Chris Willman on Madonna's Confessions Tour
May 21, 2006
Madonna's latest road trip is called the Confessions Tour, and in the spirit of absolution, I have an admission: I've been to every one of her six arena tours and, for all their flashes of brilliance, never completely enjoyed one before because I wasn't convinced she was enjoying herself. Madonna has always substituted a dominatrix vibe for audience rapport. And you could marvel at the mise-en-scène, costuming, and choreography and still wonder why the taskmistress at the center of it all seemed so busily joyless.
Maybe it was just a trick of light through the binoculars or maybe it was a stage design that frequently spirits her away from the screens and props to cut loose on an uncrowded catwalk in the middle of the arena but at her May 21 tour opener at the Forum, Madge actually seemed to be having a good time. This is her most enthralling tour, not because there's drastically less sensationalism or hydraulics, but because you'll finally recall those spectacular set pieces a lot less than you remember Madonna herself.
Not that she's outgrown her time-honored tweaking of conservative sensibilities. She arrives in equestrian gear, so you just know she'll soon be reining in bareback male dancers. And she achieves a watercooler moment with her already infamous crucifixion, which has her on a mirrored cross wearing a crown of thorns while singing ''Live to Tell.'' She's trying to make like Bono, channeling global suffering (hence the scrolled messages about African kids orphaned by AIDS), though it still feels like she's merely pushing Catholic watchdog buttons.
If you'd rather see her reenact Saturday Night Fever than Good Friday, you're in luck: For ''Lucky Star,'' she and the dancers rip off Travolta's white suit and 1977 moves. There are only five such pre-Ray of Light chestnuts. But for a dance-intensive show, beats matter, so it's fine that half the 20 songs are from last year's Confessions on a Dance Floor, her most unpretentiously boogie-friendly album since she was, like, a virgin.
The finest moments are the least conceptual, where she's alone out there as a hoofer and singer (yes, Elton, with a couple of exceptions, her mic is live and her tone is strong). The best ''scene'' is ''Let It Will Be,'' where the queen of control just gets spasmodic; it's as rock & roll as anything Courtney Love will ever do. All that rigid training you see in her scarily toned physique has done something to finally really loosen her up, and at 47, she's acquired a new grace and funk... along with a 14-year-old gymnast's thighs.
Speaking of aging, live long enough and you'll utter sentences you never thought you would. Which, in my case, would be ''You know, I think people really got their $350 worth.'' Grade: A-