There is something about a Madonna show that is unlike any other modern tour on the road today. Going into this evening, the thousands who purchased tickets and filled the United Center had high expectations. Comments like, “I wonder what Madonna will do this time around?” echoed through the halls as the arena came to life. For years she has managed to remain relevant and consistently reinvent herself and her tours. What was clear is that Chicago LOVES Madonna.
Paul Oakenfold opened the show and warmed the crowd up during his hour-long set. He performed from 8:30-9:30, at which time the setup began for Madge. After about an hour wait, it was time for what everyone had waited for. Madonna was about to begin at The United Center in Chicago.
For decades Madonna has kept her tours fresh and innovative. She has reinvented her live show time and time again. The MDNA Tour is no different. This is absolutely one of the best live shows a person can experience. Even at 54 years old, she remains one of the greatest Pop touring acts in the world.
The MDNA Tour is an absolute spectacle that rivals even the largest of Broadway shows. Madonna refers to it as “a journey of soul from darkness to light.” The “journey” is presented in 4 parts that include:
With numerous costume changes that included a bad-ass gunslinger and baton twirler, and combined with her energy Madonna was nothing short of impressive. Most 20-year-olds singers can’t perform for two hours like Madonna does.
Half of the show does focus on songs from her new record, MDNA, while the other half of the show consisted of her previous hits. Some of the songs were performed in their original form, while others were reworked arrangements with new samples.
It is no surprise that MDNA focuses heavily on the electronic dance side of Madonna’s music. Combined with her pop showmanship, she crafts a balance of new and old, making the night both eclectic and diverse. The show itself was an emotional journey as Kalakan appeared for the first time in the songs “Like A Prayer Overture”/”Act of Contrition.” This was certainly an interesting way to begin. A large thurible swung from side to side, creating an image reminiscent of a priest swinging incense at a church. Kalakan, dressed with huge head dresses and robes, chanted excerpts from “Lekhah Dodi” in front of a giant cross that read “MDNA” as dancers in red robes pulled on giant ropes and walked in a circle to raise the thurible over the crowd. Behind Kalakan were several contortionist dancers dressed as evil-looking birds.
This went on for a little under four minutes and just like that, boom! Madonna appeared to be praying inside what was inferred to be a confessional hung above the stage. Madonna began with: “Oh my God, I’m highly sorry for having offended thee and I contest all my sins, because I dred the loss of Heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all, because I love him and I want so badly to be good.”
Just like that, the confessional lowered to the stage and Madonna appeared beginning her first song, “Girl Gone Wild.” The dancing was strong, as were the costumes in this number. The next song, “Gangbang,” took on a life of its own. A full hotel room set was rolled onto the stage and Madonna, with AK-47 in hand, began shooting dancers dressed as robbers. The dancers came from everywhere: above, behind, to the side, etc. The song itself had a TON of energy. It was by far one of the best songs of the night. The song concluded with Madonna going to the far tip of the runway out in the crowd, shooting one of the robbers and saying. “If you’re gonna act like a bitch, you’re gonna die like a bitch!” Madonna truly made violence sexy in a way that I had not seen anyone else do before.
Madonna’s show lasted close to two hours. It was very clear that this tour is NOT a biggest hits tour, although there were definitely hits performed, including: “Papa Don’t Preach”, “Holiday”, “Vogue”, “Express Yourself,” and “Like A Prayer.” Her hits made up about half the show. Some of the hits were also performed, but in a reworked, rearranged way. For example, “Express Yourself” included excerpts of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” displaying how close the two songs are along with “She’s Not Me” from the Hard Candy album. A weird moment of the night came when Madonna once again went out to the end of the runway and performed a version of “Like A Virgin” with a solo piano player. During the song, Madonna actually climbed up on to the standup piano and laid on her back on top of the piano singing the song. This version contained samples from Abel Korzeniowski’s “Evgeni’s Waltz.”
One of the more interesting song reinventions of the night was “Open Your Heart,” which was performed with Kalakan. This time the group included excerpts from “Sagarra jo!” They would reappear again during “Masterpiece,” “I’m A Sinner,” and “MDNA.” The songs she didn’t play — including “Music,” “Ray of Light,” “La Isla Bonita,” “Frozen,” “Material Girl,” “Lucky Star,” and others — are testament to the amazing career Madonna possesses.
Madonna’s singing was far from perfect. However, it was obvious many times throughout the night that she was indeed singing. She also danced her ass off for two hours straight. The choreography was absolutely spectacular from beginning to end. The dancers she has on this tour are truly some of the absolute best in show business. Whether they were bouncing off ropes stretched across the stage or doing back-flips and other acrobatic moves, they were amazing.
There was also a more personal touch to this show than I had expected where Madonna interacted with the crowd. This was both good and bad. She came to the sides of the stage several times and joked that since they were the “expensive seats,” those of us sitting there were, “too rich to sing along.” She called out a few fans wearing her t-shirts in the pit in front of the stage saying, “Go buy more t-shirts, I have 4 kids and a lot of shoes to buy.” She also took the time to pay tribute to her friend Oprah Winfrey, stating that the last time she had been inside the United Center was for Oprah’s farewell show. Madonna made a point to say that you don’t need to be Oprah or Madonna to change the world, “You just have to be you.” It was definitely a cool sentiment that was appreciated by all in attendance.
The show production, as I mentioned earlier, was comparable to, if not better than, any Broadway show out right now. The video screen stretched across the entire stage and parted ways in the middle enough for set pieces to be brought out. Madonna’s MDNA Tour is a multimedia experience that far surpasses the common fan’s expectations for what they are about to see when they enter the arena. The show makes you feel like you are in a gigantic sound stage on the set of a movie.
This is truly one of the most artistic and creative Madonna tours ever and I would HIGHLY recommend it to everyone. It is true the ticket prices are high, however you get what you pay for and MDNA is well worth the money.
MADONNA UNITED CENTER SEPTEMBER 19th 2012 SETLIST
The Prayer Overture: Act of Contrition
(with Kalakan) (with excerpts from “Lekhah dodi”)
Girl Gone Wild
(with samples from “Material Girl” and “Give It 2 Me”)
Papa Don’t Preach
(with samples from “Girl Gone Wild”)
I Don’t Give A
(video interlude; with samples from “Heartbeat”)
(with excerpts from “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga and “She’s Not Me”)
Give Me All Your Luvin’
Turning Up the Hits
(video interlude; with samples from several Madonna songs)
Turn Up the Radio
Open Your Heart
(with Kalakan) (with excerpts from “Sagarra jo!” by Kalakan)
Justify My Love
(with samples from “Ashamed of Myself” by Kelley Polar and excerpts from “Erotica”)
Like a Virgin
(with samples from “Evgeni’s Waltz” by Abel Korzeniowski)
Nobody Knows Me
I’m a Sinner
(with Kalakan) (with excerpts from “Cyber-Raga”)
Like a Prayer
(Benny Benassi remix with samples from “Girl Gone Wild”)
Photos by: Tyler Curtis of Darkroom Demons www.darkroomdemons.com
Review by: Shawn Kellner