Major headliners coming to Atlantic City is certainly commonplace. Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Aerosmith, KISS, Phish, the Dave Matthews Band and Metallica — just to name a few — have all thrilled fans with their over-the-top live shows here.
But there’s something special — an increase in energy, excitement and overall buzz — when Madonna comes to town.
Some of it is respect. She’s the world’s best-selling female recording artist and most successful solo artist in history and constantly reinvents herself to remain relevant in the ever-changing, always challenging pop music industry.
Some of it is curiosity. What will Madonna do this time around?
But mostly, it’s because Madonna never, ever disappoints with her theatrical live shows. And Saturday’s latest offering — “The MDNA Tour,” named after her latest release — proved Madonna, at 54 years old, remains the greatest pop touring act in the world. And frankly, no one is even close.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s creativity was once again running rampant this time around as she did everything from staging a bloody shootout to being hogtied and abducted by masked dancers to offering a striptease, all while surrounding herself with stellar dancers, amazing production and even an entire drum corps suspended in midair.
A sold-out Boardwalk Hall was treated to what Madonna describes as a “journey of a soul from darkness to light,” but the bottom line is that Madonna is the ultimate show woman, the P.T. Barnum of pop theatrics who isn’t afraid to cross any line if it means entertaining the masses.
With numerous costume changes that had the remarkably fit and still-gorgeous star in costumes that included a badass gunslinger and baton twirler, Madonna’s energy is nothing short of impressive. Most 20-year-olds can’t perform for two hours like Madonna does.
But no matter how great Madonna’s showmanship is, no one would be there if her songs weren’t any good. And those not fond of “MDNA” might have been slightly disappointed with the night’s selections since about 10 songs from the new album were either performed, sampled or featured in an interlude, comprising about half of the night’s material.
Like the Material Girl’s most recent efforts, “MDNA” heavily taps into electronic dance music nicely melded with Madonna’s pop sensibilities. While not her finest effort, “MDNA” has some standouts, particularly the catchy opener “Girl Gone Wild” and “Turn on the Radio.” But “I Don’t Give A,” where Madonna unnecessarily trotted out an electric guitar, and “I’m Addicted” will be quickly forgotten for good reason: they are unmemorable ditties that barely work better live than the album tracks.
Of course any superstar who has been performing for more than 30 years is going to have a catalog so vast that fans will be unhappy with was left off the setlist. And on the “MDNA” tour, in particular, Madonna made it pretty clear that this was not a greatest hits tour.
The songs she didn’t play — including “Music”, “Ray of Light”, “La Isla Bonita”, “Frozen”, “Material Girl”, “Lucky Star” and others — are testament to the amazing career Madonna possesses.
And even though Saturday night seemed a little lighter than past tours when it came to delivering hits, there were still plenty. She offered crowd-pleasers such as “Papa Don’t Preach”, “Holiday”, Vogue”, “Express Yourself” and “Like a Prayer,” but some of the other hits were re-tooled to give fans something a little different.
For example, “Express Yourself” was mixed with excerpts from Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” — perhaps to show the audience how similar they are — along with “She’s Not Me” from Madonna’s “Hard Candy” album. And “Like a Virgin” contained samples from Abel Korzeniowski’s “Evgeni’s Waltz.”
The most impressive reinvention was “Open Your Heart,” which she performed with the Basque group Kalakan that included excerpts from Kalakan’s “Sagarra jo!” The Spanish band also made other contributions throughout the show, including “Masterpiece” and “I’m a Sinner,” both from “MDNA.”
Although not the greatest singer, Madonna has personality in her vocals that definitely make up for any deficiencies. And she remains a great dancer with a keen sense of quirky choreography that works for her and her dancers.
The production was better than any Broadway show you will see. With a crisp video screen that stretched wide across the stage and tall above the performers, the multimedia experience made the show seem more like a live movie than a concert.
The dancers were worth the price of admission themselves. Early on, the male dancers showed off remarkable moves in high heels and later bounced on and jumped off stretchy ropes and freaked people out when by contorting their bodies.
The only gripes about Madonna were things not related to her show. In typical Madonna fashion, she had Boardwalk Hall management keep the temperature of the hall pretty toasty — about 80 degrees — which is really annoying when she made the crowd wait until about 10:30 p.m. to take the stage, leaving the crowd waiting well over an hour after opener DJ Paul Oakenfold left the stage.
The MDNA Tour is poised to become one of the top-grossing tours of all time. And with good reason. Madonna remains not only on top of her game but makes everyone else try to raise theirs. One of her most creative and artistic tours ever, she will have a hard time topping this. But don’t ever bet against her.
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