Monday, August 25, 2008

First Night: Fifty year-old woman relies on her spectacles

Saturday night saw Madonna kick off her Suck Me Hard tour in the Millennium Centre at Cardiff. So, was it worth kicking a bunch of kids' charity football tournament out for?

The reviews are in.

The South Wales Echo found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that people prepared to blow the cash for the tickets were delighted, and thrilled:

Die-hard fans said they enjoyed watching her prowl around in her stylish outfits and vowed to continue to buy Madonna’s records.

Well, yes - that would be what would mark out a die-hard fan from a fair-weather one, presumably.
Sarah Pearson, 27, of Aberystwyth, said: “It was fantastic. I danced the whole way through it. I paid £250 to get into the golden circle without having to queue, but it was well worth it.”

God, yes... a couple of hundred quid is so worth it to avoid having to stand up for a little while. In a queue.

But some people were worried they didn't get value for money:
Susan Harvey, 49, of Whitchurch, Cardiff, said: “I expected her to say thank you to us, considering we came along for the opening night. Her singing was good, but there was no interaction.

“She didn’t do any of the traditional stuff that everyone loves her for. For £85 a ticket, I was really disappointed.”

Since the show considered a fair amount of showing off, and a bit of celeb-mate name-dropping, the Echo concludes that this section of the audience is upset that there was no ho-hum soft-porny bits.

But it's not Madonna's fault if it was a bit flat. It's us. We've let her down:
Una Magill, 30, from Belfast, said: “It just wasn’t as good as her last tour. I think the audience was a bit quiet. There was no drive from the crowd.”

Bad audience. How dare you not make Madonna's eighty-five quid show a success.

While she might have decided to dispense with diamond-encrusted dildoes, Madge did attempt to whip up a bit of a lather with some sixth form politics. Of course, the right wing media have bounced all over it, because it was frankly lame. Right Pundits were the first:
Well, during the concert she used an interlude to knock people over the head with not-so-subtle images to demonize McCain and sanctify Obama. Surely it wasn’t intended to be subliminal, but it was about a subtle as a train wreck.

During an interlude images of fire and brimstone, destruction and … gasp …. global warming, were flashed on a screen. Those images were followed by images of Adolph Hitler, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and … you guessed it …. John McCain.

Later, the same screen was used to project images of peace, love, doves and rainbows. There were images of Beatle John Lennon, Al Gore, Mahatma Gandhi and … you guessed it … Barack Obama.

It's almost as if Madge is a Republican. Does she really think this sort of thing is a help to the liberal movement? It gives the right an open goal to kick for, and makes anyone on the centre-left look like they have no sense of perspective.

Of course, she wanted a reaction. And a reaction she has got. Tucker Bounds, McCain's press spokesvoice, pops up in the New York Daily News:
In a statement, Tucker Bounds, McCain's spokesman, slammed Madonna and labeled Obama as a kindred celebrity.

"The comparisons are outrageous, unacceptable and crudely divisive all at the same time," he said. "It clearly shows that when it comes to supporting Barack Obama, his fellow worldwide celebrities refuse to consider any smear or attack off-limits."

And he does have a point.

Back with the performance, and Bloomberg's Mark Beech was taken:
And forget about an encore. When Madonna was finished, bright lights came on saying ``Game Over.'' She meant it.

It's that queenly attitude, and arrogance, that help explain why she is the world's most successful female artist with 200 million record sales and counting. Madonna kept her talent bubbling through the two-hour gig.

Does arrogance really make her popular? Really?

Unlike the South Wales Echo, for whom the diehard fans were the ones delighted, Bloomberg reckons the die hards were the disgruntled:
Many Madonna fans left the Millennium Stadium in ecstasy. Her tours are all different, with new songs and fresh ideas. Only a few diehard fans were muttering about the sacrilege of reworking old tracks. (Heck, they are Madonna's creations: she can do what she likes with them. And she's known for sacrilege.)

For Showbiz Spy, Guy Rithcie "explains" Britney's cameo:
MADONNA's husband GUY RITCHIE has explained how BRITNEY SPEARS came to make a cameo appearance in his wife's new stage show - it was based on a real-life incident.
the concert included a special video appearance from Spears, who is seen dancing in an elevator.

And Ritchie admits that Spears' role in the show was created after Madonna saw a video of a similar incident.

He says, "Britney in the lift is based on real footage the missus saw of someone stuck in a lift for 48 hours. The dancing is inspired by what happened inside."

