Let’s cut right to the chase, folks: Madonna still has a rear end that women half her age would donate a kidney for.
More than three-quarters of the way through her long-awaited Carolinas debut at Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday night, she dropped trou, a close-up of her cheeks was simulcast onto two giant projection-video screens, and yep – the crowd got a glimpse of a November moon it won’t soon forget.
Good ol’ Madge. She’s 54 years old now, but she’s still lithe, still limber, still all about shock and awe.
The moon led to a slowed-down version of “Like a Virgin,” which featured a striptease and a dominatrix-like order for fans to cough up cash, which she said would go to the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund. (Dozens of bills in various denominations ended up on the stage. Someone even tossed Madonna his whole wallet.)
A couple songs earlier, the singer was brought a martini by a shirtless male waiter; she took a sip, then grabbed a napkin from him and proceeded to wipe her crotch with it.
A few songs before that, she championed democracy by coaxing fans to scream “(expletive) yeah!” at the top of their lungs. Many seemed to balk, prompting her to wonder aloud, “Do people in North Carolina say bad words?”
But perhaps the most shocking moments (or most awesome, depending on your level of depravity) came early in her set, when – during “Gang Bang,” from her latest album – she faux-gunned down several male members of her cast. Each time one was “shot,” blood splattered across a ginormous video-screen backdrop.
All this, of course, is classic Madonna. Her legend was built on provoking, and she continues to do it very well. The staging of her shows is still endlessly elaborate, production values still sky-high. She also continues to amaze with her physicality. Though she may have lost a half a step since her 20s and 30s, she still moves confidently, whether she’s shucking or jiving, bumping or grinding, twisting or shouting.
Unfortunately, she does not continue to make memorable music, and therein lies a problem with her “MDNA” tour.
The two-hour set list leans heavily on the new album, and only sporadically dips back into a catalog that includes some of the biggest and most beloved pop songs of all-time. But when it does, the sting of paying $200-plus per ticket goes away, the irritation of having to wait till 11 p.m. for her to show her face dissipates, and 45-year-old fans become 15 again.
This happened Thursday with “Express Yourself,” when Madonna appeared twirling a baton and sporting a red and white majorette costume; it happened when she suited up in a cone bra and black dress pants for “Vogue”; and it happened in a very, very big way when she performed the night’s penultimate number, “Like a Prayer.”
As she and the choir belted, the arena pulsated. Suddenly, it was 1989 again. If you saw people who were not clapping their hands above their heads during this one, they were probably ushers or security guards (and I suspect a couple of them may have gotten caught up in the moment and broken ranks to sing along).
Basically, my feeling is: If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Her body is great, but so are her hits. I wish we’d heard a few more.