Madonna at Verizon Center

Madonna at Verizon Center:  I’m Too Old Or And She Is

If, like me, you occasionally watch Fashion Police, there is a pattern to the critiques that Joan Rivers and her crew make of celebrities’ bad outfits, especially when the celebrity is someone they seem to like personally.  They all start with the positive – “first of all, she is so beautiful, I mean look at that body, and her hair just always looks flawless, and maybe there was something about how it played on television, but…” – and that’s when you know this person’s latest red carpet look is about to be served up like a meatball over home plate. 

So, let me say this about Monday night’s Madonna concert.  She is Madonna.  Four decades of enormous success.  “Ground breaker” is too trite but spot on accurate.  Her music has formed some part of the life soundtrack of everyone from the age of, I don’t know, 18 to 45.   I don’t need to google her record sales or the number of top 10 singles to know she’s in the pantheon of extraordinary performers, deservedly so.  And I mean, look at that body.  You can’t not look at it, and no amount of surgery could produce what she has:  strength, agility, sexual energy, all carried with much deserved pride.

Since attending a concert is a two way street, I’ll also take responsibility for not bringing my A game.  I had no time to change after work, and ended up attending in my black turtleneck and wool pants.  Amit was so aghast that he took off his Hanes undershirt and made me put that on, with my denim jacket over it, to try to salvage the family rep just a shred.  It was also a Monday, which I could right well have appreciated by looking at the calendar when we were invited to the show.  But after the very first song, that much, much, much anticipated first glimpse of this icon staging her craft, I checked out.  Over the next 90 minutes, Amit heard more expletives from his wife than a Yankees fan in the Fenway bleachers.  Because this show left me baffled, then annoyed, occasionally bemused, but eventually just pissed.

Madonna, though you are not likely one of my six or seven readers, I will still speak frankly.

First, we all know that you can afford to buy several small countries and have sat with (or on) kings, but girl, you can’t start your stadium show at 10:30 p.m.  Just can’t.  If Jay Z and Kanye can forklift their ten ton egos onto that stage and serve up a powerhouse concert between the respectable hours of 9 and 12 – encores included – so can you.  There’s a great venue in DC called the 9:30 Club, and when you go there to see – oh, I don’t know, the Lemonheads (that’s the sound of Amit’s hand hitting his forehead) or SuperDiamond (They rock.  Deal with it.) – you understand that with an opening act, the headliner isn’t coming on til 10 or 11.  You plan accordingly.  But with rare exceptions, nothing about staying up that late improves things, particularly here, when just about everything you decided to do on stage screamed only for improvement.

Let’s start with the opening sequence of you wielding several firearms, and the 50 foot screens flashing the attendant blood splatters?  I’m lost, absolutely lost, but ready to duck for cover rather than watch this play out.  As for what you were singing as you emptied those many clips, the best I could make out was a lyric as inspired as “dead…shot him in the head.”  As Amit said, “if I wanted to see a Tarrantino movie….”

Moving on from there, you’ve got at least three dozen too many men dressed in monastic garb and white Smurf hats moving around the stage at any given minute.  I can’t keep up with all the symbolism, and I’m sure none of it is solicitous of the Catholic Church – I’m with you there – but the bigger problem is that I can barely find you.  Is that your shadow in the gilded confessional in the back?  Are you under the chanting monk pile?  Are you the monkey in the middle in that Billy Elliott-meets-Lord-Flatley industrial stepdance action?  I can’t see you, girl!

Oh!  That’s because a whole bunch of the time, you’re not there

Yep, this was a show in which you could watch a whole lot of video of Madonna, including rapid fire montages of the various eras in which you should have forked up money to see her live, but for at least an appreciable segment of this concert, the woman simply wasn’t on stage.  You can’t explain it away with costume changes, either.  The entire track of Justify played while 30 guys dressed like mimes in white mittens writhed around on the stage.  At this point, sick to death of hearing my griping, Amit pointed out that it had a cool Cirque du Soleil feel.  To which I said, yes, there’s a Cirque du Soleil show featuring Michael Jackson’s music too, and it’s true you never see him, but his promoters waited til he was dead to go in that direction.  So he gets a pass on the whole “live” thing.

