Madonna entertains Phoenix with 'MDNA' tour
Performer wows, connects with audience despite two hour wait

Madonna Concert in Phoenix
Photo by Sharlene Celesky
Madonna plays her guitar to "I'm a Sinner" on Oct. 16, 2012 at US Airways Center in Phoenix, Ariz.

Oct. 16, Tuesday morning at 1:30am, I should have been asleep but I was on my Nook checking to see if the prices of Madonna tickets for this evening have dropped. Originally, the prices ranged from $85 to $350, which is much higher than other high profile performers, and I refused to pay that.

However, her show was not selling out, so I kept checking to see if Ticketmaster would lower the prices. At this time of the morning of the show, same day ticket prices dropped. I had to make a snap decision and asked myself if I really wanted to see this performer that I trashed in past three news stories? I said her Super Bowl performance was ridiculous and self indulgent, her current album, “MNDA,” tired and just a rehash of her former albums, and “W.E.,” the film she directed, was shallow and just one long music video.

I had been a fan since I saw Madonna’s first video, “Burning Up,” in ’83 and had only seen her in the Valley twice before. (She skipped playing Phoenix for years.) After the Super Bowl this January I became an ex-fan. The pioneer I believed had paved the way for women in many ways had become an embarrassment to our generation, and her diva attitude worsened with age.

But yes, I had wanted to go see Madonna’s concert this time but the over the top prices kept me away. I could not explain it but I just knew I had to go, so I purchased my discounted ticket.

After work I rushed downtown to US Airways Arena and was barely seated by the listed 8 p.m. start time. I waited for over an hour watching a blank stage when DJ Misha Skye appeared and played a tedious set of techno dance music on his turntable. After 10 minutes the music started grating on my nerves and his repetitive dance moves became boring. By now the center was 85 percent filled and we had grown restless and fed up with Skye. When he finally left at 10 p.m., we sat for over 30 minutes staring at that empty stage. She is making us wait on purpose, I thought, as I became irritated with her diva behavior.

The lights finally went off after 10:30 p.m. and church bells bellowed, while a blue church window projected on the back screen with “MNDA” (Madonna’s new album’s name) imprinted on it. Then the image of the interior arches of a Romanesque church filled the entire background. A large ornate metal thurible began swinging over the stage while figures in scarlet capes filled it with incense as it continually swung back and forth. Prayer music filled the auditorium until the sound of lightening replaced it. Several male figures, wearing frightening headdresses resembling different incarnations of Satan, emerged on stage and slowly moved about. A lighted box resembling the top of a medieval tower slowly descended onto the stage. It contained a veiled figure kneeling in prayer while repeating, “Oh my God, oh my God.” Five minutes into the show, Madonna, clad in a shiny black cat suit, walked out of the medieval box, threw off her veil and started to sing her latest hit, “Girls Gone Wild,” as the crowd screamed and clapped wildly. Madonna did not disappoint me, as her opening was the most dramatic entrance I had ever seen at a concert.

As the song faded out she picked up a gun and started into her second song, “Revolver,” while she pointed the gun all around the stage and then at the audience. Her female dancers joined her and moved around like cat burglers with guns. When the song was finished, police sirens started blaring and Madonna walked to a set resembling a hotel room and began singing, “Gang Bang,” from her new album. This post- divorce song was supposedly written about her ex- husband, British film director, Guy Ritchie. She fired her prop gun many times and each time you heard the gun exploding while slides of blood vividly spattered on huge screens behind her. These two songs caused controversy the following week when she played Denver where she offended the audience and some members walked out. They felt she was insensitive to the summer “Dark Knight Rising” movie theater shooting incident in nearby Aurora, Colorado.

As the concert continued, I found “Express Yourself,” to be one of the show’s highlights. Madonna marched out on stage in a majorette costume twirling a baton and leading her female dancers in a well-choreographed dance sequence. A marching band of male drummers dressed as toy soldiers followed them onto the stage. Then three of the drummers began to rise into the air, suspended by wires as they continued to play their drums in midair. Next, more drummers began rising and joined the trio until the group was all in a horizontal line playing drum solos. It was one of the most impressive visual performances I’ ve seen. Before her song was finished, Madonna started singing several lines from Lady Gaga’s hit “Born this Way.” Then she added, “She is not me. She is not me.” (The line referred to the controversy over Lady Gaga’s hit song sounding just like Madonna’s “Express Yourself.”)

Madonna then traded her baton for pom poms while she and her group added cheer moves to their dance. As the song continued an additional line of drummers appeared but eventually dropped their drums and broke into dance with Madonna and her squad.

Later in the show, the songstress did a partial strip tease during “Human Nature,” and shed her white blouse while showing off her sexy black lace bra. Ever the exhibitionist, Madonna slowly unzipped her trousers to show off her lacy thong. She then pointed to the black bold letters on her back that spelled, “Amanda.” Madonna explained she was calling attention to 15-year-old Canadian Amanda Todd who committed suicide because of bullying. She said, “That is what I call terrorism.” She made an impassionate plea for the end to bullying. This was a very emotional part of the show, and the audience vocally showed its support when pictures of gay teens who committed suicide were projected on the screens.

The performer then launched into her super hit, “Like a Virgin.” This slowed down version of a normally upbeat song was disappointing. The song was sluggish and it dragged on too long. The audience grew bored with her laying on the stage and then draping herself over the piano like a torch singer.

As the show progressed the vocalist changed into a metallic silver robe that glittered with Swarovski Crystals on the neck and sleeves. Madonna then gave her most beautiful performance of the night, as she sang “Like a Prayer,” while a full choir backed her. She really threw herself into this song and dramatically sank to her knees to add emphasis. The crowd upfront went wild when she put the mic in front of the fans and let some sing the chorus to the song.

After Madonna finished this song, she left the stage and came back sans the robe and exchanged her high-heeled boots for tennis shoes. The stage was now black and outlined in white neon lights. It was a stark contrast when her dancers ran on in neon bright clothes. Madonna led her group in a very active dance routine when she sang, “Celebration.” After two hours of performing a very vigorous show, Madonna still danced energetically and led dancers half her age through very complicated routines. After this number, she thanked the audience and the show was over. There was no encore but no one seemed to mind as we filed out of the arena. It was 12:30 a.m. and we had seen a very entertaining well-produced show.

Madonna played songs that spanned her 30-year career and concentrated heavily on her new album, “MDNA.” (The album sounded much better live than on CD.) The projected catwalk stage really worked for the show as it gave the audience a closer look at Madonna. I was very impressed with her stamina, flexibility and the warmth she generated when she talked to the audience. However, I did not like listening to her playing guitar on several numbers. She should give up playing guitar at her show since she is neither good nor that experienced at and it adds nothing to the show.

As I left the arena and clutched my $30 Madonna program I had purchased, I realized yes, I was still a fan.

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