Madonna Does MDNA at HP Pavilion, 10/6/12
Sugarwolf Madonna at HP Pavilion
October 6, 2012
Better than: Doing the "Lucky Star" dance at home.
Madonna's MDNA Tour has been protested across the globe almost steadily since it began last May. In Warsaw, public exorcisms were conducted in order to expel Satan from the star's lithe body and punish her for performing a concert on the anniversary of the Nazi-era Warsaw Uprising. Authorities in Edinburgh were prepared to arrest her for the show's gun imagery and violent content. Terrorist and police threats against her support of the gay community and the jailed band Pussy Riot met her performances in Moscow. And furor rose over the exposing of a bare boob onstage in Islamic Istanbul.
But by the time we arrived in San Jose, not even the skinny pro-Jesus protestors that are always shouting at sinning concertgoers in front of the HP Pavilion were around to take a hit of MDNA.
Madonna, 54, is still a tireless live performer who can weather multiple costume changes and relentless dance moves, most while teetering on toothpick stilettos. During the course of a two-hour set that explored the themes of transgression, prophecy, masculine/feminine balance, and redemption, she sang upside down, on her knees, and shackled, all with consummate ease. A few moments of too much AutoTune contrasted against the majority of the performance, where her natural voice kept pace with her choreography.
Madonna at HP Pavilion
Earlier, MiSha Skye, a Russian-American DJ from San Francisco clad in a tight MDNA t-shirt, spun some warm-up tunes from the likes of Junior Vasquez ("Get Your Hands Off My Man") and Rihanna ("Where Have You Been"). The cameras zoomed in on his face and perfectly toned fist-pumping biceps at the apex of each song -- almost as if every song and every cheeky wink was choreographed -- but he was definitely pretty.
After he left the stage, a large screen with a photo of Madonna from her MDNA album fell to the ground. We expected to see something cool and dramatic, but it was just a handful of the crew, giving the stage its final tweaks. It seemed odd.
Madonna at HP Pavilion
Once the show officially started, it was immersive, beginning with Gregorian-sounding chants over a Catholic-reminiscent backdrop. Madonna emerged from a giant confession box toting a gun, an accessory that would be with her for the first several minutes, her female dancers acting as assassins in "Revolver" and her pretending to kill attackers in "Gang Bang." Giant splatters of blood splashed across the screen, and we worried about any small children who might have been in the audience. Luckily, we mostly noticed middle-aged women in their '80-era Madonna best, and grown men without shirts balancing on impossibly high heels.
It wasn't long before she'd reference one of her classics in "Papa Don't Preach," this version spruced up with a faux kidnapping, shackles, and a daring escape attempt via slacklining (a more flexible form of tightrope walking). She strapped on a guitar to strum some power chords for "I Don't Give A," while a projection of the song's guest star Nicki Minaj glowered and grinned in the background, before disappearing into the floor for a costume change.
In a move reminiscent of her Super Bowl performance, Madonna and her dancers dressed up like baton twirlers and marched in formation to "Express Yourself." The song included a cheeky few lines from Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" (a jab at that song's similarity to hers) as well as her own "She's Not Me," which Madonna punctuated with impressive booty shaking. Nine drummers suspended on wires impressively flew over the stage. As in the Super Bowl, she performed MDNA's "Give Me All Your Lovin," with a projection of guest collaborator M.I.A. singing behind her.
As luck would have it, the night was also an important anniversary for Madonna; she released her first-ever single "Everybody" on October 6, 1982. After announcing this, she said, "I'm gonna get on my knees," kneeled and said, "Thank you, thank you.
"I remember hearing it on the radio for the first time in New York," she recalled. "I was a broke-ass motherfucker wondering if anything good was gonna happen to me. Be careful what you wish for -- I'm a perfect illustration that dreams do come true."