[By the way, having all those drummers velcro’d to the curtains 30 feet over the stage?  That just feels like you’re courting disaster – one of these days you’re not going to need to simulate those big blood splatters.  At a minimum I’m pretty sure it’s an OSHA violation.]

The title to this piece was not meant in any way to suggest that this woman, or any woman, should play it safe, or tone it down, or stop getting half naked on stage when you look better than a 20 year old supermodel, or – god forbid – pack it in at 54.  Madonna has taken such phenomenal care of herself, she’s put in the work, and she’s a legend.  What I could not get over, though, is how damn insecure this woman seems in spite of all that.  Two examples:  the PSA from Nicky Minaj incanting:  “There is only one queen……and that is Madonna….”  Do you need this generation’s pop icons, however much they owe to you, to instruct your own audience that you are great?  Or are you just fearing irrelevance, after fending it off better than almost anyone since the 1980’s?  I’m just imagining what Nicky’s agent thought when they got this request:  “Let me get this straight, you want her to what?  So in the middle of a Madonna show everyone sees a ten story image of Nicky saying how Madonna is still the queen?  Uh, yeah, I guess we could do that.”

 Worse yet, what you may have intended as a playful dig at Lady Gaga, by peppering some lines of Born This Way into the middle of Express Yourself, just came off as petty and – I’ll just say it  – beneath a woman of your age and accomplishment.  We get it.   She stole your sound, in that song and probably countless others.  She’s a hit anyway.  It’s not just in your imagination that she’s cutting in on the gay club scene.  Deal with it.  The entire genre of hip hop was and is grounded in sampling, mixing, and downright copying others’ music.  If you can’t own your legend at this point in your career, then that is really a shame.  One of the best things I’ve found about my 40’s is that each year I care a little less about how others view me.  I care, of course, but my self-regard certainly doesn’t hinge on it.  In sum, you’re too old for this crap.

There’s certainly more I could say.  The majorette costume.  The pom pom’s.  The tattoo of Obama across your back and – since this is DC after all – your endorsement, laden somewhat inexplicably with several “motherf—-r”s.  I can’t do it all justice.  [But I will say this:  Michelle, do not let this woman within ten miles of your husband.  Hear me now, and believe me later, you didn’t see her snake across the stage singing “Like A Virgin” with the letters of Obama’s name undulating across her lats.  You’d be safer sending him to film a movie with Angelina.]

Finally, I confess that Amit cut through the majority of my criticism with one major and obvious reaction:  if you thought you were coming here to hear her rattle off 20 top ten hits, you should have known better.  He’s right, I guess, and it’s up to Madonna to decide what her current incarnation is and how she’s going to share it with the world.  It’s up to the ticket buying public laying down anywhere from $60 to over $200, plus babysitter money, to decide whether we want to buy. 

Springsteen has a philosophy about the contract – literal and figurative – between performer and fan, and I venture to say it has served him well.  As he told David Remnick in a fabulous New Yorker piece: “Remember, we’re also running a business here, so there is a commercial exchange, and that ticket is my handshake. That ticket is me promising you that it’s gonna be all the way every chance I get. That’s my contract. And ever since I was a young guy I took that seriously.”  

In so many ways, Madonna’s show convinces me she doesn’t share that view.  That is her right, I suppose, and who knows?  Maybe her next tour will feature more of what has made her compelling all these years.  Because one thing is for sure:  this woman shouldn’t need assault weapons, or even a single Glock, to know she can still kill it.

