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Madonna, Hyde Park, review
Neil McCormick reviews US pop star Madonna's concert at Hyde Park, part of her MDNA Tour.
By Neil Mccormick
17 July 2012 • 11:10pm
No one pulled the plug on Madonna at Hyde Park. Well, who would dare? Judging by the content of this show, she might garrotte, kick, shoot or whip any antagonist, then make a sanctimonious speech about world peace over their broken and bleeding body.
It was a typically sensationalist and schizophrenic Madonna production, mixing sex, ultra violence, religion, kitsch and politics to bizarre but entertaining effect.
It has been an interesting week of Hyde Park concerts, with big guns all impressing in very different ways. Springsteen did it with charisma, emotional content and dynamic rock power. Paul Simon did it with subtlety, detail and complex musical interplay. Madonna did it with lights, dancers, giant video screens, hydraulics, costume changes, flying drummers, tightrope walking, cheerleaders, a basque folk trio ... And music too.
I have criticised Madonna in the past for an over reliance on backing tracks and backing singers to fill in the vocal gaps while she's doing her yoga moves. But amidst the autotuned super-choreographed dance productions, the real highlight of this show was a stripped back version of Like A Virgin, performed to piano and violin in the style of Brechtian cabaret. Fragile and intense, it openly embraced the ever present subtext of her age, displaying a sexual vulnerability that was far more resonant and effective than her brief stint as a superannuated cheerleader during Gimme All Ure Luvvin. I honestly did not suspect she had that performance in her. It suggests that she might actually have somewhere creative to go as her pop appeal wanes.
Her latest album, MDNA, has been a bit of a flop, in large part, I suspect, because she's trying too hard to keep up with the kids. Live she plays to different strengths, emphasising her showmanship with enough drama and spectacle to cover up the gap in class between her classic hits and rather more feeble recent stabs at electropop. The opening section is actually quite unpleasantly aggressive, particularly the blood spatter and multiple murders set piece for Gang Bang, although it's hard to deny that aggression suits her. Madonna stomps around the set in black leather like an ageing dominatrix, which is hard to equate with the love-in at the end, with monks, Buddhists and gospel singers joining in a happy clappy version of Like A Prayer.
But Madonna makes no attempt at consistency. Perhaps that's part of her genius, everything and anything goes. During Express Yourself, she even threw in a few bars of Lady GaGa's Born This Way, then danced around singing "She's not me, she's not me". For sheer wacky mass pop entertainment, Madonna proved herself more than equal to the challenge of all her young pretenders.
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