06.27.2004 Madonna Worcester Centrum Centre, Worcester, MA
The Reinvention Tour included four dates to its Worcester stop. We stuck with the Sunday night performance, and the real decision was to not buy tickets to another evening. It was mostly a price consideration. The tour tickets were ranging from $95 to $300. There’s something strangely appalling about Madonna’s gall to insist that she command this ticket price. Almost all of her tour stops added a second (Anaheim), third (Los Angeles), fourth (Worcester) and sixth (NYC) show. Fifty plus shows, merchandising, parking and concessions. But the demand was there. People bought the tickets. The shows are almost universally totally sold out. The merchandise pricing is otherworldly, but people still buy the tour shirts. All of which begs the interpretation that busloads of people think Madonna is worth the cost.
As every parking area within a mile of the venue was charging 20 bucks a pop to park, we parked our car for a strategic exit. We followed the crowd of Madonna look-alikes, aging gay socialites with their youthful male companions, and just some average ordinary folk along the half mile walk to Centrum Centre. Inside the venue’s adjacent lounge was an 80′s cover band called Reaganomics who were belting out Madonna to draw the crowd inside. The next song was a pretty faithful version of Prince’s “Kiss” complete with falsetto. When they introduced Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” into the set, it was time to leave.
The ticket to Madonna is the single most expensive concert ticket I have ever purchased. But there is something reassuring in seeing thousands of other people who made the same decision you did. We milled about in the circus of Madonna fans for another half hour before we went inside to the majesty and horror that is merchandise sales.
Most of Madonna’s choice offerings were fit only for slender bikini blonds and twinks, but there were a few more in the line of standard choices, including a Vogue-era Madonna on her knees with the tour dates listed on the back, in black and white. The shirts ranged from $20 (one that said Madonna! Madonna! Madonna! on the front in glitter – the glitter is still coated on my leather shoes this morning) to $55 and up for hooded sweatshirts and some long sleeves. There was Hebrew writing on some, Madonna’s image mostly, and sometimes just her name. I haven’t bought a concert t-shirt in years, but I liked one in black (the white version was $10 cheaper, which almost made me settle) and decided, well, this concert can’t get any less expensive.
Our seats are in loge (not bad) at the far end of the arena, second to last row at the top of the section. The Centrum Centre is remarkably intimate for a sports arena, and our view of the stage was unobstructed and panoramic without seeming distant. The “curtain” were two industrial-looking video screens that covered eighty percent of the stage. Madonna had two pits (about 20 people each) on either side of the stage that were built into the stage.
The show opened with a video montage and Madonna chanting something vaguely religious to disturbing images of her wearing a muzzle (ala Hannibal Lechter). The video screens parted to either side of the stage, revealing Madonna as she rose from the bowels of the arena to those magical five words:
“What are you looking at?”
When the dust settles from a sizzling rendition of “Vogue” complete with faux-French court outfits and the classic “Vogue” dance moves, I begin to see exactly where my 150 dollars went. The production values on this tour were simply phenomenal. From a moving, circular stage mounted on hydraulics to move the stage up and down and rotate sets from back to front, to a sliding floor (used in great effect during “Nobody Knows Me”), to a mounted catwalk that lowered just above the heads of the audience in the floor seats that brought Madonna and her party almost the entire length of the venue during “American Life” and for the show closer “Holiday.” There were six screens that floated around stage, four dedicated to the video montage of the moment, whatever thematic representation that Madonna wanted to apply to her music.
I read in the newspaper this morning that Madonna’s show was flawless, despite lacking a unifying theme. But it’s clear that Madonna is her own unifying theme. The set changes were seamless, there was never a moment during the show when the audience wasn’t hearing or watching something on the stage. The costumes were the most muted aspect of the night. She dressed her dancers in religious garb from the waist up, mini-skirts from the waist down, paraded around in army gear, circus clothes, and kilts. Madonna’s versatility, and daring to reinvent herself on a whim, is well-documented, and was her strongest asset even facing a crowd of fans most of whom had been with her since “Lucky Star.”
The reinvention of her hits was probably the best part of the evening. While she generously spread around songs from American Life, if nothing else, to prove that she liked her last album, she scored best turning the tables on some of her best songs. (Hey look, the best part of “American Life”? The instrumentation and the staging drowned out her lame rap in the middle of the song.) “Frozen” became a straight-up ballad, Madonna alone on stage, just singing. “Express Yourself”, which I thought was going to be the best reinvention of the night, went down with a military theme of images and costumes and very appropriately, brought a different interpretation to the lyrics about who exactly is in bed with whom during this War on Terror. (This is not a stretch, Bush kissing Saddam on the cheek in tenderness is hardly a subtle message.)
Hands down, the absolute best reinvention was “Material Girl” which was played straight-up, no irony, just a rock song. Madonna took a guitar and did a passable accompaniment (with a lot of help from her band) and played “Material Girl” like it is, one of the biggest hits of her career. She also dusted off “Burning Up” (from 1983) and it rocked. She turned “Hanky Panky” from Dick Tracy into Betty Boop number, tacked on a “Lament” (from Evita) to “Die Another Day” to great effect, and dedicated “Crazy For You” to the fans that had stuck with her for 20 plus years.
The bad parts? Well, for one, she cheaped out on the pre-recorded audio for “Bedtime Story.” Her version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” was painful, and the religious imagery assaulted us for ten minutes during “Like a Prayer” and “Mother and Father.” But she wisely tucked her new album into bed before closing the show with a string of hits, including leading a rousing sing-along rendition of “Papa Don’t Preach.”
So, worth $150? (Or $300 for those who bought the floor seats?) Madonna is just one of those things you have to experience in your life, cost be damned. And I’ll give her this much credit, she certainly made a convincing case that she is worth every penny.
The Beast Within / Vogue
Nobody Knows Me
Deeper and Deeper
Die Another Day / Lament
Don’t Tell Me
Like A Prayer
Mother and Father
Into The Groove
Papa Don’t Preach
Crazy For You