3 thoughts on “Madonna at Verizon Center

  1. Julianna

    Ok SmartyPants. So much to say. You can’t appreciate a Madonna show from the 400 level. Granted you were sitting in a fancy “box” but you were way too high to see what was really happening down low. Maybe the show doesn’t translate as well to the nosebleeds. That’s something Madonna should consider but for those of us who forked out the dough to see the show: it delivered. I will agree and give you the bizarre nature of the opening Eyes Wide Shut sequence that was followed by the gratuitous gun Tarantino shtick which also had me questioning what I just got into, but the rest of the show rocked and was amazing. Madonna performs. She does part theater, part singing, part dancing and all entertainment. Most concerts are just bands banging or strumming instruments. Madonna is an experience. And she very rarely wasn’t onstage, she did it for major costume/act changes. She played both the hits and her more recent stuff (she’s still trying to sell music afterall). I mean how can you say a show where she plays: Lucky Star, Holiday, Respect Yourself, Vogue, Like A Prayer etc etc doesn’t cover the hits? I thought it was hysterical that she jabbed at Gaga for lifting her music (rap sampling is totally different– Gaga “wrote” a major pop hit that was 100% stolen without giving props to where she stole it from — that’s a justifiable jab. Gaga prides her bs on how unique and original she is, Madonna’s point was: not so original). Granted the obscenities were over the top, the Obama love stuff was almost harmful to the campaign — he doesn’t need the young or gay vote in this election cycle but whatevs. We were all loving it and rocking out and proud of and impressed by her. Madonna has some unresolved personal issues. She’s in her 50’s and is still pissed that her mother died (I probably would be too) and that her step-mother was nasty and that the Church failed her. It’s her obsession and it’s been her fetish since age 16. I too was struck by her lack of personal evolution on the God front. But I chalk that up to bad therapists. Why no one’s been able to help her forgive mom, Jesus, and men for all the wrongdoing done to her and show her the power of taking personal responsibility and more importantly finding some sense of peace to move on from the very old demons I do not know. Madonna if you are reading this quit searching for answers through other interesting religions and find a better talk therapist. She’s a little fu**ed up. She’s spent the past 30 years being treated like a God and she comes across as entitled. I think she’s scared to death of irrelevance which is why she turns to Nicky Minaj. It’s interesting to be entertained and also see the venerability of an artist at the same time. I thought that was part of the brilliance of the show. It was both random and soulful. Madonnas spirit is an arbitrary angry wounded brilliant creative and powerful place. She took me there. P.S. Cirque de Soleil Michael Jackson sucked. This was far more entertaining! E kind to poor Madgey Caro. She’s a powerhouse and had you joined us downtown you would have been spinning in a good way. On the plus side I’m sure you looked hot in your boyfriend’s T-shirt!

    1. J, you know I love you, but nothing doing. Saw Jay Z and Kanye and Foos from same level, and you couldn’t take your eyes off them. In fact, the Watch the Throne tour is a perfect example of respect for fans: those guys were absolutely killing themselves out there – you sing, then I sing, you, me, us, repeat. It was as exhilirating for the crowd as it must have been physically draining for them. I’ll take your word that the party on the floor made up for some of the bizarre stuff, but is she only supposed to entertain 1/5 of the crowd? She can’t get over Gaga – I left out the sad “she’s not me, she’s not me…” which – you’re right – any decent therapist would explain to her as her own paralyzing fear: “I’m not her…”

      You can’t count Papa Don’t Preach, either – what did she sing, 3 lines?

      Look, you did set the sartorial bar way too high with your Frankie Say Relax shirt. And I am honestly glad you liked the show.

      But …. nope.

  2. Julianna

    Oh boy here we go, will we ever be able to live down the infamous Kanye Jay Z concert? If I had a dime for every time a Mehta metions that show I’d have enough money to buy a coke at the Verizon Center by now. Fast forward to Caroline and Amit, age 98 at the retirement home, shaking a cane at Devan’s daughter, “Well let me tell you missy…back in 2011 there was a Kanye Jay Z concert at a place called the Verizon Center and the whole audience was electrified by these young mens’ ability to do something called rap — it’s where you turn a phrase in a catchy rhyming gangster sort of way…” And Devans’ daughter will look at me and roll her eyes as I shrug and spoon feed Greg another bite of grits.

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