anywhere in the main bulk of the crowds.



Down to the nitty gritty..

Opening section / Girl Gone Wild
I feel like this should have been really epic but it fell a little flat for me. It probably doesn’t help that I really don’t like this song much. I’m not sure if this was mimed or autotuned or what I but either way the pitch of her voice was really weird. The crowd seemed to enjoy it though and I’d say that out of the new songs it got the best reaction from those around me with a fair amount of singing along etc.



Revolver
I’m basically the only Madonna fan that liked and bought this song. It’s just me, Madonna and Lil’ Wayne digging it. Putting it on the set list was typically obstinate of her but I enjoyed it so raspberries to the lot of you ;)

Gang Bang
This was one of two set pieces I was most looking forward to seeing live (the other was cut ;_; ) but I didn’t enjoy it as much I was expecting for some reason. It’s hard to put my finger on because I do love the way it looked and it was definitely my favourite of the more elaborately staged numbers but I found it sort of dragged on a little or something. It might have been the light, I’m not sure, it just didn’t rock my boat.

Papa Don’t Preach
Massive cheer from the crowd. She sung it really well. Only complaint was it was too short.

Hung Up
This was an unexpected highlight for me. The audience seemed to get a bit bored because there was no ABBA sample and the song was reworked but I really enjoyed the way it sounded and the physical routine was one of my favourites in the show. The part where she walked the slackline barefoot was particularly lovely for some reason.

I Don’t Give A
Another unexpected highlight. One of my main fears was that this would be one of those Britney-type shows where there was so much spectacle going on because the performance at the center was vacant. I know that everyone loved her Superbowl performance but it left me pretty cold because it seemed she was heading in that direction. But having this number fairly early in the set last night really alleviated a lot of my concerns about her performance abilities because it was predominantly just her standing singing - and singing with bite, vigour and some actual emotion. The funny thing is I’m not that keen on the song but she really brought something to it live I hadn’t got from the album version. She sounded pissed off, but in a good way. If only she could let go a bit more in the studio and get some of that feeling on record.



Express Yourself / Give Me all Your Luvin’ / Born This Way / She’s Not Me
The majorette costume has to die. I hated the routine, the costumes and pretty much everything about this section apart from the vocals for Express Yourself which were fabulous. I actually loved Express Yourself I just wish she had worn something that didn’t make me feel nauseous while she sang it. GAYL was a remix which I actually enjoyed far more than the single version. It was also not, in fact the song of the same name by ZZ Top as my husband thought when I was telling him about the concert. That would have been amazing though.

I still think including the Born This Way excerpt was classless and unnecessary, even more so within the frame of the show, but it was mercifully short and while I did see one guy wearing a t-shirt with Gaga’s face and the word ‘BITCH’ written underneath I did also hear the audience around me singing along to BTW so who knows what it accomplished other than some column inches.

Turn Up The Radio
Uneventful and unmemorable. She had the front row singing into the mic which was cute but other than that I don’t really remember much about it. I do remember that it was preceded by a rather interesting, scratchy little intrlude that mixed up video clips from throughout her career. I remember thinking ‘ooh, what’s this leading towards’ and then hearing the chorus line of TUTR and thinking ‘oh, that. oh well.’ I actually like TUTR well enough and it’s my favourite of the fluff songs on MDNA but still, it’s hardly stellar material to follow up a recap of her career highlights with.

As a side note: who knows where her career - touring or otherwise - will go in the next few years but I do hope she takes stock a little before her next move. As enjoyable as the show was and as not-as-bad-as-the-singles-make-it-seem as MDNA is there has been a lot (too much to go into here on a review of the tour) wrong with her approach to her career recently and I sincerely hope that she is not beaten but emboldened by the criticism. No Fear not No Care.


Open Your Heart
This was a weird one because I really enjoyed it but it went down like a lead balloon with the crowd around me. It was reworked completely with those Basque fellas whose name I can’t remember and I thought it was really interesting. A crowd pleaser it was not though. I could have done without the dancing at the end but she does love a bit of ‘ethnic’ street dancing does our Madge.

