New albums by established stars are almost always marketed as sequels, but taking a cue from the Beastie Boys' Intergalactic and, say, Mission: Impossible, Madonna's Confessions on a Dancefloor -- and its accompanying stage spectacular, which hit the Garden last night -- is a musical prequel. From the moment Madonna dropped out the rafters in a two-million-dollar Swarovski crystal disco ball, she set out to evoke the adult polyester '70s club culture that her early-'80s nouvelle-vague electropop hits, all rended lingerie and bubblegum insouciance, helped usher into the history books. Allow her the backward glance: in twenty-odd years onstage, it's her first public pang of nostalgia. Having taken a sample of Abba for her recent single "Hung Up," she also appropriated the words "Dancing Queen" for a great white lightbulb-lined cape (brought out late in the show for her version of the infamous James Brown ro utine) and plastered it on tour t-shirts, a move calculated to appeal to her key demographics: gay men and serial bachelorettes. On a personal note, this is a wonderful audience with which to spend a couple of hours. Only at a Madonna concert do you find straight women in the men's bathrooms without the gentlemen batting an eye.
More than any pop star before or since, Madonna takes evident delight in curating a Broadway-calibur spectacle. (I'm not sure what Broadway would make of a woman who steps out of a disco ball in jodhpur boots and a riding crop, harnesses a man with a bit in his mouth and rides him like a pony, but here's evidence that lots of well-meaning people will pay big money to see it.) Her performances assault you with imagery, often oblique -- her opening equestrian-themed set, which featured a filmed erotic confrontation between singer and beast to compliment her dancers' onstage horseplay, may or may not have resonated more if you knew she'd broken eight bones in a riding accident last year. Other themes -- pairs of men who attempt to hold hands but never quite succeed; a woman in a dark hooded tunic thrashing about in a steel cage, as if Anakin Skywalker had been interned at Abu Ghraib -- were easier to discern. The music, drawn largely from Confessions, harked backwards; but the lady makes a point of staying up with what's trendy in modern movement technique. During "Jump," her dancers navigated an elaborate set of monkey bars in an exhibition of parkour-style urban-assault gymnastics; and, despite the star’s falling out with her old friend David LaChappelle over a video treatment, many of her show's routines gestured towards krumping, the hyper-aggressive street-dance phenomenon captured in LaChappelle's documentary Rize.
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