At least where Madonna is concerned I can skip the introduction...
Madonna is everywhere, man – and there is little chance of escape. Every couple of years she throws to the masses a new album, a picture book, a new image, a movie or a concert tour. This performance from her Drowned World Tour was recorded at The Palace of Auburn Hills in her hometown of Detroit on August 26th, 2001 and beamed via satellite around the planet. This concert is pretty damn impressive.
I know little of The Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, but it is hard to imagine that there could have been too much room left for the average punter once the set was built. The multi-layered set is absolutely enormous and to those in the audience, Madonna must have looked like a tiny gyrating ant in comparison. Luckily the onstage action is relayed to the masses via a pair of huge screens.
In the space of just under two hours, Madonna treats the audience to a number of marketable new themes. In the first, she and her entourage appear as punk rockers. This is punk in fashion rather than attitude and judging by the meticulous set detail and the precision staging, I doubt that she is ready to totally embrace anarchy just yet. Nevertheless, this ‘catwalk punk’ is effective and she even goes to the length of crunching a few guitar chords over Candy Perfume Girl. For somebody who has so intently embraced the dance pop market, even a handful of distorted bar chords is kinda fresh.
She appears next on a stage filled with Japanese iconography and featuring a samurai swordsman, choreographed fight sequences and complex harness work (ala Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). There is no doubt that her voice is suited better to higher numbers like Frozen or Ray of Light and she tends to fall flat in the lower register (especially when she is puffed). Still, this has always been the case with Madonna and not only do we expect it but we grudgingly accept it. Curiously, much of what is portrayed on stage is quite violent. At one point, she pulls out a shotgun and nails the Samurai which serves as a rather dramatically leads into her next incarnation as a funky cowgirl.
OK, a Stetson, a pair of boots and a hay bale does not a cowgirl make (especially when the hay bale is covered with a plastic sheet). Nevertheless, it’s pretty stylish and the audience respond gratefully. Let’s face it, Madonna could emerge dressed as a chicken and her fans would still lap it up.
A stylish tango to an instrumental version of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina serves as introduction to her next phase. A lot of the dance routines are left behind and a slower, more acoustic feel is given to proceedings. By far the highlight of the show is an acoustic reworking of her 1986 hit, La Isla Bonita. The song builds on the rhythm of castanets and flamenco, builds to a fevered crescendo and then collapses eight minutes later – exhausted. Striking indeed, and it was just beginning to dawn on me how far we had all travelled with Madonna over the years and how she had matured as a performer, when…
Madonna next appears dressed as a hip-hop gangster with her ‘homegirls’ for a rap version of Holiday and instructs the audience to yell the word ‘whore’ whenever she says the word, ‘pimp’. I guess one should always have room to grow.
Director Hamish Hamilton does an admirable job of capturing the energy of live performance, although given that there appear to be more cameras in use than the Olympics and the Gulf War combined, I’m sure most of the real work was done in the editing suite. Nevertheless, the action is tightly interwoven with the music while the camera changes are fairly seamless and always relevant to what is happening on stage.
Drowned World-Substitute for Love
Candy Perfume Girl
Ray Of Light
Paradise - Not For Me
Open your Heart
Mer Girl (part 1)
Sky Fits Heaven
Mer Girl (part 2)
What It Feels Like For A Girl (remix)
I Deserve It
Don't Tell Me
The Funny Song
Don't Cry For Me Argentina (instrumental interlude)
Lo Que Siente La Mujer (What It Feels Like For A Girl)
La Isla Bonita
After almost twenty years in the game, there is little doubt that the Material Girl has become the Girl with the Material. So large is her back catalogue that although the entire concert weighs in at just under two hours, Madonna only needs to throw in a handful of hits to keep the crowd interested and otherwise plays tracks almost exclusively from her last two albums. Within the next five years we should expect another couple of albums, a few more changes of image, thousands of magazine portraits and another concert just like this one.
Where this artist is concerned, you should already know on which side of the fence you belong. The qualities that help make Madonna ‘cutting-edge’ and ‘versatile’ to her fans are the same qualities that make her ‘manufactured’ and ‘contrived’ to her detractors.
Regardless, this is a quality release that highlights a performer well and truly on top of her game and for what it’s worth, she is probably among the best at what she does (this is a crowded marketplace and one must fully consider the alternatives).
Love her or hate her, she’s impossible to ignore.