Concert Review: Madonna: Confessions Tour
"Ladies and gentlemen, the show has just begun," declared Madonna on the opening night of her Confessions Tour. The proclamation, delivered in a voice devoid of jubilation and rife with authority and seduction, came four numbers into the set—four numbers so jaw-droppingly spectacular that the show could have ended then and there and the crowd would have gone home happy elated. But those first four numbers, dazzling as they are, are merely the opening act to what is an astonishing three-ring circus of a show.
Madonna has always been a woman who knows how to make an entrance, but this time around, she sneaks up on you. The lights abruptly go down, an eerie underscore kicks up, and an assortment of video screens sprawled out over the stage flicker to life with Madonna stoically strolling through a ghostly horse stable before turning to the camera to address us with the spoken-word opening of the "Confessions on a Dancefloor" tune "Future Lovers" as the song's popping and clicking beat begins. "I'm gonna tell you about love," she intones, top hat cocked to one side, hair obscuring one eye. "Let's forget your life...Come with me," she whispers. While you were busy watching the screens, a gigantic disco ball—encrusted with Swarovski crystals, thank you very much—begins its descent to the end of the catwalk that extends deep into the seats. Suddenly, you notice the crowd seems to be watching a tennis match, their heads darting between the guest of honor's onscreen face and the glittering sphere drifting down from the rafters. The buzzing guttural loop of the song's bassline kicks in like a grenade exploding, the disco ball opens like a flower, and there she is: in full equestrian regalia, microphone in one hand, riding crop in the other, top hat framing a mischievous grin as she points at you with her whip and commands you to "connect to the sky future lovers, rise" and slinks her way down the discoball's sparkling steps to the stage. She's trapped you. You're hers. You're not going anywhere.
This has always been Madonna's method—lure 'em in, hook 'em hard, grab 'em by the jugular, and grip like a vise until the curtain falls two hours later. And she did just that. After morphing into a short cover of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," from which it derives, "Future Lovers" gives way to an elated rendering of new single "Get Together", before she retreats to a side stage to break her promise of never singing "Like a Virgin" ever again. Riding atop a revolving set-piece that is part carousel horse, part mechanical bull, and part stripper pole, she writhes and rocks as images of horseback-riding accidents and x-rays fill the screens behind her, a nod to her recovery after last summer's serious horseback-riding accident. Her leg curled seductively around the pole, she hollers "That song is not about sex, it's about survival" to the jubilant cheers of the crowd. Then, a jungle gym descends for a frenetic performance of "Jump," with her corps of dancers performing Parkour, an inner-city Parisian dance involving leaping between the walls of buildings. Not even a quarter of the show has passed.
From here, the fireworks gain speed like a runaway train. The already infamous "disco crucifixion" begins, light reflecting off its mirrored surface and slicing through the arena, as Madonna begins a solemn delivery of her early ballad "Live to Tell" while grim statistics and images of African children orphaned by AIDS flash across the video screens. The image is astounding in its power and beauty—and its gall. The widespread uproar over the crucifixion is telling, for the uproar is precisely the point: will you angrily glare at her as she perches herself on a mirror-covered cross and become enraged at her nerve, or will you take in the entire scene and become convicted to do something about the tragedy unfolding before your eyes? Taken together, the image is at once heartbreaking and spellbinding.
Next comes an exhilarating rendition of "Isaac," accompanied by the Israeli singer Yitzhak Sinwani who accompanies Madonna on the album, followed by a rollicking treatment of "Sorry"—complete with acrobatics—before Madonna begins a set of guitar-driven performances. First up is a metal-shredding version of "I Love New York." Madonna has an uncanny ability to take her albums' weakest tracks and transmogrify them into exhilarating live performances, and here, she does just that as "Confessions on a Dancefloor's" weakest track becomes one of the most frenetic moments of the night, banging an electric guitar as a female David Bowie. Next is a guitar-rock reworking of "Ray of Light;" a remixed "Let it Will Be," its pounding beat literally shaking the floor; and gorgeous acoustic renderings of "Drowned World" and the heartbreaking dirge of "Paradise (Not for Me)."
Then Madonna ups the ante, strutting onstage in a white three-piece leisure suit to the tune of the 1970's hit "Disco Inferno" and, flanked by her two backup singers and her army of dancers—on roller skates—launching into an ingenious mash-up of "Music," the song's lyrics sung over the music of "Disco Inferno" accompanied by hilariously dead-on John Travolta disco-era choreography. Then comes a fittingly salsafied "La Isla Bonita;" an early, unreleased version of naughty hit "Erotica" called "You Thrill Me;" and the ancient "Lucky Star," which seamlessly morphed into the screaming rollick of "Hung Up," the transition officially sealed as she reappears in the now iconic purple leotard, her fleet of dancers filling the stage for an en masse disco roll as gold balloons rained down on the catwalk. And then, quickly as she came, she disappears beneath the stage.
"Confessions" is a sort of hybrid of her last two tours: 2001's "Drowned World", which was all dark imagery and polished aloofness; and 2004's "Reinvention Tour", which was an exhausting, rollicking, dance-filled romp that for all its exhilarating fun was also at times awkward and perplexing (what, exactly, did that opening number have to do with the rest of the show anyway?!). The "Confessions Tour" cleverly mixes all the aloofness and jubilance and still leaves room for Madge's political rants without seeming disjointed or interrupted. There's a through-line here, and her appeals to your heart and brain are a part of the ride, fitting in seamlessly instead of feeling like self-congratulating sidebars. (The lack of tired "Evita" rehashings helps immensely too). And while it could have benefited from a little more dancing, a little more involvement with her hard-working backup singers, who were uncharacteristically relegated to the background, "Confessions" is, from beginning to end, a rocketing, glittering spectacle that proves, once and for all, why Madonna is the undisputed Queen of Pop. As if we needed any proof.
To check out more photos from the Confessions Tour go to www.madonnalicious.com