As Madonna unveils yet another tacky promo video and gets ready to tour another live show high on extortionate ticket prices and low on originality, I thought it would be fun to revisit a review I wrote for The Sun of the opening night of her Sticky & Sweet tour, which the British tabloid sent me to Cardiff to cover for Gordon Smart’s Bizarre column ten years ago. I’m still not quite sure why, when Gordon was sitting with Guy Ritchie for the entire duration of the gig. Still.
The entire Hard Candy period was the start of the slippery slope Madge never really covered from, but I was under strict instructions to leave my poison pen at the turnstiles. Oh well. Link to The Sun’s heavily edited published version at the end of this note.
MADONNA, CARDIFF MILLENNIUM STADIUM, 23 AUGUST 2008
Long live the queen of pop. I expected controversy and her trademark raunch in Cardiff, but for the first time there was no talking point like the Crucifixion scene from Confessions in 2006 or the electric chair on Re-Invention in 2004. Revolving into view on her double M throne, there was little between-song banter from the most choreographed and calculating performer on the planet, though with plenty of cues and glances Lady Madonna made sure in no uncertain terms that the crowd was dancing and singing until they were out of breath. Perhaps she thinks everyone is as superfit as her; either way the crowd lapped up her instructions with glee.
Each of the four main acts of the Sticky & Sweet show were punctuated by several video segments. Get Stupid was a satire on our political leaders, complete with flashing, and at times uncomfortable newsreel images from Hitler, Thatcher and Obama, while musically, the most interesting piece was the Rain Interlude where a computerised, sexless version of Madonna (made to resemble her hero David Bowie as androgene on the Aladdin Sane album) was seen enjoying some time in her wet lady garden while surprisingly soundtracked to the Eurythmics classic Here Comes The Rain Again. (M’s own Rain hit making just the briefest of cameo appearances at the tail-end). A prescient choice seeing as these one-time rivals finally buried the hatchet last year for Annie Lennox‘s Sing charity project.
More cleverly appropriated samples and mash-ups filtered their way through the setlist. The use of Felix’s rave anthem Don’t You Want Me turned Like A Prayer into a fabulously fast-paced musical meld which turned the entire stadium into one gigantic laser-beamed dance floor. Indeep’s Last Night A DJ Saved My Life and particularly Fedde Le Grand’s Put Your Hands Up For Detroit were smart club choices for the mer girl from Michigan to borrow for a technofied Music, while, conversely, Hung Up was stripped down to a ballsy rock version which seemed to suffer for its lack of the swirling ABBA hook that made it Madonna’s greatest dance hit of the decade.
Timberlake, Timberland, Kanye and Pharrell were all present – in video form at least, as well as JT’s ex stuck in a lift. So what else is there to do but mouth along to a guitar-heavy Human Nature? Well, if you’re gonna defend Britney’s antics then why not do it with the most unapologetic FU song ever on a 20 foot video screen?
Several other hits were casually used in a quite cavalier fashion. A raw remix of her James Bond theme Die Another Day accompanied two of her amazingly athletic male dancers knocking ten bells out of each other in a full size boxing ring that magically materialised at the end of the catwalk.
And after offering to take requests, a welcome return for Express Yourself was thrown away after the first chorus with M having a well-rehearsed change of heart, insisting “I don’t sing that shit anymore. I’m in charge, I choose the songs.” You don’t say! However, with guitar in tow, there was a welcome revisiting of a song from her first album, with Borderline being turned into an angry thrash of Stooges-style chords.
The two-hour show did sag slightly in the middle – three album tracks from Hard Candy in a row during an eccentric and slightly self-indulgent Gypsy gangbang section saw M joined by an elderly Ukranian folk trio, though the live premiere of yearning Evita ballad You Must Love Me was particularly intimate and haunting, and made you forget you were witnessing such an emotive performance with 40,000 other people.
New track She’s Not Me was another highlight, dripping with irony, with La Ciccone lambasting four of her great girl posse dressed up in some of her most iconic images from the past – a sexy black basque and fishnets from Open Your Heart, an almost see-through wedding dress from Like A Virgin, the Monroe-aping pink showgirl number from Material Girl and, most spectacularly, Vogue‘s velvet conical bra and pinstripes, who then was on the receiving end of some aggressive antics that resulted in her wig being ripped off and almost strangled by her own jacket.
An earlier part of the show which saw a rap DJ unit glide into view boasted our Madge donning a 20s art deco white top hat robbed from a white suited gangsta-pimp that was an affectionate nod to fellow New Yorker Debbie Harry and Blondie‘s Rapture video that featured much of the NYC Hip Hop crew that took Madonna to their hearts in the early ’80s. How the full sized pimpmobile suddenly appeared and was commandeered down the catwalk is still the subject of much debate.
Overall, Madonna at 50 was an impressive specimen to witness. As if wanting to prove that their plenty of life in the old gal yet, she actually danced more in this show than any of her more recent tours. From day-glo pole dancing and double dutch skipping during Into The Groove (which inexplicably reminded me of the Spice Girls encore of Spice Up Your Life on their last tour), with a birds-eye view one could witness every vein and muscle on her taut biceps and legs, while she’s starting to resemble a disco Dietrich with those razor sharp cheekbones and flowing wigs. Talking of borrowing ideas, the Doctor Who-like glittering cyber-helmeted dancers were sci-fi spectacular though Kylie pretty much beat her to it, it has to be said.
Summing up, it was a show of total precision and executive decision. A hard edged candy shop of songs from every period of her 25 years in the biz, and meticulous choreographed set pieces that would be dazzling enough from someone half her age. As the most famous 50-something in the world, Madonna’s energy is and performance is incredible, and showed the young pretenders the way to do it with bags of style and sassiness.
© Steve Pafford 2008, 2015
The Sun’s edit: http://bit.ly/2njRn4q