First Night: Madonna, Hyde Park, London
Madonna delivers everything fans want (except full-on moral outrage)
After flashing a breast in Istanbul and facing legal action in France, Madonna brought her highly anticipated MDNA tour to the UK last night with a gig in London's Hyde Park.
The singer, 53, is no stranger to controversy, having once been threatened with arrest after a sexually-explicit performance in Canada and raising moral outrage with almost every video she releases, whether she's smoking or simply trying to cop off with Jesus.
Last night's show was not lacking in punch, kicking off with the internet smut-referencing "Girl Gone Wild", the first of several in-your-face, gun-toting numbers from the album she released earlier this year. (Sample refrain: "See you in hell, bitch".)
While the most loyal fans in the crowd thrilled to Madonna's newly bolshy electro style, the audience for the main part came alive for some of the older hits. "Papa Don't Preach", "Express Yourself" (mixed in with a rather similar-sounding "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga) and a ballad version of "Like a Virgin" were just some of the Immaculate Collection-era standards that elicited the most enthusiasm – which Madonna followers have by the bucketload.
As a performer, Madonna doesn't need flashing lights and heavy set-pieces but she does them all the same. And why not? A batch of claret-clad monks kicked off procedures and what followed was suitably sacrilegious, as she emerged from a confessional booth with a machine gun. Between shooting her lover in a seedy motel, fronting a marching band and being chained up by pseudo-terrorists, Madonna gave the crowd just what they wanted, and her reliance on Auto-Tune during the more energetic numbers didn't even matter.
During a pared down rendition of "Open Your Heart", her 11-year-old son Rocco even joined her on stage, while an energetic performance of "Vogue", replete with several drag queens, was proof of her musical majesty. If Madonna has one message, regardless of whichever genre she has transmogrified into, it is of inclusion and unity.
"You don't want to take anyone's sh*t, do you?" she exhorted during a break, before launching into "Masterpiece", her Oscar-winning song from the recent film W.E. It was a moving spectacle and a sombre point, spoiled only slightly by her solemn cry of "We love you, Poland."
The interludes and montages between costume changes only served to back up Madonna's fearsome reputation as a recording artist. Whether she chooses to indulge in primal and rather hackneyed iconography or not, nothing can subtract from that. Seeing Madonna live is a privilege, whether or not she keeps her clothes on or knows which country she is in.
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