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Swept Away

Madonna, MCI Center, June 13

By Bret McCabe | Posted 6/16/2004

Spirituality, war, and moving forward through these troubled times: For almost two hours this thematic trio dominated the imagery and talk coming from the MCI Center stage. And at the end, the standing sea of amped attendees was doused in red-and-white confetti that soon blanketed the floor. Either the GOP convention moved to Washington and came early this year or Madonna was in town.

Fret not, though, ye olde Madonna faithful. The children’s book-writing mother of the “Re-Invention” tour hasn’t dulled her edge; she’s merely added a little bit of Will and Grace to her omnipresent Karen and Jack flash. For this tour Madonna hasn’t reined in her risqué reputation, but it comes in a package so user-friendly you’d think this undoubtedly fit 45-year-old has finally asked not what her fans could do for her but what she could do for her fans.

“Re-Invention” isn’t a total redesign of the always chameleon-like star, more a subtle tweaking. She’s still got a finger on the pulse of someone in the know, and the elaborate stage show unfolds like a chimera of the cutting edge. The whole shebang starts off with a video preamble of Madonna in Victorian dress as her voice reads off an august litany of vaguely Revelationsesque observations and statements. Similarly garbed dancers rise from below and descend from above to the stage as the video screen splits and flanks three other video screens behind the stage. Her blondness rises from beneath the stage, clad in a golden jeweled corset, hot pants, knee-high boots, and is pretzeled into some position that flaunts her yogatastic bod. The background video screens display a baroque-ornate, painting-lined room that’s equal parts 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Jupiter Hilton and Matthew Barney, and as the painting’s figures start to move and a bass-line throb pokes you in the pelvis, Madonna unfurls herself and launches into “Vogue.”

Ready, set, go: For the next 110 minutes, save for a few musical-interlude costume changes, Madonna sings and dances her way through her past 20 years. Last year’s “Nobody Knows Me” segues into a “Frozen” interlude, after which her camo-clad male dancers crawl onstage beneath war-footage video of helicopter porn and gunfire. Madonna reappears, rocking army fatigues and Che beret, and flexes her way through “American Life” and “Express Yourself,” which is given the first real musical makeover.

Madonna is all about the guitar on this tour, and “Express Yourself” is re-charged with a pulsating six-string pulse and a martial drum beat that sets up color-guard choreography, all transpiring beneath her unquestionably anti-war video-screen imagery. Like journalists and Democrats, a rifle-twirling Madonna has found a way to be gung-ho pro-armed forces and ho-rah anti-war, and every single bit of her Madonna-speak received overwhelming excitement.

Everything about the show felt eager to please and did just that. She plugged in a shiny black Les Paul and supercharged “Burning Up” and “Material Girl” as noisy rockers. She went Kewpie-doll cute for “Hanky Panky” and “Deeper and Deeper.” And she reached a melodramatic peak as dancers strapped her down at the close of “Die Another Day” and she sang Evita’s “The Lament” from an electric chair.

You don’t come to Madonna for subtlety, and if the last hour of the show were any more thrill-seeking people would’ve been passing out. Ruminative warm-ups “Nothing Fails” (with Madonna on acoustic guitar) and “Don’t Tell Me” ran into the rousing “Like a Prayer” and “Mother and Father.” Even a hokey “Imagine” didn’t slow her down; at its close, Madonna exited and bagpipe players entered for a little Scots breakdown, and she returned in boots, kilt, and T-shirt, and “Into the Groove” came to life in its percolating Gap ad version. That shirt read kabbalists do it better, and after the dance-filled “Groove” cheers recognized this little wink at history as her-story. Die-hards know full well that back in the MTV day that tee read italians rather than kabbalists and that “Papa Don’t Preach” was about to be in full effect. Sure ‘nuff, a strings-powered “Papa” led into the final rundown—the dedicated-to-fans “Crazy for You,” the club-rocking “Music,” and the more-colors-than-Benetton closer “Holiday”—made you feel as giddy as a teenage girl.

The re-invented Madonna didn’t demur from her usual snap with the quasi-statement—personal faves: pan-religious appropriations from Catholic crucifixion scenes to Hebrew messages, dancers in such newfangled styles as the mini-dress nun’s habit and chador, and letters spelling out freedom in sparkly silver glitter on the red boxers Madonna and her dancing men wore under their kilts. But for the first time in a long while she looked like she was having a blast rather than bull-charging people trying to titillate, shock, or awe. Madonna according to “Re-Invention,” the latest façade from one of pop music’s most infamous artifice arbiters, feels a great deal like a flesh and blood human. And coming from a woman who has lived her fame as a pliable surface, it proves the broad has still got balls.

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