A Good Trip: A Review of Madonna's MDNA Tour In New Orleans

*Pictures are a mix of my own and press photos. It should easy to tell the difference:).

I went, I saw and now I will review. As even the most casual reader of this blog probably knows, I love Madonna, gay cliche or not. But up until last night, I'd never had the awe-inspiring pleasure of seeing her in the flesh. There are different reasons for this; I wasn't exactly old enough to beg my parents to get tickets for The Girlie Show, Blond Ambition or Who's That Girl, and was barely a zygote during The Virgin Tour, which was the last time she came down to New Orleans. Which brings up the other reason--location, as her more recent tours have skipped over us Pelican state residents.

Finally the time, the place and my money were right and I journeyed to the Big Easy to see my Grand Diva dance, sing, get up and do her thing. The ride down was fun and smooth, as I drove most of the way singing her songs at the top of my lungs. Things turned momentarily frantic when I made a wrong turn--I have a horrible sense of direction, and somehow the fact the arena was two steps away from the Superdome went over my head--but eventually got to a parking garage and followed the crowd toward the arena.

Getting a piece of her luvin ain't cheap.
Speaking of the crowd, it was pretty diverse; a mix of old and young fans, straight guys with  wives/girlfriends, and gays of all shapes, sizes and races. And though it was colder than a witch's teat--I've always wanted to say that--that didn't stop the girls, and of course, more than a few of the boys, from recreating of some Madge's iconic incarnations. Most opted for the Desperately Seeking Susan/Boy Toy look, while others slapped on cone bras and magic hair ponytails, leather, PVC wedding dresses, nun outfits and general New Orleans zaniness.

The merchandise and concession stands were hella expensive ($4 for water?), though my clutching the pearls at the prices probably says more about me; I haven't been to many concerts that didn't include dollar drinks or take place in a hole in the wall, so it took a minute for me to adjust. After wolfing down a kids' meal (hey a hot dog, popcorn and soda go a long way), and taking in the surroundings, I took a seat (the first of several until I found the right one) and waited for the festivities to begin.

Unfortunately, that would take about two and half hours.  I'm not sure what the holdup was, but a majority of the crowd seemed hip to the game, as most folks didn't start filing in until around ten. The wait was helped somewhat by a DJ's set and the venue throwing on some old school Diana Ross--though "I'm Coming Out" definitely took on a new meaning given the circumstances.

At about 10:30, the lights dimmed and the show began. Here's the blow-by-blow:

Kill Bill/Religious Section 

The moment before I lost my gay mind.

A "religious chant" started things off as two robed monks rung a massive bell, causing a humongous censer to sway back and forth over fans in the triangle section. Other ominous figures emerged from the bottom of the stage while Madonna was shrouded behind a scrim, reciting the act of contrition as "Girl Gone Wild" kicked off. Then she burst through and emerged in a tight black outfit. She looked gorgeous: blond hair laid perfectly, face beat to perfection, the twins sitting like two scoops of french vanilla inside a leopard print bra.

I always thought I'd jump up and down and scream to high heaven with queenly delight when I saw Madonna on stage. But I could barely utter a sound. I was actually trembling, covering my mouth with my hands as she started dancing, beaming at the crowd. I may have been in the cheap seats, but for a moment it felt like we were the only two in the whole arena.

Okay, on with the show. After "Girl Gone Wild"and "Revolver" (appropriate since it features Lil' Wayne, a Nawlins native) got the party started, she conjured up her best Beatrix Kiddo for "Gang Bang" The dingy hotel room, the stylized fighting and the arty, seductive approach to violence all reek of Tarantino, though using a cross as step ladder was pure Madge. It was breath taking to watch. A shortened version of "Papa Don't Preach," came next, though Madonna did mess up a few lines and said "shit shit" in response, adding some unintended humor to was the evening's darkest segment.

Even "Hung Up," the purest of pop songs, got blackened up a bit, with a bound and gagged Madonna being pushed and pulled while dancers bounced up and down on thin wires, a.k.a slackliing, while she lay perilously underneath. "I Don't Give A..." featured a flat-screen Nicki Minaj and Madonna strumming her guitar. There wasn't much going on onstage, but it ended with Madonna laying on a platform, being lifted to the heavens behind a backdrop of a massive cross as the crowd roared. She may be going straight to hell, but she'll definitely have a lot of friends there.

The first section ended with the show's first interlude, featuring a few gas-masked dancers. Continuing the S&M theme, they contorted their bodies into poses that were thrilling and painful to watch, as a mashup of Hard Candy's "Heartbeat" and MDNA's "Best Friend" played. The circus tricks were too much for two girls behind me, as one said to the other "She's a weird girl." To which I thought Chile please. Where have you been for the last 100 years? Madge has been putting off-the-wall stunts in her shows for eons now. But let's move on.

