The concrete images Madonna proffered during her 24-song show on a balmy night at Dodger Stadium elicited critical responses that were equally compact and unwavering. Colorful. Athletic. Celebrational. Single words were doing the trick rather than sentences, and, when it was finished, there was only word remaining: Bravo.
An avid supporter of Barack Obama, Madonna was performing her first concert since the news of his presidential victory had settled in — she performed in San Diego on election day — and although she did not mention him until late in the set, the entire night played off the energy of victory.
Reports from earlier “Sticky and Sweet” shows, especially ones that predated the announcement of her divorce from Guy Ritchie, emphasized the physicality of the show, how the movement of Madge and her dancers was inspired more by the gym than her past inspirations — the bedroom, the nightclub, the cathedral. That still holds true, but I’d be willing to speculate that the show has softened in spots as it has moved from European stadiums to a mix of arenas and ballparks in the U.S. and has become a much warmer whole as a result.
Consistent in tone and attack, this is Madonna the modernist keenly aware of her past images yet defiant in her refusal to be bound by them. The erotic and the exotic have been pushed aside in the name of determination and directness, seen in the visual metaphors of boxing and jumping rope, not to mention the no-nonsense attitude she brings to the perf.
It can be heard in the sound and seen in the routines: She toughens up beats and adds hard rock elements to early hits such as “Borderline” and “Like a Prayer”; during “She’s Not Me,” Madonna physically dispatches dancers costumed as Madge through the ages — the Material Girl, the conical bra, the “Like a Virgin” wedding gown, the “Who’s That Girl?” black corset. It’s a declaration of sorts that this 50-year-old mom is scrapping her vestiges and charging hard into life of activism.
“Sticky and Sweet” is a return to impeccably executed choreography and costumes. Outfits are changed on nearly every song for dancers while Madonna spends most of the night in a take on a high school P.E. get-up. The hoofers open in various black-and-white garb for the first five songs and then make an eye-popping transition to color against video images from the library of Keith Haring; it’s schoolyard fun to accentuate “Into the Groove” assimilated into a modern house beat. Video use is often stimulating artistically and used for spiritual, political and social observations.
Two-hour concert started absurdly late — 9:50 p.m.– after Paul Oakenfold’s indifferent DJ set from 7:45-8:30, the action paced as if she had the car running backstage and wanted to get home by 1 a.m. Evening’s fiery timbre and tempo — set at the start by “Candy Shop,” “Beat Goes On” and “Human Nature” and equally fervid in the final triptych of “Ray of Light,” “Hung Up” and “Give It 2 Me” — is broken only once, about two-thirds of the way through the show. A trio of Romanian gypsies add the acoustic Mediterranean touches to “La Isla Bonita” and ramp up the festive “Doli Doli” before Madonna and solo grand piano wrap studied emotional vulnerability around the “Evita” ballad “You Must Love Me.” In a night of dance grooves and heavy-metal guitar chords, the softer seg was extremely blissful.
Guest appearances by Britney Spears (on “Human Nature”) and Justin Timberlake (“4 Minutes”) gave the night a uniqueness. Spears was all smiles, Timberlake danced with Madonna as if they do the routine nightly; both of them were careful to not upstage the star.