Madonna is considered a living legend, a cultural icon and one of the best performers of her time. She is one of the most influential artists in the history of American music, and last night at the Scottrade Center we found out why: hard work and natural charisma.
If we are to believe any of the personality flaws that we've been fed about her character, she needs and wants to be the center of attention at all times. This quality may be the most distinctive trait of a pop star, and Madonna is inarguably the biggest pop star in the world. The death of Michael Jackson left no doubt as to who holds the crown. Major stadium stars like Bruce Springsteen and Prince might be worthy competition, but Madonna is the queen.
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This is especially interesting considering that Madonna is a chameleon of both style and culture. There was '80s punky Madonna. Religious Madonna. Controversial Madonna. BDSM Madonna. New-age Madonna. Evita Madonna. Raver Madonna. And on and on. All of these Madonnas are all there and they're all beloved, but what's interesting is how she translates and squeezes all of these personas into her stage show. A huge production including a giant stage, huge screens, flashing lights, lasers, scores of backup dancers, video interludes and a band does not distract from or in any way minimize her powerful charisma.
Opening act Paul Oakenfold was a fairly decent selection to warm up the crowd. He played gently electrified versions of the Killers' "Mr. Brightside," Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Otherside" and no less than three Rihanna songs. Basically, it was uninspiring, but it worked. It sounded like the ignorable sub-par electro played at any club on the weekend.
At this point, Oakenfold is more of an EDM elder than an active, groundbreaking member of the culture, but he still threw in a bit of DJ Darude's "Sandstorm" for the clubbers in attendance. Like most popular DJs at larger events, he didn't seem to be doing much of anything up there behind his massive LED console. There was a camera above him the whole time, but, tellingly, the only time it showed his otherwise-hidden hands was at the very end when he slid the volume controls down.
A Madonna concert is more than just music, it's the live presentation of her art, and her art is her self. There is just no easy way to accurately present all of her many looks, phases and musical explorations into one hour-and-a-half-long set.
She tackles this dilemma by breaking up the show into a few different sections, all of which present different moods, attitudes, types of music and, honey, costumes. She is now three decades into an inconceivably huge international music career, and it would be impossible (and exhausting) for her to play all of the songs that her fans would like to hear.
There is a difficulty that needs to be addressed when attempting to compartmentalize such a long, diverse list of options. This problem was solved through referencing other hit songs during the performance. For example, "Hung Up" contained sprinklings of both "Papa Don't Preach" and "Live to Tell." And during "Express Yourself," Miss Madge even took a well-earned swipe at Lady Gaga by seamlessly sliding a few lines of Gaga's ripoff hit, "Born This Way" into the middle of the song.
Never one to hint at a topic or embrace subtlety, Madonna takes the direct approach in life and in concert. She's a very literal performer, actually walking an onstage tightrope to illustrate a tense emotion, grabbing her own lady bits when singing about sex, crawling on the floor to mime distress and doing a convincing acting job in a few storytelling scenarios. (Especially during the performance of "Love Spent," a stand-out track on her new MDNA album.)
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