Brooklyn Academy Of Music, New York
Madonna?’ said the immigration officer at JFK. ‘She’s, like, 70, right?’ Well, no – she’s 61, and determined to prove that 61 is the new 31. The drive that propelled her to fame is now pointed towards eternal youth.
This hasn’t stopped the UK singles chart, which she ruled for decades, deciding that she’s past it. Medellín, the Latin-flavoured lead single from her new album Madame X, is stronger than most of her 21st-century hits, yet it peaked at No 87.
On stage Madonna remains a magnet, capable of filling the biggest venues. In fact she began like that: her first full-length London gig, in 1987, was at Wembley Stadium. And she smashed it.
On stage Madonna remains a magnet, capable of filling the biggest venues. In fact she began like that: her first full-length London gig, in 1987, was at Wembley Stadium. And she smashed it
Now, on the Madame X tour, she finally gets round to playing theatres. The only thing not shrinking is the price of the tickets. Madonna, who has never liked to see a tout turn a profit, is charging £480 for the best seats.
Not that the fans seem to mind: after announcing six nights at the London Palladium, the promoters added nine more.
When big names play small halls, they generate a massive buzz. The punters filing into an elegant old opera house in Brooklyn are pumped. Everybody’s phone is impounded in a sealed pouch to stop us posting fuzzy videos on social media.
It feels officious, but fair enough if the idea is to make the experience theatrical rather than gig-like.
In the theatre, though, things happen on time – and Madonna doesn’t appear till 10.50pm. It’s a dangerous game, especially given the prices, which make for a more mature audience.
Of my three nearest neighbours, who feel like old friends by the time the curtain rises, two leave well before the end. ‘I don’t care who the f*** you are,’ says one, a true New Yorker. ‘You can’t come on three hours after the time on the ticket.’
After this, the show had better be good. And it does get off to a memorable start. Two figures take the stage, a man dancing and a woman typing, on an actual typewriter.
IT’S A FACT
Madonna may be a big noise in the music business, but she suffers from brontophobia: a fear of thunder and lightning.
The words appear on a big screen above her: ‘Artists are here to disturb the peace – James Baldwin.’
From behind a giant American flag, Madonna makes her entrance. As she sings God Control, more dancers appear, some dressed as cops, confronting the others. It’s intense and compelling.
As the live action merges with pre-recorded videos, this is a hybrid art form that doesn’t have a name yet: a cocktail of pop, dance, film, politics and design.
After opening with two songs from Madame X, Madonna wisely goes back to the hits for a stripped-down Human Nature and an a capella Express Yourself. She’s joined by a chorus of 11 black women and girls, including three of her six children – Mercy James, who is 13, and the twins Stella and Esther, six.
Isn’t it past their bedtime?
The middle of the show is visually gorgeous but musically thin. Madonna falls into an old trap, being too much in love with her latest album. She plays 11 tracks from Madame X and only eight from all its predecessors combined.
The new songs, crunchy as they are, can’t compete with the gleaming pop of Vogue, Papa Don’t Preach or Like A Prayer.
A sagging middle can be forgiven if it’s followed by a killer ending, but four of the last five numbers are new ones. By now, well past midnight, Madonna is delivering monologues, some in character as Madame X, who is becoming a bit of a bore.
The watchword of the tour is ‘intimate’. And it is, in that you see a superstar with the naked eye and feel her powerful charisma. But Madonna still keeps her distance, even when descending into the stalls for a rather awkward chat with a fan.
The spectacle has been superb, the music patchy, the time-keeping abysmal.
Madonna is at the London Palladium, January 27 to February 16, madonna.com
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