PHILADELPHIA – Madonna's latest reinvention may be her most revealing yet.
No, it's not because of her mid-show striptease during “Human Nature,” where she stands for a bit in her bra and panties to show off the words “NO FEAR” on her back. It's because her wild, nearly two-hour “MDNA” tour, which she rehearsed at Nassau Coliseum for most of May, may come closest to reflecting her current state of mind, while building yet another artistic, well-choreographed slacklining spectacle. (The tour arrives at Yankees Stadium on Sept. 6 and 8.)
Not surprisingly, considering her recent divorce from director Guy Ritchie, it starts with a murderous rage. There's so much (fake) blood spilled during “Gang Bang,” which pits Madonna against a full gun-wielding assault team, that it's like a season of “Dexter” condensed into five minutes, complete with blood splatters on the massive video screens.
However, Madonna describes the show as “the journey of a soul from darkness to light” and the brutal imagery of the first section quickly gives way to determination and joy, starting with “Express Yourself,” which she mashes into Lady Gaga's “Born This Way,” seemingly lovingly enough before punctuating it with “She's Not Me.” While the joyous section, which includes the aggressively peppy “Give Me All Your Luvin'” and “Turn Up the Radio” done as cheerleaders and includes drummers hanging two stories above the stage, could have been longer, it includes one of the night's most memorable moments. The reworking of “Open Your Heart” with the Basque trio Kalakan as a sort of traditional European folk song, built only on drums and vocal harmonies, was pure joy, topped with Madonna dancing across the stage with 11-year-old son, Rocco, who looked extraordinarily comfortable in the spotlight.
Another standout moment is also a quiet one, where Madonna transforms her bubbly synth-pop classic “Like a Virgin” into a waltz worthy of Marlene Dietrich, delivered haltingly and dramatically. At one point, Madonna even lies on the stage face down, the mic on the floor next to her mouth, she's so exhausted from the desperation for feeling a “heartbeat next to mine.”
However, the biggest surprise in a night of twists and turns was actually an unscripted one. After keeping the crowd waiting more than an hour after her expected start time and enduring some boos before she took the stage, Madonna apologized. “Forgive me,” she said. “I wanted the show to be perfect for you because my fans deserve it, and quite frankly I deserve it.”
She went on to declare her love of America, fueled, in part, by her recent European tour, where she stood up against censorship and homophobia. “In my country,” she shouted, “we have freedom of speech, freedom of expression... Never forget how lucky you are to live where you live.”
For a woman known for being a demanding perfectionist, the end of her show was actually about being grateful and accepting of yourself – including “I'm Addicted” and “I'm a Sinner” – so that you can, once again, enjoy (and express) yourself.
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SETLIST: Opening Prayer/Girl Gone Wild/Revolver/Gang Bang/Papa Don’t Preach/Hung Up/I Don’t Give A/Best Friend/Heartbeat/Express Yourself/Born This Way/She's Not Me/Give Me All Your Luvin’/Turn Up the Radio/Open Your Heart/Sagara Jo/Masterpiece/Justify My Love/Vogue/Candy Shop/Erotica/Human Nature/Like A Virgin/Nobody Knows Me/I’m Addicted/I’m A Sinner/Like A Prayer/Celebration