Three hours is a long time to wait in the heat of an Abu Dhabi’s simmering summer for a concert to start. At least five people from the patient audience comprising mostly of expats, succumbed to the heat and fainted at the Arena.
The previous night’s show had not fetched the Queen too many good reviews. It was reported that Madonna had arrived on stage an hour and a half later than expected and that the heat had gotten the better of her thereby dampening her performance.
The second night was as hot. The crowd was getting edgy with each passing minute and an hour and forty-five minutes later, there was still no sign of Madonna. The organizers were nonchalant, the queues for beer too long and Michael Jackson’s music that played on the loop, bizarre.
We were all about to collapse en-masse when hooded clergy appeared on stage. A church bell rang. The thurible, hanging from the ceiling, dropped down as Gregorian chants filled the air. It appeared to be the setting for a cult that favoured devil worship. The thurible was lit up and made to sway following which the clergy began to indulge in some dark ritual, chanting alongside. The steeple of the church appeared as the screen parted Madonna’s shadow inside it was heard, asking for forgiveness for having sinned. “Oh my God…..” she said slowly and then with a loud crashing sound the Girl Gone Wild materialized on stage.
The rest of the performance was not merely a concert but an extravagent musical theatre. Dark, surreal and pulsating with Madonna’s indescribable energy this was a production of an unfathomable scale and caliber. The lighting, the visuals and the graphics were all too overwhelming to be real and lent magnificence to the evening.
After her Girl Gone Wild track, a gun wielding Madge sang Revolver as she went on a faux shooting spree while images comprising of fresh blood, bullets and morphing bodies flashed on the larger than life screen on the LCD backdrop. Another song with more gore followed as she sat inside an American Motel shooting at men in gas masks as she sang Gang Bang.
She also sang Express Yourself and threw in words like ‘respect yourself’ fusing it with Born this way by Lady Gaga and promptly following it up with She’s not me. That was a snub that will not be forgotten by Gaga fans in a hurry. Oh but I am no Gaga fan. I have been a Madonna fan all my life and even more so after watching her perform live.
For some reason people expected her to sing her ‘golden hits’ through the years, but this was the MDNA tour and she mostly sang tracks from this album throwing in some of her old hits only briefly. The most riveting performance of the night was when she sang Like a Virgin like a ballad. Gone was the exuberance of the Madonna of the 80s. There was certain maturity to this rendition of the song as sweat mixed with emotion dripped from Madonna’s face.
Here was a woman who was sure of herself even as she was broken. To me the subliminal message of this concert was the rising of a wronged woman from her heartbreaks and embracing inner peace. But she does this all in her hypnotic style even as she indulges in some attention seeking sexual moves on stage calling them Human Nature. Madonna’s presence, however, is so powerful that it absolves her of all sin.
She is unapologetic about living life on her own terms and irreverent. With “NO FEAR” tattooed across her back, she seemed to be exorcising her inner demons as she gave glimpses of her stoicism, her vulnerability, her surety and her sensuality during the performance.
She asked the audience “Have you ever loved something dearly, something that you know you cannot not get?” as a preamble to Masterpiece, a song I love.
When someone from the audience told her “Yes, you” she answered “But you have me. I am yours.”
The audience gave a sigh of relief as they heard the familiar sounds of Like a Prayer, which Madonna sang atop a run down bus with the images of a running train and streets of Calcutta on the LCD backdrop. Bollywood actor types doing stunts on top of trains gave way to yogis as she chanted famous Hindu shlokas.
For a 53 year old, Madonna has a body that belongs in a military camp and energy that belongs in a high school. In spite of the torturous head she went through eight costume changes and vigorous dance moves over 20 songs.
Her body, with each and every muscle defined and sculpted to the bone, seemed symbolic of her inner life to me. While toughening up her exterior Madonna seems to have pulled herself together from within to become indestructible. She is her own shield.
I came away, mesmerized. I am sure that when I am dying and visuals from my life flash before my eyes, Madonna’s image from this concert will be one of them.
I have always liked Madonna, but after this concert, I am a ‘Born Again’.