wed 28/02/2024

Madonna, Celebration Tour, O2 review - spectacular, ambitious and occasionally bemusing | reviews, news & interviews

Madonna, Celebration Tour, O2 review - spectacular, ambitious and occasionally bemusing

Madonna, Celebration Tour, O2 review - spectacular, ambitious and occasionally bemusing

Despite a late start, the second night of Madonna's world tour is an eye-boggling ride

Madge gets saucy with her younger pointy bra self

Exactly 40 years since Madonna’s first UK hit, “Holiday”, was skittering about the Top Five, she launches her global Celebration Tour at the O2.

It is spectacle on the very grandest scale. In the latter half, following a video montage of tabloid controversies that pursued her career, and, to some extent, made it, a banner headline flashes “Age is a sin”. Madonna responds, “The most controversial thing I’ve ever done is to stick around.” The most successful female artist of all time is here to refute the sniping.

madonnaThe show is biographical concept album as dance theatre. It begins, as Madonna did, in New York City. After an intro by US Drag Race winner Bob the Drag Queen, she appears in a witchy black dress with bell sleeves (cloaky black is a common motif throughout) beneath a luminescent spaceship-like loop, wearing a halo of lights. Soon, however, she’s shed this for a leather-effect bustier and is delivering “Get Into the Groove” before a stylised New York skyline, her dance troupe appearing as cartoon punks.

She is, in this first section of the show, chatty and personable, telling us that, like her, we must “stay close to your true self” before cutting herself off; “Enough of that sentimental hogwash!”. Or commenting on a choking noise she made when singing, explaining that it was breathing back spittle, and making a smirking euphemistic reference to fellatio. Her performance of her second single, “Burning Up”, originally only a hit on New York’s club scene, is done rock-style, with Madonna playing electric guitar, against a pictorial backdrop of punk mecca CBGBs. She ends it by flobbing water at the audience. Madonna’s success was based on adapting elements of punk’s ethos and aesthetic with disco-pop, and, after a sexed-up Weimar Berlin-style sequence for “Open Your Heart”, it’s to the disco she goes in a skit where she can’t get past the doorman to the Paradise Garage, played by Bob the Drag Queen (“Rule No.1. Be Sexy. Rule No.2. Be on the list”). She does eventually make it in, of course, for a joyful “Holiday”. This is subverted by ending in a sprawl of bodies, redolent of the final tableau in the musical, Cabaret.

“Live to Tell” was always one of Madonna’s lovelier slowies and she now turns it into a memorial to “all the bright lights lost to AIDS”, great black’n’white photographic flags unfolding from on high with names and dates, from her old pal Martin Burgoyne, who died in 1986, to more the famous, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Freddie Mercury… A sad clown wanders the catwalks with a solitary red balloon on a long string. It’s striking, slightly clunky but striking, like that only bit of colour in Schindler’s List.

So far, so good, but there are also issues. On night number two in the O2 Madonna’s show starts half-an-hour late. 9.00 PM instead of 8.30. This means the climactic numbers are not performed, thus ending on 1992 slowie “Rain” rather than a bangin’ mash-up of “Music” and “Celebration”. It also means the show runs until 11.00 PM instead of 10.30 on a Sunday night. Due to the pitiful state of Britain’s rail services, this means many who live outside London have to scoot before the end. Many of these people have paid a lot of money to be here.

Another issue is the cavernous murk of sound. O2 is always tricky but I’ve heard it better (albeit it improves as the night goes on). This is not aided by pumpin’ hi-NRG remixes of various hits that might have been more elegant in their original incarnations. There’s no band I can see, so, for all its eye-boggling excesses, it’s really an opulent P.A.-style show as much as concert. There is something about having a band, however, much they’re truly involved, that elevates (in ABBA’s Voyage, for instance, the singers aren’t even real but the band is!).

madonna2The middle of the set is loosely themed around the Nineties which, for Madonna, means sex and religion. A gigantic revolving circular glass-windowed cabinet arises from the stage. Within, half-naked male dances in black balaclavas and loincloths writhe in front of large crucifixes. There’s Gregorian chanting, monks waving censers, and a thumping version of “Like a Prayer” from 1989, which leads into “Erotica”. The latter is set in boxing rings full of glitter-gloved, sensually moving boxers, and ends with Madonna masturbated on a red velvet bed by a drag version of her Jean Paul Gaultier gold pointy bra’d younger self. “Justify My Love” bangs, then Madonna is blindfolded for a version of “Hung Up” that melds the classic version with last year’s remake collaboration with Dominican rapper Tokischa. It sets people dancing but not as much as “Vogue”, arguably the highlight of the night, a joyous Busby Berkley-meets-Paris Is Burning sensation with (I think) one of Madonna’s twin daughters, Estere, acting as DJ then throwing herself into dancing while Madonna and daughter Lourdes act as judges (pictured above right). Madonna has long been a friend to the LGBT+ community and, in many ways, the real celebrations in Celebration are around this.

madonna3Madonna’s son David also appears (pictured left), playing guitar in a lift-like airborne box, which floats around in the air a few times throughout the night, sometimes with Madonna strapped aboard. Her daughter Mercy's here, too. Back on the ground, she plays gentle piano on lesser-known 1992 single “Bad Girl”. The latter half of the show is not as coherent as the first. Sometimes its grandiose intentions recall proggy excesses such as Roger Waters' bombastic live version of The Wall, most especially a sequence when Madonna is “beaten up” by policemen, or when another version of “Justify My Love” is played, featuring chunks of The Book of Revelations as an enclave of dancers, clad like a Middle Eastern desert people, engage in struggle.

But then you have those glorious moments, as when she has the whole O2 singing along to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, solo-strumming a guitar, or when she reminds what catchy blissed pop froth “La Isla Bonita” is, and has everyone up and dancing again. As usually happens with shows at the start of their run, there may be fine-tuning to do on Celebration. Its tone is not consistently on-point, and engaging action sometimes gives way to incongruous conceptualism. But it is eye-catching and fascinating, remarkable even, and, at its heart, Madonna’s driven creativity and ambition are ramped-up and on display.

Below: watch Madonna's Celebration Tour announcement, a five minute film, featuring Amy Schumer, Jack Black and others

Half naked male dances in black balaclavas and loincloths writhe in front of large crucifixes

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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