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Madonna in Philadelphia

Step inside the first show of The Queen’s North American MDNA tour. Kill the lights, pump up the bass, and cue the Girl Gone Wild. With a very late 10.30pm start, Madonna kicked off the North American leg of her MDNA Tour last night in the city of brotherly love. She may have kept the Wells Fargo Arena waiting, but the moment she broke free of her Confessional, AK-47 in hand and singing “Girl Gone Wild,” 20,000 fans knew it was worth the wait. The production value of the MDNA Tour, with its large scale set pieces, was reminiscent of the larger than life sets for The Blonde Ambition Tour. It was clear to see right from the start when a giant thurible/censer burning incense swung over the audience’s heads just what Madonna’s ambition was this go around. The Original Material Girl can still put on a show better than anyone else.

The opening religious segment fell way to a gun toting “bitch out of order” as Madge shot up any and every male dancer who dared get in her way while singing “Revolver” then “Gang Bang” (a track actually penned by Mika) off her newest album, MDNA in a Motel Room set piece. It was obvious the scorned Ex Mrs. Ritchie was channeling her “darkness” with a nod to the “shoot ‘em up” films Guy is known for. But however dark and violent the first section of the show may have seemed, (which included the songs “Hung Up,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” and “I Don’t Give A”) the “light” immediately picked up when Madonna reappeared on stage after the “Best Friend” / “Heart Beat” Interlude.

Wearing a 1940’s majorette inspired costume and twirling a baton, Madonna belted out the fan favorite, “Express Yourself.” With a wink and a smile the Queen of Pop blended one of her greatest hits with Lady GaGa’s “Born This Way,” proving once and for all that the two songs really are twins. She ended the mash-up by singing, “she’s not me” from the song of the same name off her Hard Candy album. Clearly, Madonna, clearly! The whole audience was on their feet as Madonna marched her way into a pumped up “Give Me all Your Luvin’,” complete with a drum line lowered in from the ceiling! And while the crowd was revved up, she strummed out MDNA’s third single, “Turn Up the Radio,” on her guitar.

By the middle of the show Her Highness was ready for some more Luvin’, treating the audience to a beautiful rendition of “Open Your Heart” followed by her Golden Globe winning song, “Masterpiece,” from her feature film W.E. What made this section really special was that Madonna’s son, Rocco, performed onstage with his mum. The love in her eyes was clear as she sang to him. It was also at this point in the show that Madonna spoke to the audience. Apologizing for starting late, she claimed the show’s transition from Europe to America was not as seamless as one would hope. Madonna stated that opening the North American leg of the tour in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, was meaningful to her. She proceeded to speak her mind about Russia’s Pussy Riot, gay men who have been imprisoned for being who they are, and the importance of freedom for everyone.

Moving from Love to Lust, the “Justify My Love” Interlude heated the audience up. When Madonna reemerged on stage, her classic hit, “Vogue,” was reinvented by re-imagining her infamous Gaultier cone bra and corset. This time, however, it was designed as a cage that Madonna paid a lady of the night to let her out of. The sticky and sweet “Candy Shop,” complete with enormous chandelier and Boy Toy Brahim Zaibat, melted away to a very reflective “Human Nature”/”Erotica” mash-up. Here we found Madonna undressing for us in front of full length moving mirrors until she was stripped out of her clothes and ready to perform a very stripped down version of “Like A Virgin.” Perhaps the most powerful performance of the night, Madonna’s vulnerability was never more apparent. Though she still rolled around on the stage floor like she did in 1985 “for the very first time,” this time it was by a woman who had lost at love.

The “Nobody Knows Me” interlude paid a sobering tribute to recent gay teen suicides. And just when the crowd needed it most, Madonna gave us a heavy dose of MDNA in her final section with “I’m Addicted” (the song that gives the album its triple entendre). This was followed by a tripped-out train ride through India with the psychedelic “I’m A Sinner,” and yes, Madonna, we too “like it that way.” Fully moving out of the darkness and into the light, the 54 year old power house of a performer took us there with “Like A Prayer,” lifting us up for the show’s final number, “Celebration” (off her last greatest hits album), and a celebration is was. With all her dancers and Rocco back on stage, and her fans teeming with excitement, the undisputed Queen of Pop set the record straight: she can out dance, outperform, and out party all her Lady(ies) in Waiting. Having been inside the Golden Triangle and having a 360 View of the show, I can honestly say the MDNA Tour is one of Madonna’s best. Coming in at about 2 hours, the 22 song set is not to be missed. If you can, nab yourself a ticket. You’ll be glad you did.

Review by Brian Centrone

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