The glittery, pink gumball rolls down the path, picking up speed as it winds itself around the twists and turns of the metal track. Suddenly, its path straightens, heading straight toward us. The ball flings itself off the tracks from sheer inertia, spinning faster and faster as the screams grew to shrieks. Finally, the impact: The ball smacks into the massive LED screens in a smokescreen of glitter and dust. As the speckles disappear, the screens glow, spelling out â€œC-A-N-D-Y.â€
Itâ€™s Wednesday, October 15th, the first night of Madonnaâ€™s two concerts in Boston on the Sticky & Sweet Tour. I am standing on the floor level, next to my friend Michael. We are fifteen rows from the catwalk. Both of us, equipped with our glittery home-made outfits, are screaming at the top of our lungs. Slowly, the blinking screens turn inward to reveal a casual, smirking Madonna, seated luxuriously atop a â€œMâ€ shaped throne with cane in hand. She might have been singing, but at that moment, I donâ€™t think anyone could have heard her.
The Sticky & Sweet Tour symbolizes Madonnaâ€™s final circuit around the world under contract with her longtime label, Warner Brothers, before moving onto her new label. In a way, the event marks this finality, as images of Madonnaâ€™s videos and performances over the past twenty-five years flash across the giant screens throughout the night. Many of the dance moves are reminiscent of past tour moments, and Madonna injects many fan favorites into the mix.
But this is Madonna, an artist that refuses to stay put in time. As a result, many of Madgeâ€™s classics were glossed over with a fresh coat of relevance. While I generally consider myself a purist for her original material, I found the updated editions to be excellently crafted. â€œVogueâ€ benefited from a nice sprucing-up with the horn-heavy back beat of her latest release, â€œ4 Minutes,â€ while â€œBorderlineâ€ underwent an incredibly convincing rock-and-roll reinterpretation, harkening back to Madgeâ€™s rock roots in the â€˜80â€™s with Emmy and the Emmys. â€œMusicâ€ encountered a fresh club reinterpretation, incorporating samples of Fedde le Grandâ€™s â€œPut Ur Hands Up 4 Detroitâ€ and Indeepâ€™s â€œLast Night A DJ Saved My Life.â€ And while youâ€™ll never convince me that a guitar-fueled rendition of â€œHung Upâ€ could be somehow greater than the glittery synth sounds of the original, Madge still managed to rock it out on that purple electric guitar during the showâ€™s closing moments.
Early into the show, Madonna pulled out her guitar, strumming her way into an electrified version of â€œHuman Nature.â€ While she sang, Britney Spears flickered on-screen for her cameo video montage on the monitors above. Throughout the song, Britney is seen through multiple surveillance cameras, dueling out her demons inside of a broken elevator. Losing her cool, she begins rolling around on the floor, screaming, and pulling at her hair manically as the camera films her every moveâ€”The perfect metaphor for the pop starâ€™s chaotic life experiences. As the track winds down, the two superstars come together for one gloriously timed moment: Just as Madonna ends with a sizzling â€œIâ€™m not your bitch!â€ Britney appears on screen, devilishly utters her famous line, â€œItâ€™s Britney, bitch.â€ The stadium briefly exploded, my vision briefly clouded, and I had myself a momentâ€¦Enough said.
Another highlight occurred half-way through during â€œSheâ€™s Not Me,â€ an angst-heavy kiss-off track against the sneaky seductresses that try to weasel their way between Madge and her man. Donning a pair of cheeky, heart-shaped sunglasses and drenched in sugary-sweet sarcasm, the singer skipped around the stage and crooned the track as dancers rose up from the catwalk floor, dressed in Madgeâ€™s classic looks. She skipped over to the statuesque imposters, plucking at their lifeless bodies and ruffling their outfits. Once the track takes it’s brilliant turn toward techno, Madonna got a bit mental. Taking the wedding veil of the â€œLike A Virginâ€ Madonna, Lady M went over to the â€œExpress Yourselfâ€ Madonna, smothered her face with a sinister kiss, and choked out the girl. The music was now bursting through the arena, pumping with a hard synth bass, causing Madge to go ballistic: Thrashing, gyrating, and smashing the floor of the catwalk, almost as wildly as the crowdâ€™s noise.
