As a 40-something life-long concert goer, it’s hard to believe that until last week, I’d never seen Madonna in concert. I’ve followed her twists and turns and reinventions for the past three decades with more than a passing interest. So it was will sheer excitement and anticipation that I headed south to HP Pavilion in San Jose to catch the current incarnation of the phenomenon that is Madonna. She did not disappoint. The evenings festivities started with a pre-show “VIP Party” that was a perk of my pricey 4th row ticket. I was welcomed with a glass of champagne, an beautiful dinner buffet (including veg options) as well as a lithograph, tour program, t-shit, and tote bag. The best part about the VIP party? The uber-friendly uber-Madonna fans. The game of the night was trading stories of when you first saw her live. Since this was my first show, I was happy to just sit back and listen.
One I was loaded down with swag, I made my way to the floor to enjoy the show. She only kept us waiting a completely reasonable extra 30 minutes past the expected start time of 10pm. The set design was stunning from both a technology and from a sheet beauty point of view. Madonna had three giant LED screen that stretched from floor to ceiling and all the way across the large Pavilion. They projected detailed scenes for the dozens of songs she performed that night. In addition, the floor of the stage was made out of several dozen hydraulically-lifted square stage segments that themselves were wrapped in led screens from base to top. They were dynamically lifted and lowered to make stairs, walls, even the illusion of moving trains throughout the 2 hour show. All of this was but a mere backdrop to the star of the night, Madonna.
Madonna’s voice, athleticism, and creativity were as strong as ever. She and 30-odd dancers of various genders and races were in constant synchronized motion. The costume, hair and set changes were non-stop. She took full advantage of her talented dance crew to entertain for short numbers in-between costume changes so that the flow was seamless. I completely understand why she held the photographers at bay until songs 7 and 8, so that the guns and violence from her first 5 numbers were not the primary way that the media would see her for this MDNA tour. I am a bit puzzled why she chose to have us shoot her in two songs featuring a Madonna as a cheerleader. There were a lot of quick strenuous moves that weren’t particularly flattering when caught mid-move. No matter – the queen of pop provided several quintessential winks, nods, and salutes that made for great eye candy.
My only real complaint about the show was that it was completely seated. I think the great energy of all her enthusiastic fans would have been better amplified if the floor had been standing. It gives people more room to dance and generally interact with each other. But Madonna’s energy wasn’t diluted by this small irritation.
My favorite moment was half way through the show, when Madonna announced that the night was particularly special to her. It was 30 years to-the-day since her first single, EVERYBODY, was released. She and her posse then treated us to a classic and true-to-form rendition of her first single.
For the rest of the audience, it was clear that the highlight of the evening was “Like a Prayer.” Madonna had everyone singing along and dancing like an old-time revival for this classic song. I remember the controversy this song engendered when it was first released in March of 1989, almost 25 years ago. It was so refreshing to see how time has turned the song from controversial to classic. I doubt Madonna would want me to say the same about her, and I really can’t. She has become a classic, but hasn’t lost any of the controversy along the way. And that’s the way we all like it.