Madonna still loves to shock.
She’s doing it on her current MDNA Tour in ways both familiar (bulldozing through religious and sexual themes) and new (introducing gunplay and violent content). And the result is the same as ever: Madonna is generating plenty of controversy and headlines while selling tons of tickets.
It’s all very well calculated, thought-out and effective.
Yet, the most shocking thing about this tour — Madonna’s ninth to date — is clearly unintentional:
It’s pretty bad.
The star’s packed show on Sunday in San Jose, which was the second half of a two-night stand at HP Pavilion, was a resounding disappointment. The set list was weak. The new songs were forgettable. The old favorites were dressed up in different arrangements, most of which were awful. And the theatrics — such a big part of a Madonna concert — ranged from dreadful to dull.
To top it all off, the 54-year-old star didn’t take the stage for the 8 p.m. show until 10:30 p.m., which gave the 13,000-or-so fans plenty of extra time to buy $90 Madonna watches at the merchandise booths, but also surely zapped the crowd of much of its energy. There was more sitting than dancing, more polite applause than crazed screaming, than what we’ve come to expect from a Madonna concert.
It just goes to show that fans, even passionate ones, can tell an inferior product when they see and hear it. And this one was definitely inferior when it comes to Madonna. I’ve seen each of the Material Girl’s last five tours, stretching back to 2001’s Drowned World Tour, and MDNA was by far the least entertaining.
There were three or four real highlights out of the 25-song set. You do the math.
Overall, the show was filled with decent choreography, convoluted imagery, underdeveloped themes and mediocre music — kind of like your standard Broadway musical. There was lots of eye candy, but very little substance.
The first part is the most controversial — and also the worst. It’s the highly publicized part where Madonna enters a church setting, through the center of a cross, to join a group of guys wearing robes and chanting like Gregorian Monks. The star pops out of a confession booth, gun in hand, and starts grooving with the disrobed dancers, who hoof about the stage in tremendously high heels. There’s gunfire and blood splattered, while characters both boogie and battle.
It’s a mess. Yet it’s not the violence or the way Madonna deals with the religious motifs that bothers me — musicians, after all, shouldn’t be judged any more stringently than authors or directors who handle the same type of material. It’s really just that the song selections — such new songs as “Girl Gone Wild” and “Gang Bang” — were so decidedly commonplace.
Amazingly, it would get worse as Madonna headed to more familiar territory.
This isn’t a greatest-hits tour by any means. Madonna is full-on hawking her latest album, “MDNA,” and also dead set on underscoring her electronic dance music (EDM) credentials. I get that. What’s highly perplexing, however, is how she handled the few longtime fan favorites in the set list.
Instead of rewarding the crowd for waiting through all the faceless electro-pop of her recent efforts with some faithful renditions of the hits, Madonna went the complete opposite direction and dramatically rearranged most of the well-known tunes played. The worst of all was the new version of “Like a Virgin,” which was done up as a slinky nightclub number that moved at a numbingly glacial pace.
The whole deal, combined with the late start time, wore the crowd down over time, as Madonna kept offering up forgettable new songs and weak versions of old cuts over one goofy stage set after another. The audience was amazingly sedate as the show neared the finish line — some two hours after it began.
It wasn’t until the last two songs — “Like a Prayer” and “Celebration” — that the whole deal finally clicked. Yet, even that was disappointing in a way, since it clearly underscored how great Madonna could’ve been all night long.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.
Another day, another Madonna controversy. At a small club show in Paris last week, the pop superstar was booed mercilessly by fans who shouted for refunds after the brief, 45-minute set. Now, however, it appears the unrest wasn't the result of the show's length. According to TMZ, a small group of concertgoers started the trouble in response to Madonna's treatment of French politician Marine Le Pen.
As you may have heard, Madonna has caused quite a stir during her MDNA tour by showing a photo of the French National Front leader with a swastika superimposed on her face.
Per TMZ, the irate audience members who started the trouble at the Olympia club "were overheard yelling about Marine Le Pen."
Following the show, Madonna's public relations team released the following statement:
Madonna's Paris club show was planned as her heartfelt thank you to France which she expressed at the start of her show. Despite a grueling concert tour, she desperately wanted to perform for her fans in an intimate setting at the historic Olympia as a means to honor her love for French artists, French cinema and a tribute to France's long history of welcoming and inspiring artists, authors, painters, poets and minorities from other countries over the years. The show was not billed as her full MDNA concert and tremendous effort was made to keep the ticket prices reasonable ($100 for 2000 floor seats) and keep them strictly for her fans. The show cost Madonna close to a million dollars to produce. She has done a handful of club dates in the past and they were never more than 45 minutes. And by the way, she put on a fabulous show which was streamed for millions of fans around the world.
[UPDATE: In response to that, one Madonna fan wrote in to HuffPost Entertainment to say there were many fans upset because of the abbreviated set.]
For her part, Madonna isn't backing down from the inflammatory imagery. She defended the swastika use as highlighting "the intolerance human beings have for one another."
"I always like to tell a story," the 53-year-old singer told a Brazilian television station (via the New York Times. "Music should be about ideas, right? Ideas inspire music."
As previously reported on HuffPost Entertainment, your one-stop shop for Madonna news, the image appears behind the popstar during her rendition of "Nobody Knows Me." Earlier this month, National Front vowed to sue the singer after the image appeared during a concert in Paris.
For more on Madonna's recent dust-up, click over to TMZ.
Madonna's Most Ridiculous Moments