Cross another one off the list.
This weekend I made another trip to Yankee Stadium for a concert. This was my third show at this venue and while the first concert (Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth/Anthrax) was more for someone else and the second show (Roger Waters’ The Wall) was pure curiosity, the third show was all for me.
I was finally going to see Madonna live and in concert.
I have been a fan of Madonna for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, there were two musical superstars that dominated the planet: Michael Jackson and Madonna. Everyone else paled in comparison. The first time I heard a Madonna song, I was instantly smitten. Every time she came out with a new album I snatched it up, even though I didn’t always understand what she was singing about. I was 10 years old when True Blue came out and I thought that “Papa Don’t Preach” was a song about not wanting to give up your boyfriend, not about teen pregnancy; I interpreted the lyrics “I want to keep my baby” as baby being a term of endearment for the boyfriend, not an actual baby. I don’t think my young brain could wrap itself around that. Kind of ironic since I wound up going to a high school that was rumored to be the teen pregnancy capital of the state and that had a daycare center. I imagine I was pretty shocked when someone finally filled me in as to what that song was really about. I’m sure my parents weren’t super thrilled that was so enamored with a performer that pushed boundaries and touched on adult subject matter, but if they were concerned about it they never let on. Though I’m guessing they didn’t appreciate Madonna all that much when I wanted to know what a virgin was.
As I got older, I appreciated Madonna’s risk taking and constant reinvention. She embraced all that MTV had to offer; she understood that you could usual a visual component, like a music video, to enhance a song. Even all these years later, I can remember almost every video that she released. She blazed the way for artists like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and of course Lady Gaga. I liked that she was willing to raise questions about sexuality and women; I may not have always agreed with some of her choices, but I always respected her right to make them and her fearlessness. I even forgave her the ridiculous accent that she now uses.
I stuck with Madonna through the early 2000s. She continued to try new things to remain fresh and relevant, but her foray into more dance/electronica just wasn’t my thing. I knew a few of the singles from her later stuff – I liked her song with Justin Timberlake (“4 Minutes”) off her 2008 album Hard Candy – but I no longer knew every track by heart. She released records more sporadically later in her career and as I get older I find it harder and harder to keep up with new music. I tend now to listen to the same stuff I already like over and over. So a new Madonna album just wasn’t on my radar as much. I still loved her older stuff; the one and only time I have done karaoke, I sang “Material Girl.” It was terrible; I am not gifted with musical talent despite my insisting on singing along with the radio.
I’ve always wanted to see Madonna in concert, but it has always seemed too cost prohibitive. Tickets for her shows are notoriously expensive and I don’t think her tour has ever come through my neck of the woods. So I’d have to travel to see her on top of the ticket price. It just never worked out in my favor.
When it was announced that Madonna was going to perform at the halftime show of the Super Bowl last year, I was more excited than I was for either of the teams playing. I thought it was fun and even liked some of the songs off her new album MDNA. I had a sneaking suspicion that the Super Bowl performance was in advance of a tour and I resolved then and there that this was the year I was going to see her. While I enjoyed the halftime show, there were obvious concessions to Madonna growing older. She’s in phenomenal shape, but even she has aged and can’t do the same show she did in her 30s. Her tours have become more and more infrequent, so I didn’t know if this was my last chance to see her for a while. I didn’t care if she couldn’t necessarily dance like she used to; I imagined that half the experience was just the spectacle of the show.
So when the tour that I predicted materialized and she was playing Yankee Stadium, I leaped at the chance to go.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t smooth sailing. I bought tickets for the Thursday night show, which wouldn’t have been my first choice but at the time was the only option; they only added the second show on Saturday night after the Thursday night show sold out. I didn’t want to have to absorb the price of the Thursday night ticket (there were no refunds or exchanges) for the more convenient Saturday show, but that is what ultimately wound up happening. Work got so crazy that I couldn’t in good conscience leave early or come in late in order to go to the concert; there were just too many details for a major event that we are hosting this week that had to be resolved, all of which ended up on my desk. So I had to make the adult and responsible decision to suck it up and buy a ticket for the Saturday show and just take the loss. I wasn’t happy to basically be paying twice the amount of a regular ticket, but it was the right decision. Madonna didn’t take the stage until 10:30 on Thursday night and I would have been an absolute zombie the next day, when I would need an eye for details.
And then Mother Nature decided to really muck things up.
A tornado watch for the Bronx on Saturday night? Are you serious?
I was beginning to think that the powers that be really didn’t want me at this show.
I briefly considered not going. But I was going to be damned if I was going to buy two concert tickets for a show that I never saw. I reasoned if it was really bad that they would cancel the show. And if it was my time to go, Yankee Stadium seemed like a fitting place for me to meet my demise. Other than one scary moment of hydroplaning on the Thruway, the rain wound up being an annoyance, but nothing that would prevent the show from happening. Armed with a rain poncho that my friend T gave me, I was ready (if slightly drenched) for the show to go on.
And what a show it was.
I knew going in that the concert was going to be much heavier on her more recent work than her classics; the tour is to support her new album, so I wasn’t surprised that she’d focus on the material from MDNA. While it’s not my favorite, there are a few songs on MDNA that I do like. Ideally I would have liked more of her older stuff; the concert was probably 70% newer material.
