Thursday, June 24, 2004

Madonna at the Garden

I went to the Madonna concert last night at Madison Square Garden. The future Mrs. Wexr has been a fan forever, and her enthusiasm added to my enjoyment. I'll get to the concert review in a moment, but first, a few words about Madonna: She is the only advanced woman artist that I'm familiar with, which isn't to say that aren't more. Actually, Cher is advanced now that I think about it. Highlights would be the blasphemous Pepsi commercial, "Truth or Dare" (advanced artists like movies about tours or themselves in general, Bob Dylan especially--Must talk more about that), and her cover of "American Pie." She has transformed herself many times, which is a hallmark of the advanced artist (Lou Reed, David Bowie, Bob Dylan). She also acts. And she embraces younger artists (Britney Spears) and incorporates "what's happening now" (like the vocoder she uses in so much of the new stuff) in her music. But let's talk about the concert.

Before the show began, men in tuxedos sold champagne with a slice of strawberry in it, a nice advanced touch. The show started with Madonna offstage, but some music that her fans seemed to recognize was played while elements of the stage revolved, and two dancers were lowered from near the ceiling on rope swings. Then Madonna was elevated from below the stage to great fanfare. She opened with "Vogue," which sounded great. The band, which, from what I could tell from my limited-viewing seat on the side of the stage, consisted of a drummer (who was fantastic), a guy playing keyboards and bass, a lead guitarist with a mohawk, and a couple of backup signers. Having a guy with a mohawk in your band is advanced if you are Madonna. It is not advanced if you are in Green Day or No Doubt. The backup singers were African American women, a must for the advanced artist. My only complaint about "Vogue" was that she seemed not very excited about singing it. She delivered the necessary performance, but lacked enthusiasm. "Vogue" was good, but not advanced, other than the band.

Things got advanced a little later when the dancers all emerged in fatigues (the "don't ask, don't tell" dancers, I wittily thought to myself) and acted like they were in the army. There were cages in which dancers would bang up against the bars and people would come and beat them. I can only assume this was a political statement about the recent torture scandals. Or perhaps it was just good luck? Things got really advanced when, during what I believe was "American Life," a bunch of dancers came out dressed as nuns, Hasidic Jews, Muslims, and just about every kind of person with international flavor you could think of. There was a theme of unity throughout the night--Madonna is a uniter, not a diva--and this was the most explicit example of that. The song rocked with unbelievable authority. It almost had a Ministry-type sound, and she seemed finally to be getting into it.

Another noteworthy moment was when she played "Burning Up" (or "Burning Up for Your Love," not sure of the name). It was noteworthy because she played the guitar. She is a novice at guitar (you can tell because she constantly looks down at the fret board and holds the pick in a very certain way, as if were the pick to shift in her fingers, she would be lost), but she clearly loved playing. People might scoff at this attempt, but I think it's rather brave to be a beginner and play in front of all those people. Plus, if you've been making music as long as she has, you have to make it fresh. I think that goes to the heart of the advanced theory (for me, anyway). A genius requires challenges. In the beginning of their careers, the challenges come from other people, whereas when they advance, the challenges are completely personal. So I love that she plays the guitar.

An advanced moment was when she covered "Imagine." Every critic I have read mentions this as being unfortunate or the low-point of the evening. I was ready to feel the same way, at least through an advanced lens. But everyone was moved and singing along. It was a moment that I think most critics couldn't enjoy because that song has become a cliché. But at one point, I'll bet even those critics loved the original version of that song, but that moment has been long forgotten. Now if, say, Britney Spears covered "Imagine," it would be awful (even though I love her). But Madonna is one of the few people who has had an impact as close to John Lennon's as anyone, so I say she has the right to cover it if she wants to. Plus, the audience, including me, all sang together, and it was a very nice moment. So good for her!

Let's finish up: She sang a lovely version of "Crazy for You," which she dedicated to her fans who have "stuck with her for 20 years." There was a sequence that included a guy playing bagpipes and a drum corps banged along. At one point the stage revolved to reveal a half-pipe, on which a skater did some minimal tricks. It almost goes without saying that he had a mohawk. There three truly amazing acrobats doing things on rope swings that were twenty feet in the air (without a net, of course). The dancers were also great. (Side note: I was a ballet/modern dancer for about 10 years. I went to the American Dance Festival, and so did Madonna!) Everything was done to perfection, except for a little problem Madonna had with a monitor and some lyrics, which she joked about good-naturedly. Her voice was great, and she sang the whole time. No lip-synching at all.

I think the most advanced part of the whole thing was the name of the tour: "The Re-Invention Tour." I have no idea what that refers to.


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