Friday, July 20, 2012

Madonna @ NIA Birmingham, Thursday 19th July 2012

Back in the glory days of pop, the 1980s, there was a holy trinity of artists who pretty much ruled the roost – Jacko, Prince and Madonna. Sadly Jacko’s now playing that great gig in the sky and Prince lives in his own little world most of the time so that just leaves Her Madgesty to carry on releasing records, touring, exposing herself, winding up the French...

This current tour (her biggest to date apparently) includes 90 mega-shows which, with an average ticket price of around £80 (some are a heck of a lot more), well and truly proves that the material girl’s still living up to her name. A quick gander at the merch desks backs this up, t-shirts £35, programme £25, hoodie...a wallet busting £90...hell even her latest CD was being flogged at frankly unbelievable £20. That seems to be par for the course on tours like this though and the fans happily doled out the dosh. £15 for a mug? said it.

Once you’d remortgaged your home to pay for a fridge magnet (classy) and found your seat (some of which seemed to be in a different county) you were in for a fairly long wait. In fact it was 9.45 before things got going. Not a patch on Guns n’Roses, who routinely keep fans waiting for several years before Axl waddles on stage, but still...a tad tardy. Unsurprisingly given her capacity for splitting opinion there have been some spectacularly savage and fantastically fawning reviews for this show. The haters (and there are quite a few of ‘em) bemoan the lack of the old hits and the sometimes radical reinvention of those that are included. The lovers...well...they’d be happy if she just showed up and waved for an hour or two. The truth lies somewhere between the two camps. This isn’t a bad show. Far from it. It’s got some great moments, some truly iconic performances’s Ma-bloody-donna.

The set’s heavy on tracks from current album MDNA that’s what the tour’s called the fact that this comes as a surprise to some people says more about their ability to read and come to a logical conclusion than anything else. MDNA ain’t her best effort, but again it’s not worthy of the savaging that some critics...yawn...have heaped on it. It’s just a collection of big dumb pop songs, like opening number Girl Gone Wild for instance. After some scary monks ring bells for a bit and waft a giant censer (that thing they use for burning incense in churches) Madge appears in a black catsuit, the ‘monks’ disrobe and they all jig about for a bit, thrusting crotches and revealing the amazing multi platform stage thingy (bits pop up and disappear all over the She slipped in a brief snatch of Material Girl (you’ve got to love Madge’s brief for good measure too. Next up Gang Bang was supposed to feature a motel room set but it seems to have gone AWOL, maybe it was on the piss somewhere. Sets do that sometimes. I once saw a Kasabian set playing billiards in Digbeth. True story. Anyway, being the pro she is she improvised, strutting around the empty stage shooting the shit out of everything against a gory blood splattered screen projected backdrop. Who the lover is that she wants to blow away we only guess...poor A neat segueway into Papa Don’t Preach gets the hairs on the back of the neck rising and for anyone who grew up in the 80s this shit’s pure magic. Carried aloft by some weird masked dudes the show shifts up a gear with Hung Up, performed on and under some large purple rubber bands stretched across the stage. There’s been some speculation about how much of this show is sung live and how much is pre-recorded and this section looked a little iffy. I could be wrong, it’s hard to tell when the vocal’s been vocodered to death.

There are a bundle of tracks from the new album, some good, some a little more ‘meh’...but again even the average stuff is well presented. That’s something a lot of critics seems to have missed. It’s a slick production with some neat touches, the flying drummers, the dancers falling into a pit, the seemingly endless stage’s a brilliantly choreographed piece of theatre. Express Yourself cheekily morphed into La Gaga’s Born This Way, highlighting the similarity between the two tracks. There’s seemingly no love lost between the two of them (or their fans judging by some of the hilarious online spats) but let’s face it, they’re from the same mould. Yep, get over it. Give Me All Your Lovin’ is one of MDNA’s stronger numbers and the majorette routine was bubblegum cute (ahhh sweet memories of Toni Basil). As if to ram home the point that Madge was there a few decades before Gaga though a brief video montage of hits reminded you...and I know I’ve said this before...but’re watching MADONNA tonight people.

Speaking of which Vogue was pure classic Madonna, a little remixed at the start but not too faffed about with, with Madge giving particularly good face. Like A Virgin was reinvented as a piano led waltz, transforming it from a horny chat up line to more of a post coital hymn to lost love and fading youth perhaps. It’s a bold interpretation, again attracting much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth from people who’d clearly prefer Madge to play it other words just how they’ve sung along to it on their record player...Walkman...i-Pod. That’s the crux of the problem. Madonna’s such an icon, with at least a dozen truly classic hits, that many people don’t seem to want anything new. They want her preserved in aspic from whichever era they discovered her in and, let’s face it, that would be the easy (and I’m guessing) more profitable option. Surely the fact that she’s still willing to do something new is to be applauded?
Any gripes about of the lack of old hits were frankly rendered obsolete by a glorious Like A Prayer, arguably her finest moment. You’re watching Madonna people. Singing LIKE A FREAKIN’ PRAYER. Yep, you’ve spunked a week’s wages on the tickets, pawned your grandma for a programme and sold a kidney to buy a beer but it was all worth it just for that moment when several thousand people clapped their hands off eh?

Celebration closed the show, pointlessly really. Like A Prayer was all the celebration we needed and next to it this track’s like a wet weekend in Rhyl. With that Madge and her entourage disappeared into the set and the middle aged masses (the majority of the crowd for 30...okay...40 something) filed out into the night to relieve the babysitter.

Ignore the bad reviews, they’re seriously out of line. Ignore the arse licking reviews too. The show has faults, some of the tracks are weak and how much of it is actually live is questionable. But at the end of the night the pluses far outweigh the minuses. This is one of pop music’s true icons (up there with Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Daphne and Celeste...), the biggest selling female recording artist in history, still hauling her ass around the world for you. Yes, you. Open your heart and she’s still ray of light...

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