Masterpiece
This was another highlight for me. The song has really grown on me recently and excepting the opening clunker the lyrics are lovely. I found the performance quite moving and very well sung. I’d love to see her do a theatre tour of this kind of stuff but it will never happen.

Vogue
Very enjoyable classic performance of Vogue. Exactly what you would expect from it but in a good way.



Candy Shop / Erotica / Human nature
This was my favourite section of the show despite the fact that I can’t stand Candy Shop on record. The choreography was paced just right and the set up fell on the right side of sexy - at times moving, at times humorous. Human Nature was visually particularly good and probably the only part of the show that gave me food for thought or stimulated emotions beyond the purely visceral. I’m absolutely gutted that she cut Like A Virgin (which would have fallen after this set) although if she was going to cut something I guess the audience that was there would probably not have been that receptive to the version of it she is doing on the tour so maybe it was the best choice in that sense. You can see what I missed here.


I’m A Sinner
I thought she looked really beautiful during this section - the slightly hippy look has always suited her so much. The song itself was a bit of a snooze for me though.

Like A prayer
Similar to Vouge this was a strong, classic performance that did nothing more than you would expect but nothing less than you would hope. The crowd loved it and she sounded fantastic.

Celebration
I felt this was a bit of an anti climax for a closing number although she certainly gave it her all. I geuss Celebration is the new Holiday though and I never liked that much either ;)



So..
All in all I enjoyed it and I’m glad that I went. The bits I expected to wow me (the big visual set pieces) didn’t really but the thing I was most fearful of (her core performance) was actually really good. I know I was quite out of step with the crowd around me in terms of the bits I enjoyed most so obviously it’s just my opinion but I would love to see her focus on less high energy but more performance led numbers - which she has done plenty of on previous tours so this isn’t a ‘she’s old’ thing just a personal preference. That also doesn’t need to mean sitting on a stool for an hour and a half just more routines like Human Nature and less like GMAYL.

Overall I’d say it’s a 7/10 for me - but since I nearly didn’t go because I was so worried about it being terrible that’s a score that’s made me really happy.

July 18, 2012

I’ve been revisiting MDNA over the last week or so having not really listened to it at all since it was released. Generally I won’t put in the effort to go back to an album I haven’t connected with but partly because I have given in and am going to the tour this weekend and partly because I’ve had the nagging suspicion there was a much better album lurking in there than it appears I decided to give it another go. I’ve been working on this little redux playlist and I think I’ve finally hit the sweet spot.

A lot of albums these days have problems with weak bonus tracks cluttering up otherwise sturdy albums but I have to say that with MDNA the bonus tracks are far from being the problem - in fact it’s the singles that drag it down most for me. The running order also exhausts me with far too many of the flimsy or psuedo-ballsy songs up top leaving the songs I rate most obscured or so far down the tracklist that I’ve given up by then.

Whittling the album down to these 11 tracks has made all the difference and I feel like there is a pretty strong little record there after all. No, still not her best but in this format certainly stronger than Hard Candy and arguably Confessions too.

There are a few  songs that I’ve left on here (most notably Turn Up The Radio, Gang Bang and I Don’t Give A) that still bother me for various reasons but in this context I can enjoy far more.

In my mind I am currently living in a parallel universe where this was the album, the singles were I’m Addicted > Love Spent > Anything apart from GMAYL, GGW or Birthday Song and the artwork looked more like this:

and less like this:

In that unviverse MDNA is really rather good actually.

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July 16, 2012

LOOK! LOOK! MADONNA BEING AN ACTUAL, REAL PERSON!! 

bless. <3 

Madonna - Soundcheck (Amsterdam Ziggo Dome 08.07.2012 (by fonotic)

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July 9, 2012

Madonna - Like A Virgin (MDNA Tour - Berlin) HD (by MarSteff74)

Beautiful <3

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July 5, 2012
love this photo

love this photo

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June 16, 2012
Madonna’s Hands

I’ve got a lot of problem’s with Madonna right now but her hands aren’t one of them. Despite that they are the subject of this no doubt nauseatingly long think-piece.

I’m not going to talk about her laissez-faire approach to her recent musical output, her terrible lead single or her dubious forays into gym franchises. I’m going to talk about her hands.

