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Madonna + Alesso @ NIA Birmingham, 19 July 2012

Review for Birmingham Live! Pictures: Steve Gerrard

So into the city and a torrential downpour as the British summer flatly refuses to appear. And as I arrive at the NIA throngs of excited fans take photos by posters and fan club signs – we’re here to see the self-styled controversial Queen of Pop – Madonna is in town as part of her MDNA tour.

Expectations are high, as a slightly chaotic NIA, listen in to support DJ Alesso, pumping out the rave tunes. The women in the crowd are inundated with samples of Madonna’s Truth or Dare perfume samples as we all walk round to take our seats – Madge is due on at 9.00pm.

The crowd are eager and excited to see their icon. 9.15pm – we’re still waiting. A Mexican wave rolls successfully round the auditorium. Michael Jackson plays through the PA – the crowd are a happy bunch. 9.25pm – we’re still waiting. 9.35pm the huge curtain which has  massive picture of her on it, is pulled unceremoniously down and heaved off stage by several roadies. 9.40pm – we’re STILL waiting. Finally, at 9.45pm, a full three quarters of an hour late, the lights go down, and we’re greeted by 2 monks ringing a bell. An urn is lowered from the rafters, lit up and smoking, it sways across the stage. As acrobatic contemporary dancers contort on pillars, three huge HD plasma screens fill the back of the stage – they divide and in an arched ‘tower’, silhouetted, her Madgeness appears – to huge screams from the crowd and we into ‘Girl Gone Wild.’

The song completes, with Madonna, gun in hand shoots a dancer – and next track – ‘Revolver’ “What’s up Birmingham?” which moves into ‘Gang Bang’ where she progressively shoots a series of dancers –  a streak of blood splatter smacks in HD across the screens. “… Bang bang, shot you dead, shot my lover in the head…”

Now on stage a violinist, we’re into ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ a huge cross backdrop on the plasmas. The track morphs into a gothic drama and into ‘Hung Up’ to which from the depths of the stage appear columns and dancers tightrope walking. Madge joins them, balancing precariously. Now she has guitar in hand, rock chick look, she’s rapping away at the front of the stage to ‘I Don’t Give A *’; an extended V shape, the centre filled with fans, the point in the centre of the auditorium. On screen, duet partner Nicki Minaj joins her….

This was stage 1 of tonight’s proceedings, stage 2 ( breaks to give her time to change), features black and white gravestones on screen, and the contortionist dancers strut their stuff. Intriguing and somewhat painful to watch, the dancers are able to effectively dislocate their shoulders as they warp their arms. Suddenly there’s light – cheerleaders on stage – Madonna in full garb – and we’re into ‘Express Yourself’ pop illustration influenced cartoons grace the screens.  And, even better, as it’s well stuffy and warm in the NIA, someone has remembered to switch on the air conditioning. The song morphs into a drumming rhythm and from between the screens, on foot and from the rafters, a series of toy drummers are rolled out and drum their way through the song. Impressive. “C’mon raise your hands”, as we roll into a drumbeat and ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’.’

Set stops briefly and we get snippets of the hits and classic Madonna imagery on the screens – all to brief – it morphs into ‘Turn Up the Radio.’ “Are you gonna sing along with me?”, she’s back with guitar, “I can’t hear you… louder….” (Well we would, if we knew the words…).

Next section, she’s off, change of clothes again, and back on with her chums Kalakan trio – and sings ‘Open Your Heart’ (with excepts from ‘Sagarra Jo!’) and gets her adoring fans to sing and clap along. “Woohoo” she screams, “Are you havin’ a good time? F*** yeah!” Then a reference to technical difficulties and “What happen to my hotel?” (I’m confused – what hotel, was this an technical onstage glitch that failed to appear – or is this the reason she was 45 minutes late on stage?) “When I make a mistake does that bother you? I’d like to thank my loyal and devoted fans in Birmingham, I see you are not sitting in the little red chairs… write to your congressman (huh?), or whatever it is in this country, to get rid of the f****** red chairs…”  Then a series of questions to which she encourages the audience to respond with “F*** no!” and “A love song to all my fans who have supported me – without you I am nothing…” and she sings ‘Masterpiece’ with Kalakan, while the screens show footage of her recent delve into the world of film direction and Edward and Mrs Simpson.

Next section: Masculine and Feminine – mono footage from ‘Justify My Love’ appears large and in HD on the screens, as they split apart – dancers strut in full cross dressing mono designer ‘clothing’ and in a different ‘tower’ she emerges to ‘Vogue.’ For all you know about Madonna and this time in her career – that’s exactly what you get, sexual and slightly erotic dancing as clothes start to come off… through “Candy Shop’, a smidge of ‘Erotica’ and into ‘Human Nature’. During which she strips down from the male clothing to a skimpy bra, and threatens to strip her trousers – a sneaky peak of the top of a G-string, she moons – “Don’t think Birmingham is ready for that?”, the crowd re-act and the trousers are put back in place. On her back is written NO FEAR and at the front of the V stage, just her and a man on a piano, she sings a slow version of ‘Like A Virgin’ rolling around on the floor, clothing just about keeping body parts covered. At the end of the song, she’s roughly tied into a corset by a dancer, the bloke behind me shouts “Don’t hurt her!”

As she disappearing into the floor (the set is full of gizmos and trapdoors), we’re in the final section – the tightrope (plus dancers) re-appears and on the screen is the video for ‘Nobody Knows Me’ – the one that the Far Right has got upset about in France. She’s back on with guitar, bit of trance nation for ‘I’m Addicted’ with a power beat, ‘I’m A Sinner’ gets all George Harrison and Hare Krishna. Then, probably the standout track of the night – with full gospel choir in tow – it’s ‘Like A Prayer’ – the crowd get on down. She asks a fan to sing, who manages it after screaming at their idol.  And finally the bells ring out again, and they finish on ‘Celebration’ the columns on the stage lift them up high above the crowd, and the ‘cast’ wave as the show closes. “Thank you Birmingham.”

Wow. So That was her Madgeness at Birmingham NIA. It’s great that Birmingham have got such a big gig. The positives it was certainly a spectacular show, the screens, graphics, lighting, and stage gizmos were indeed stunning. The dancers were indeed awesome. And Madge is indeed full of energy, matching her dancers step for step. The not so positives, 45 minutes late, 1 hour 40+ set, mostly newer stuff rather than classic Madonna, meant that even some die-hard fans were left saying this wasn’t the best they had seen her. And then we have the ticket prices. Cheap seats at £55 to top whack, jaw droppingly priced £175 (lets not forget the BF etc) and the not so cheap merchandising. I personally have a real issue with such stupendously priced tickets and, as such, I expected far, far more than what we got for tonight’s performance. The gig was very nearly sold out, clearly people were happy to pay that sort of money to see their icon and many, many clearly had a fantastic time.

 

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The Prayer Overture: Act of Contrition

  1. Girl Gone Wild
  2. Revolver
  3. Gang Bang
  4. Papa Don’t Preach
  5. Hung Up
  6. I Don’t Give A *

 

Prophecy (Best friend)

  1. Express Yourself
  2. Give Me All Your Luvin’

 

Turning Up the Hits

  1. Turn Up The Radio
  2. Open Your Heart (with Kalakan excepts from ‘Sagarra jo!’)
  3. Masterpiece (with Kalakan)

 

Masculine / Feminine (Justify My Love)

  1. Vogue
  2. Candy Shop
  3. Human Nature
  4. Like A Virgin

 

Celebration ( Nobody Knows Me)

  1. I’m Addicted
  2. I’m a Sinner
  3. Like  Prayer
  4. Celebration