with Paul Oakenfold
American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL • November 19, 2012
There are moments in life that are about as close to perfect as can be. Singing along to "Like a Prayer" with Madonna, a choir, and 19,000 other fans is one of those moments. In fact, seeing a Madonna production up close -- and not on DVD or pay-per-view or VHS -- is one of those moments! The whole two-hour Experience. Sure, there are folks who will complain that she went on too late (90 minutes later than originally scheduled, to be exact), or that she didn't sing a certain song, but to all of the naysayers I will say this: Quit yer bitchin'! It's MADONNA, for chrissakes!
"Am I keeping you up?" the Material Girl teased on the first night of a two-night stint at Miami's American Airlines Arena, the final two North American dates of her MDNA Tour. "What happened, Miami? You guys used to be fun!"
Did many Madonna fans grow old and get tired, or are some of the Miami fans just too spoiled, having had the opportunity to see her play on every tour she's ever embarked on? Madonna always plays Miami -- never anywhere else in Florida, mind you (at least not since 1985), but always there. I had people behind me tossing popcorn at my dancing back telling me to "sit down." REALLY?! For MADONNA?!
Here's what I can tell you about me personally: I found out at 3 pm that I had tickets to this show, four hours south of where I live. Within 30 minutes, my girlfriend and I were in the car and our way -- road trippin' to Miami. Money flew out of our pockets on tolls, on gas, on parking, on overpriced beer. Time ticked on, but we hardly noticed, because we were caught up in the DJ stylings of opening act Paul Oakenfold, who found a way to mix both The White Stripes, Nirvana, and Red Hot Chili Peppers into his otherwise electronic dance music mixes (love your taste, Paul). Caught up in the magic, caught up in just BEING THERE, sit down, I will not!
Would it have been better if Madonna had started the show while the crowd was still feeling the Oakenfold high? Of course, but then again, anticipation has its own appeal. The delay of pleasure that makes that sweet satisfaction feel even tastier when it finally comes... if anyone should be granted the permission to make us all salivate in waiting, it's Madonna.
This particular night was being filmed for a future DVD release, so robotic-looking video cameras swooped around the stage filming every second for the Madonna concert vault (every tour she's done since 1985's The Virgin Tour has been filmed and released, in some fashion), adding to the surreality of the over-the-top production...
...that included about a dozen stage designs and as many costume changes, created by her long-time collaborator Jean Paul Gaultier. There's even been an updated version of the iconic cone bra -- this time it's black, structured like a cage, and worn over a suit and tie outfit during a catwalk-strutting performance of "Vogue."
A Madonna show is more than just a concert, it's a theatrical Show, and this particular tour takes the audience through a cathartic journey from dark to light. The stage is first set as a gothic cathedral complete with chanting monks and a massive incensory that swings and smokes above the audience's heads while Madonna is lowered to the stage as a silhouette inside of a confessional box.
A black-catsuit-clad, gun-toting portion follows, replete with dancers with automatic rifles, simulated murder, and blood splatter that splashes onto the large screens onstage. It's easy to see why this portion has sparked some controversy in certain cities where the tour has landed, but the images are fitting for the song selections ("Revolver" and "Gang Bang"). It's Madonna's Tarantino moment and it's as shocking as her simulated masturbation scene on 1990's Blond Ambition Tour.
The marching band and cheerleader section is not only one of the most visually interesting segments, but also centers around a brilliant mash-up of "Express Yourself" and Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." The two songs swirl around one another so seamlessly that a lot of listeners seem to have missed it, along with the cheeky jab Madonna threw Gaga's way by slipping in a quick chorus of "She's Not Me." The old, and new, pop classic segued right into "Give Me All Your Luvin," performed true to last year's Super Bowl half time show, with Madonna and her female dancers cheering with pom poms and batons, and a live marching band enhancing the already driving drum beats. Of course, this time, much of the marching band was suspended from the rafters high above.
Also visually stimulating was the strip-tease that accompanied a sultry "Candy Shop" and "Like a Virgin" -- the latter slowed down and paired with a piano. Money littered the corner of the catwalk as the 54-(!!!)-year-old icon crawled along the floor, sensuously singing while flashing her ass at the crowd. It was a good thing her son Rocco stayed offstage for this portion ( the 11-year old is a dancer on the tour... and the dancing gene runs strong in the this family; he's quite good! ), no one wants to see his mom stripping down to nearly nothing -- even if that mom is Madonna.
The dancers are their own spectacle throughout the production, often being allowed their own moments to shine and show off, like during a gypsy-themed dance off, in which even Madonna takes a seat and cheers them on. Her dancers bring a bit of Cirque du Soleil to the show -- they dance on wires, do acrobatic jumps atop of moving cubes high above the floor of the stage, and they all seem to be double-jointed, moving their arms in ways that no human should be able to.
As the two-hour show neared its end, her entire troupe descended in robes to serve as the choir for the roof-rattling "Like a Prayer," whose joyous moment I already gushed over. The joy stretched on with a colorful encore of "Celebration" so hypnotic that even the stage was dancing (well, lighted cube sections moved up and down while the dancers bounded from one to another). It may have been way past many people's bedtimes for a Monday night, but this exhilarated ending should have served as a shot to keep the party going for everyone as they piled out onto the 2 am streets of Miami.
The party has yet to stop, behind my eyes, inside my memory. I was seven years old when I picked out and bought my first record, a 45 single of "Material Girl," decades ago. Not a year has passed that Madonna has so much as teetered off the pedestal of Pop Genius from where she has stood for nearly my lifetime. For no other artist would I have dropped everything and driven four hours on a moment's notice. Madonna demands throwing caution to the wind, and I will forever be grateful that I did!
Gallery of live shots from this show: Madonna.