The Middle-Eastern tinged gypsy section was perhaps the weakest part of the night, including a fairly hum-drum folk performance by Madgeâ€™s colorfully adorned dancers and musicians. Luckily, the moment was surpassed quickly as the lights dimmed for Madonnaâ€™s controversial interlude, the â€œGet Stupidâ€ video. As has become standard with all Madonna concerts, the montage depicts images of dictatorship, genocide, and political corruption, invoking the crowd to get active and take responsibility for the country. Anything you say, Madonnaâ€¦Just come back to us.
As if to revive the crowd, Madge soon launched into her classic, â€œLike a Prayer.â€ As sirens and horns blared from the speakers at maximum volume, mystical text blurred across the screens in Arabic, Japanese, Hebrew, and English. A stomping drum beat kicked in, as a drifting chorus of â€œâ€¦And it feels like homeâ€ wove itself around the stadium. Madonna dramatically paced the stage, the crowdâ€™s hands shot up and waved from side to side, and the drum beat continued to grow stronger. The performance might have been the closest Iâ€™ve ever been to encountering a religious revival. Also, I think I saw God, though it might have just been a back-up dancer.
I must say, while the crowd had its moments, its behavior was generally atrocious. Of my own row, there were only three people dancing. The rest stood motionless, their eyes wandering and weaving through the surrounding crowd. Some even carried on conversations as the performances were happening! No toe-tapping, no swayingâ€¦Nothing. Now, considering the price I paid for floor seats (better left unsaid, really), I was utterly astonished by the complete indifference displayed by the audience. That applies especially to the creeper sitting to my right, who spent the majority of the concert texting his boyfriend on his Blackberry when he wasnâ€™t staring blankly at my face as I danced. (Flattering!)
I wasnâ€™t the only one who noticed. Always the charmer, Madonna found different ways to let the audience know how she was feeling: â€œWake up, Boston! Am I boring you?!â€ sheâ€™d taunt, pointing out into the lukewarm crowd. â€œThen stand up, motherf*ckers!â€ Clearly, her Madgesty was not having it either.
Of course, there were a whole host of issues crawling up Madonnaâ€™s fishnets that night: There was a definite problem with the microphone testing before the show, causing the show to start around fifteen minutes late. Worse yet, the air conditioners were blowing in full force. For those unaware, air conditioning is one of Madonnaâ€™s greatest performance pet peeves. She doesnâ€™t like the cold air blowing during her shows. I think it has something to do with her vocal cords? I donâ€™t know, but come onâ€¦They donâ€™t call her a diva for nothing.
Oh, and then thereâ€™s that whole divorce thing. Six hours before show time, Madonnaâ€™s publicist announced that Madonna and Guy Ritchie were separating after over ten years of marriage. Our thoughts wandered that day: Would she cancel the show? Throw things at us? Break down and cry? Our concerns were left unanswered until â€œMiles Away,â€ a song written about Guy. Before opening, Madonna looked out into the crowd. â€œThis song is dedicated to the emotionally retarded,â€ she said sweetly, â€œMaybe you know some people who fall into that category–God knows I do.â€ With a quick smirk, Madge drove into her guitar with a distinctly bitter undertone I donâ€™t ever remember the track having.
Minor set-backs aside, the concert was essentially perfection. Madonnaâ€™s dance moves were spot-on; her voice as flawless as a studio recording. No matter how intricate the choreography, the woman belted out each note effortlessly, and with a great deal of satisfied confidence. Two hours moved as a two second powerhouse of stage presence, charisma, and energy wrapped inside of a rock-laden theatrical extravaganza. More than anything, Madonna proved herself, as she has for her entire career, to be one of the greatest entertainers of our time. Iâ€™d go on further, but Iâ€™m holding my tongue in order to avoid running the risk of sounding absurd.