In the end, however, the songs were kind of irrelevant because there was such a spectacle going on. And I honestly mean that in the best possible way. You could not know a single Madonna song and you would have walked out of that show feeling like you had just seen something. It may not have all made a lot of sense, but it was definitely entertaining.
I was expecting the religious imagery and sex to be a part of the show – this is, after all, Madonna – but I was kind of surprised my how dark the show was. Parts of the performance were surprisingly violent. During her performance of the song “Gang Bang,” Madonna fought off masked assailants in a dingy hotel room set; every time she shot one of them, blood would streak across the giant screen at the back of the stage. It reminded me more of something that her ex-husband Guy Ritchie would have come up with in one of his movies. I wasn’t offended, but it seemed a little out of place. But that’s Madonna – just when you think you know what she’s going to do next, she flips the script on you. Even when she performed songs that were popular, she changed it up. Her rendition of “Like A Virgin” was very different than the version that everyone knows. It was more like a dirge. It was unexpected and an unusual choice, but I ultimately liked it. It had a weariness to it that gave the song a different meaning. (Probably goes without saying, but the video is NSFW or appropriate for kids)
It wasn’t all a downer; my favorite performance of the night was “Express Yourself.” For this number, Madonna transformed herself into a drum majorette, baton twirling and all. It was a complete non sequitur, but it was a lot of fun. She got in a little dig at Lady Gaga by seamlessly going from “Express Yourself” into Gaga’s song “Born This Way.” Madonna has accused Gaga of ripping her off and hearing the songs back to back, she has a very good case. They are basically the same song. Take that, Gaga.
Throughout the show, there didn’t seem to be many concessions to the rain. Madonna could have easily stayed on the covered portion of the stage for the entire show, but she periodically came out on the catwalk to be closer to the audience. I was impressed; as someone who was sitting in the pouring rain because I had no choice, I wouldn’t have faulted her for wanting to stay sheltered. She veered from the prepared set list to give us a bonus song (“Holiday”) as a thank you for putting up with the weather.
Some other random thoughts:
- I got a chuckle out how different the crowd was from the normal crowd I see at Yankee Stadium. I’m willing to bet that this is the first time I saw someone in leather chaps at the Stadium. I was actually expecting the attire of the crowd to be more spectacular. I did see a few interesting choices, but most people were covered up with rain ponchos.
- Speaking of which – no one looks good in a rain poncho. Myself included. They aren’t particularly comfortable either. I felt like leftovers.
- Apparently they didn’t anticipate that Madonna fans would want to buy Yankee paraphernalia. The Yankee store was completely cleaned out to make room for Madonna merchandise. They missed the obvious A-Rod/Madonna cross promotion.
- The decision of the woman sitting next to me to “strike a pose” during “Vogue” almost resulted in me getting a black eye. She wasn’t a fan of personal space.
- Madonna’s son Rocco made an appearance on stage. He’s not a bad dancer for an 11 year old.
- Much had been made of Madonna being 2.5 hours “late” for her shows. That’s not 100% accurate – while the ticket said 8 pm, most artists have an opening act. Madonna’s just happened to be a DJ. I’m not sure why so many people expected her to start at 8 pm. 10:30 was definitely on the later side, but most headliners don’t immediately take the stage (Springsteen being the exception). If you figure the opener plays 30 – 45 minutes and then time to reconfigure the stage, the earliest anyone should have expected her was 9:30 pm, in my estimation. Didn’t seem to be an issue at the Saturday show – everyone knew she’d be late, so most people just showed up later.
- Fun fact – Madonna is the first woman to headline a concert at Yankee Stadium.
- The one thing I did miss at the Thursday night show was her support of President Obama with a back “tattoo.” The show I went to, the “tattoo” said “forgive.”
- One downside of the rain (other than the obvious) was it made it very difficult to take pictures; I didn’t want my cell phone to get ruined in the process, so I used it sparingly.
- I’m confused as to whether Madonna can actually play the guitar or not – she kept bringing one out, but I don’t actually believe she was playing it (nor do I believe that she was actually singing all the time). But if she can’t actually play, it seemed like a weird choice.
- It was very cool to be part of something where people were so happy. Maybe they were complaining elsewhere, but from my perch on the lower level people seemed to be having the time of their life at this show. Seeing that much joy was contagious; the people who love Madonna REALLY love Madonna. It was nice to see.
While I ultimately had a good time despite the deluge of rain, I don’t know that it really lived up to my expectation. Even though I knew the focus would be on newer material, I ultimately was disappointed with ratio of old to new. I would have liked more tunes that spanned her extensive catalog. If I were dreaming up my ultimate Madonna experience, this wouldn’t have been it. I probably should have seen her ten years ago; the likelihood that I would have known more of the songs would have been a lot higher. I have absolutely no regret in going and I’m glad that I finally saw her. But I don’t know that I would need to ever see her again.
Girl Gone Wild
Papa Don’t Preach
I Don’t Give A
Give Me All Your Luvin’
Turn Up the Radio
Open Your Heart
Like a Virgin
I’m a Sinner
Like a Prayer