Last Night: Madonna at Dolphin Stadium

Categories: Concert Review

Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Dolphin Stadium, Miami Gardens

I am writing this to you at 2 a.m. exactly, which is the time you get home if you live in Wilton Manors and go to Madonna concerts in Miami. Madonna does awful things to the Golden Glades Exchange. Madonna makes "lanes" meaningless and turn signals invisible. Madonna puts a look of terror on the faces of tollbooth attendants, who do not understand why 50,000 metrosexual, giddy, semi-drunk motorists should materialize simultaneously on the horizon at a few minutes past midnight.

But I understand. Now I do, at least. I've never been a big Madonna fan: I think her lyrics are stupid and self-serving at precisely the moment when she's trying to sound smart ("American Life"), and until tonight I didn't think she was much of a dancer. I thought she danced like your average Broadway chorus girl. Well, so much for that.

Madonna began the Miami show of her Sticky and Sweet tour at 10 p.m., about two and a half hours later than expected. My boyfriend and I were in the tenth row, a little to the left of the catwalk, and between the two of us we were already $63 in the hole: $30 for parking, and $33 for three hot dogs, a pretzel, a Pepsi and a Bud Light. I remember thinking: No way this is gonna be worth it. I felt vaguely resentful right up until showtime, and even then I might have been skeptical for a minute or two. But that's all. Writing this to you now, I'm half-convinced that the Madonna show was the most astonishing concert I've ever seen. Not in any musical way -- the mix was painfully bass-heavy, at least where we were sitting, and during the dancier numbers Madonna sang like she might have a chest cold -- but because of the lady herself.

At 50, Madonna's body isn't merely in shape.  After decades of ruthless discipline, Madonna's body -- just like her career, persona, hair, and Western Civilization in general -- is less something she was born with than something she has fashioned from whole cloth, through nothing but the wermacht-like application of her will. Her torso is tiny, a compact command center for her extremeties. Her legs are the platonic ideal of legs. Her skin is perfectly smooth and her face lovelier than ever. But a good look at any part of the package will reveal the shifting bulges of massive muscle that lay just beneath the surface, muscles bigger than nature intended. The muscles in her thighs resemble big racing canoes, covered over with a membrane of milky, feminine skin.

The concert hadn't been underway for five minutes before I realized that these muscles are not for show, like a body-builder's, but that they constitute part of the same Madonna support-system as her hyper-competent, suit-wearing backup band and dozen-plus genre-defying backup dancers. She cultivated them so she wouldn't have to worry about them, so that her 50-year-old legs and 50-year-old arms would do precisely as she wished, no matter how punishing her wishes might be. And they are very punishing. Madonna came out dancing tonight, and she didn't stop until long after the ordinary rules of biology would have dropped any sane performer.

The Sticky and Sweet tour gives special emphasis to Madonna's new, urban-influenced record, Hard Candy. I've heard it only once, so much of the material performed tonight was only vaguely familiar. But in keeping with the clubby, bump-and-grindish vibe of her latest songs, Madonna's outfits on this tour are skimpy, and more sexual than anything she's worn since the Erotica days. And the beats are fast. She begins the concert from a chair, slowly unveiled from behind a series of huge moveable television screens (which ultimately cohese behind her band to form the backdrop of the whole set), and then she's up, dancing, singing, dancing, singing, through a medley of songs so energetic, with choreography so demanding, that she's plainly daring her body to fail. Then she's gone, after a tricked-out version of "Vogue" and twenty minutes or so of constant movement (that's a guess; time loses meaning at a Madonna show). During the brief intermezzo, two of her dancers, dressed as boxers, stage a gorgeously choreographed match while DJ Enferno fucks around with "Die Another Day." She's absent for only a minute or so, and then I see her beneath the stage on a hydraulic lift. She's jump roping, out of sight of the audience, expending energy with no clear purpose, suicidally confident that she's got plenty to spare. The lift brings her up into full view, where she jump ropes in front of the audience a bit before leaping into more hyper-athletic dancing, at one point executing some a viciously complex routine while double jump-roping with the apparatus held by two of her dancers. This looked so difficult I assumed she'd have to fuck up, but she didn't. It was like a little bit of Cirque du Soleil at Dolphin Stadium.

There's lots to be seen at a Madonna show. The mostly computer-generated background vids are busy and compelling (one of them was done by Keith Haring), especially after Madonna temporarily slows down mid-show to focus on singing. At the end of the stage's long catwalk, there is a huge, hollow, cylindrical television screen, and often Madonna or her dancers are half hidden within it while various species of psychedelia pulse across the surface. There is the moment when two dancers, dressed as samurai, execute a fiendishly difficult pop'n'lock routine in perfect synchrony during "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You." There is the old, apparently Mexican guitarist who joins Madonna onstage for a long Latin-infused medley built around "You Must Love Me" and "La Isla Bonita," and there is the flamenco dancer who briefly accompanies him. But just like the demands of Madonna's choreography, it's hard to see all the pomp and circumstance as anything but an elaborate dare: in a stadium as huge as Dolphin, in a crowd of 50,000+, will your gaze be drawn by the pretty lights, or will you have eyes only for their tireless architect? Tonight, everyone opted for the latter.

-- Brandon K. Thorp

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