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Review: After a few Missteps, Madonna Hit Her Groove at HP Pavilion

In Music

Critics have been carping for literally decades about Madonna being too old, too out of touch, too fake and too lightweight. Time and again, they fail to understand her continued success.

Madonna’s strength is not in her consistency, or her perceived hipness in any given year. She is, instead, the world’s leading exporter of Madonnaness. Through smash hits or Shanghai surprises, she never lets up. To paraphrase The Terminator, she can’t be bargained with. She can’t be reasoned with. She doesn’t feel pity, remorse or fear. And she absolutely will not stop, ever, until she is dead.

PHOTO GALLERY: Crowd and concert photos from Madonna’s concert at HP Pavilion.

What’s strange is that Madonna herself seemed to have forgotten how she got where she is through the entire first half hour of her show at HP Pavilion Saturday night.

As she kicked off almost entirely with songs from her new album, MDNA, she proceeded to give the audience absolutely everything they didn’t want from a Madonna show.

Attempting to do for violence what she did for sex, she squandered her stage time with the world’s most poorly timed gun show (and I’m not referring to her arms). Blood and tissue were splattered across the video screens as she pretended to shoot dancers in the head and kept pointing her fake gun at the audience like it was a nervous tic.

VIDEO: Madonna’s Five Most Outrageous Moments.

Considering that Madonna’s subversiveness was always in her message of self-acceptance and positivism, guess how this went over? The energy in the building, already taxed by the show’s late start, was sucked out entirely, even from her adoring hardcore fan base. It all seemed forced and desperate, a poorly thought out rip off of MIA’s warmongering shtick and Lady Gaga’s own dark take on Madonnaness.

The irony was upped when Madonna finally cut the hardboiled crap and came out to a pretty impressive staging of “Express Yourself,” in which she poked fun at Lady Gaga by demonstrating how effortlessly “Born This Way” fit into the melody of her own song (she has, of course, accused Gaga of stealing it before). As drum majorettes marches through the air above the stage and cheerleaders twirled, she took her first step toward reclaiming the territory she actually owns.

Madonna at HP Pavilion. // Photo by Aron Cooperman.

By the time she’d gotten to “Vogue” and “Candy Shop,” she was slinking through stylish black-and-white tableaux, lesbian bars and vintage cool. That’s the Madonna concert people want to see, because that blend of sophistication, sexuality and pop camp is what Madonna does better than anyone else.

COLUMN: Why Madonna Still Matters

She worked her way through the hits, but the night’s best moment may have been when she acknowledged that it was the 30th anniversary of the release of her first single, “Everybody.” On a stage uncluttered by her big-budget sets or eye-popping stunts (and the stunts were ridiculously good all night, it should be noted), she made an actual connection with the audience as she enlisted their help singing it, having claimed to have possibly forgotten the words. It was fun, it was unexpected, and it showed that Madonna still knows how to surprise her audience in a good way.

Did you make it to the show? Share your thoughts in our comments section.

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