Well, that Madonna had basically copied an idea from the viral that was attached to that New Yorker article about the bloke trapped in a lift is hardly news - BoyCulture spotted it straight away - but that doesn't actually explain what Britney was doing in the video, does it?

The FT's Ludovic Hunter-Tilney was less-than-impressed:
The sense of incoherence reached deep into the production. High-tech visuals brought absent collaborators such as Kanye West and Justin Timberlake to life on a succession of screens, yet the technological wizardry failed to gel with the live action. "Devil Wouldn't Recognise You", a tired ballad from Hard Candy , found Madonna in gloomy gothic robes performing within a circular structure on which vast images of raindrops were projected. The devil of the song's title would have struggled to recognise her amid the murk.

Dance routines were subdued, and too many songs found Madonna indulging her recent but rudimentary enthusiasm for playing electric guitar, which had the unhappy effect of leaving her static as she concentrated on some elementary chord change. "Borderline", from her debut album in 1983, was transformed into kindergarten stadium rock. "Ray of Light" sparkled, but the lack of movement as Madonna plucked away leached the song of vigour.

The FT's final verdict?
The show's calculated nature was revealed by her unwillingness to go off script: her first cry to the crowd consisted of the unpromising request, "Are you with me Cardiff? Have you had enough?" towards the end of the show.

Helen Pidd, who went for The Guardian, offers four stars but warns Maddy to drop the guitar hero stance:
At first, it's a good gag seeing the first lady of pop inexpertly brandishing an axe. Her Grade One chords work a treat on a grungey version of Borderline. But as the set wears on, and she plays her way through some of her greatest pop songs - even Ray of Light - you long for Mark E Smith to come on and unplug her amp.

In The Observer, Amelia Hill met some more annoyed fans:
Lynne, wearing her best silky cowboy shirt and pink, flashing angel wings, is outraged. 'It's bollocks, that's what it is,' she said. 'One and a half hours late and she still hasn't bothered to come on stage? It's disrespectful. I've driven down two hours from Birmingham. This just isn't right.'

Madonna might do well to remember that - however in charge she likes to feel - at the end of the night, her tours are underwritten by the people picking up the tickets. Hill reports that by nine o'clock, the auditorium was starting to ripple with boos.

And DandyWalker was getting annoyed:
We waited, and waited and waited. Where the hell was that bitch???!!!!

The crowd started to get tetchy, 3 hours had passed of just starring at an empty stage. No support act to ease the wait, nothing. Just other peoples body odour and, and baring in mind the audience was mostly men who would hold hands, over powering aftershave.

Eventually, she puts in an appearance:
Suddenly it was as though the last three hours was merely a limbo stage. It's almost like she wanted to completely numb our senses to make sure we paid full attention. The lights went down and came up and revealed upon her throne there she was. The crowd were immediately won over, she had us where she wanted us.

Of course! It wasn't a fantastically rude failure to appear ontime, or try and keep the crowd entertained while waiting. It was all part of the show. Being bored to tears was part of the experience - how clever Madonna is.

So the audience forgave her. Being a Madonna fan, you learn to forgive. Lose yourself in the details, forgive, believe. Like MadonnaTribe:
There is a main set of screens at the main stage - which move and change shape and layout and are presented in the shape of a cube at the beginning of the show - and a double layer of semi-transparent cylinder-shaped screens above the satellite stage.

Then, there's a whole lot of smaller platforms, stage and ramps, and even conveyor belts, which disappear completely in the stage layout but pop out when the time is right. The catwalks is shaped as a ramp at the very beginning, then is transformed into a flat runway with steps coming down from the main stage, and then again in a conveyour belt. There's a platform moving from left to right (and the other way round), smaller platforms coming out around the satellite stage, this stage itself rises up, lowers down, and generally speaking there's a diffuse use of props and other smaller elements that Madonna had not used possibly since Drowned World Tour.

The stage goes up, and then lowers down. At least Madonna isn't setting out to disprove that what goes up must come down, then. Maybe that's for the next tour?

Madonnalicious, meanwhile, denies that the booing even happened in the first place. Sort-of:
The crowd booing because she was late on - NOT TRUE. The crowd did boo and then cheer and then boo but this was down to a rather disappointing, half hearted attempt at a mexican wave by the crowd. They booed when the crowd just didn't bother participating! Not because M was late on stage.

So the audience was booing itself, then. If this level of re-education keeps up, she won't even need to bother showing up for the next tour. Just get someone - perhaps in crotchless panties and stripper boots - to go on stage after five hours and tell them that Madonna has said they've had a great time. The audience will happily fall into line.

[You might also like: First Night of the 2006 tour]

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