Cheerleader/Majorette Section

After all the tension and the darkness (wink wink:) of the first act, the cowbells of "Express Yourself" were just what the crowd, particularly casual fans hungering for the hits, needed. Madonna looked like a combination of 40's siren-meets-grown up cheerleader, giving us a cute, flirty wink and salute as she launched into the song. Much has been made of Madonna incorporating Gaga's "Born This Way"  and her own "She's Not Me," but for me it came across less as a "stop swagger jackin' my shit bitch" salvo than as a nod from one provocative pop starlet to another. Of course, she has cited for throwing shade at previous gigs, so maybe it varies from city to city.

The whole drumline remix of "Give Me All Your Luvin'"--complete with drummers drumming in mid-air!--was great as well, featuring plenty of batons, pom poms and booty poppin'. The good times continued when Madonna strapped back on the guitar and tore through "Turn Up The Radio," another crowd pleaser.

The "Beret"/Dita Section

Sauntering back onstage with a beret (hence the name of this section), Madonna did a great, bare bones version of "Open Your Heart,"  during which she did her patented deep knee bends. Taking time to speak,  she attempted a little Cajun, asking if we were ready to "laissez bon temp rouler" (let the good times roll for the uninitiated). The one bizarre note came when she told us it was her birthday. Girl what? Last time I checked it was August 16! But I'll chalk it up to the rigors of the road and wanting to get the audience more riled up.

Things hit a little snag when Madge brought up Romney vs. Obama
Things hit a bump in road when she touched on politics. I was worried for her (like she needs my help:), when she brought up the presidential race. Of course we Democrats exist in Louisiana, but this is clearly Romney country.

It was the only moment I feared the crowd would turn on her, and when she encouraged us all to vote, then quipped "for Obama," sure enough a large portion of folks booed her. Undeterred, she lifted up her skirt, tapped her booty and told the haters to kiss her ass--with love of course. She then went on to encourage all of us to vote--no matter who we vote for--and to recognize how lucky we are to live in a democratic society.

Crowd firmly back in her pocket, she thanked us for sticking by her "for the last 300 years" and performed "Masterpiece," which she sang beautifully. The "Justify My Love" interlude came afterward, and while the video was fantastic, the clown routine paled next to the earlier contortion fest. "Vogue" was next, and though it was clearly lip-synched, she still gave a good face, sashaying and strutting across the stage in the destined-to-be iconic metal bustier. "Candy Shop" definitely is not and will never be one of my favorite songs, but it was given new life in the show, with touches of "Erotica" thrown in for good measure. "Human Nature" followed, with Madonna facing walls of moving mirrors as she declared "I'm not sorry." I can see why some don't like the song--it's the kind of defensive, woe-is-me complaint that doesn't  exactly endear the rich and famous to everyday folks--but for me, the record's attitude, not to mention the beat, sells it.

Stripping down to her corset and exposing dollar bills (among other things) in her trousers, she dedicated "Like A Virgin" to Pussy Riot and all courageous artists, before performing a slow, dramatic version of her signature hit. How the lyrics relate to Pussy Riot is a little unclear; perhaps she meant seeing other artists willing to sacrifice their personal freedom for their art reawakened her need to provoke and take risks? I'm not sure. While not my favorite reworking of the song--Blond Ambition's harem version still slays them all--it worked for me, especially as a segue way into a ballad version of "Love Spent" one of MNDA's standout cuts.

The slower tempo definitely brought out the hurt and betrayal hidden in the money metaphors. Splayed out on the stage, clutching dollar bills as a dancer tightened what looked liked a faint-inducing corset, the effect was somber and devastating. The interlude that followed used "Nobody Knows Me," and featured images of Muslim women and a swastika imposed on Marie Le Pen, a French conservative, who apparently is no friend of Madge. The most arresting image though was Madonna herself, rapidly running through her many guises until wrinkles and lines appear, then deteriorating until there was nothing but skeleton. A sharp, wicked middle finger to those who think she's too old for pop music.

Final Section

I couldn't up come with a proper name for the final segment, though feel good would be appropriate, since it kicked off with a thunderous version of "I'm Addicted," definitely one of MDNA's best tracks. Though while it's a great dance track, it didn't pump up the crowd quite like I expected. "I'm A Sinner" followed, along with a little Hawaiian-esque medley, which, when compared with how the show opened, is a pretty big 180 tone wise.

"Like A Prayer" is what really brought the house down, or more accurately, got everyone on their feet. It shouldn't come as a shock though, as it's such an uplifting song. Though it would be really interesting to hear the original version, with its rock guitars and isane bassline, performed live. It would have certainly fit the mood of the show. But I digress. Madonna clearly enjoyed the love, holding out the mike for the those in the triangle section to sing along--damn those triangle bitches. A pumped up rendition of "Celebration" closed things out, and just like that "Holiday" began poring out of the speakers and the arena lights came on. Show  over.

Though I was disappointed she didn't include "Holiday" in the set list, especially since she's been doing snippets of it at other gigs, it was a great show. The dancers, interludes and sets were captivating, and Madonna's voice was consistently strong. She really seemed to be enjoying herself, reveling in her latest spectacle and having fun. I always thought I'd never have more fun with anyone else. Now I know it.