Review: Madonna pushes dark buttons

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2012 - 8:22 AM

The Queen of Pop was back in the Twin Cities for the first time in 25 years, with a show tinged with violent themes.

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For many people at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday, it was like being touched by Madonna live for the very first time.

After all, it's been 25 years, six tours, nine studio albums, two ex-husbands and four kids since she lasted performed in the Twin Cities. Fortunately, the Queen of Pop came with all the ingredients we've missed on those other tours: religious imagery, sadomasochism, a cone bra, sexy dancing, a strip tease, politics ("I don't care who you vote for as long as you vote for Obama"), outrage, button-pushing and her irrepressible blond ambition.

This time, add violence. So the new formula for the Material Mom in 2012 is blood, bondage and blasphemy. And some breakup music. And, of course, beats.

Saturday's set drew heavily from last year's low-impact album "MDNA," her attempt to plug into EDM (that's what the hipsters call electronic dance music) and discuss the breakup of her second marriage (to director Guy Ritchie). What distinguished the new numbers from the get-go Saturday was a disturbing darkness.

After monks in robes and a little Gregorian chant, Madonna arrived in a confessional booth apologizing for her sins. Then she emerged toting a machine gun. Go figure, as she jumped into "Girls Gone Wild," her recent clubby single for which she was using Auto Tune and lip-syncing, two Cardinal sins in Madonna's halcyon days. The Auto-Tune and violence continued on "Revolver" and peaked on the enusing "Gang Bang," which found Madonna holed up in a sleazy motel, shooting her lover (actually about eight different guys) as blood splattered on a giant video screen behind her. "I have no regrets," Madonna sang near the song's end. "I'm going straight to hell. I've got a lot of friends there."

Um, well, she's no Quentin Tarantino.

What was the point? There really wasn't any obvious thread or message in the show. The idea of the MDNA Tour may be just to put Madonna into all kinds of different provocative situations. On "Hung Up," she was tied up in chains, tossed around by her male dancers and, once unchained, walked on a tight rope. At least the staging of "Express Yourself" made more sense as she dressed up in her majorette outfit and sang her anthem like she meant it, complete with a little chiding of copycat Lady Gaga.

While the production may have been extravagantly riveting (though the star sometimes got lost in the busyness), the set list left something to be desired. Nine songs from "MDNA." Meh-donna to that. And not everyone of the 13,000 fans was happy with her treatment of her old hits. She aggressively reimagined them, slowing "Open Your Heart" into a drum-driven, kumbaya folk song (complete with Basque harmonies from the trio Kalakan). "Like a Virgin" became a draggy Dieterich German cabaret piano piece.

While Madonna may be the biggest female pop star of the past 30 years, it's clear that Beyoncé has more all-around talent, Taylor Swift has more marketing savvy, and Lady Gaga has more humor, heart and vocal prowess. So maybe, it's time to think of the Material Mom as the godmother of pop.

Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719

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