Why the hands? Why not the exposed nipple? That’s what everyone else is talking about right? Or the cheek implants? Or the bum-flash? Or the sexy tour-dancing with her 20-something boyfriend? Or whether she’s too old to dress like a majorette? Or that mash-up?

I’m going to talk about her hands because they are a microcosm of all that and more. Madonna’s hands sum up all our fucked up issues with the aging process in one fell swoop. 

Take a look at this photo:

Yuk! Granny hands! Madonna’s losing it! What an old hag! In fact that picture is so nasty that the person I’m hotlinking it from has even named it madonna-old-lady-hands.jpg LOL She’s so past it now. Why doesn’t she just give up and leave it to Gaga and RiRi and Katy??!

How about this:

I mean, it’s pretty pathetic how she is soooo blatantly trying to cover up her ugly old lady hands with those nasty leather gloves. And fingerless gloves?? On a 53 year old?? It’s so juvenile and unbecoming. She needs to get a grip and stop trying to dress like a teenager! Leave the rock-chick look to Lola!!

Do you see what we did there?

Over on the left that’s a rock. Over on the right is a hard place. That unpleasant little space in the middle? That’s Madonna’s hands.

As a woman aging in the public eye you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. 

Personally the ‘granny hands’ don’t bother me a jot and it’s worrying about completely natural things like that which end up with the desperate attempts at disguising it.

Not even Madonna can stop time and we can’t have it all ways at once. It’s not fair to bitch about her surgery and the signs of aging at the same time. It’s not fair to blame her for the gloves when we recoil in horror at the sight of what lies below.

Some people would rather she continues down the surgery route and fights her age as much as she can. They are usually the same people who enjoy the idea that her faking a vacuous nubility that she never really inhabited the first time around (baton twirling! pom poms!) is liberating for women who want to ‘stay young’. They are the glove people.

Some people feel she should act her age, be more responsible in front of her children, stop flashing her boobs in public. Age ‘gracefully’. They are the hands people, right?

You would think so, but from what I can tell no-one seems to be the hands people. The age-gracefully people still have a utopian notion that she will somehow do this without a wrinkle on her brow. Only she’ll be doing it in a twin-set. Kind of like Evita but without Jimmy Nail.

Because when we see wrinkles and veins and liver spots appear on someone like Madonna it scares the shit out of us because we are staring right into the face of our own horrid mortality.

When asked in an interview in 1998 what she thought people saw when they look at her she said simply “they see themselves”. And we do. We see an heroic, perfect, insurmountable, archetype of who we could/should/would be perhaps but she has always been and always will be a mirror to our collective social mores.

I, personally,  disagree with the people who are all-out, knowingly and enthusiastically for the surgical approach but it doesn’t bother me as much as the rest of us thinking that she/we can do both at once. You can get away with that for a while perhaps. A little bottox here, a slight alteration there. But there will always come a time where you have to pick between the age or the surgery because the more obvious the age gets so will the surgery have to too. 

We just can’t seem to get our heads around the simple, glaring truth:

WE ALL GET OLD IN THE END. 

That’s why those candid photos of her in her underwear that everyone uses as the full stop on any discussion of Madonna’s current sexual attractiveness will never bother me as much as the puffy cheek photos and the way her face barely moves any more. One is a fit 50 something woman (photographed off guard) in her underwear, the other is a woman fighting her age desperately and unsuccessfully. One is the hands and the other is the gloves.

And if you can’t see the connection between how we as a society react to the hands and why Madonna, of all people, has ended up in the gloves then I’m not going to draw you a map.

Congratulations world, we broke her. And enjoy it while you can because you will be wearing those gloves yourself sometime soon no doubt.

This piece isn’t really about Madonna of course (which is precisely why I don’t want to talk about the underwhelming album or the religious connotations of her show or whatever) but she is an unparalleled cultural barometer when it comes to how we view our own vanity, sexuality and self esteem.

Lets, please, learn to love Madonna’s hands?

*Edit: Apparently according to a friend (who recognised the clutch bag ha!) the first photo is not in fact Madonna but Sarah Jessica Parker - but I think the point still stands. 

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