Madonna at Fleet Center in Boston
by Seth Rogovoy

BOSTON – In a non-stop, energetic, 100-minute show at the Fleet Center on Tuesday night, Madonna gave no indication that she was suffering from either exhaustion or laryngitis, as had been reported after a concert in New Jersey was cancelled last week.

The 43-year-old pop star and mother of two seemed fit as a fiddle as she danced and pranced her way through nearly two-dozen songs mostly drawn from her two most recent albums and most rendered as full-fledged production numbers.

With an older crowd that seemed heavily weighted toward her original fans – the few teen-age girls seemed to be there with mothers who were probably fans back in 1982 – Madonna’s decision to eschew her greatest hits in favor of all new material was a risky one.

No “Borderline,” no “Lucky Star,” no “Like a Virgin,” no “Material Girl.” Instead, what fans got were intensely complex, highly-skilled, high-concept choreographed production numbers based on songs from “Ray of Light” and “Music.” Not just a lot of high-energy, MTV-style dancing, either, but full-fledged dance productions and elaborately theatrical vignettes that, at least on a surface level, resembled some of the brighter, more cutting-edge modern dance productions you might see at Jacob’s Pillow. And like a lot of contemporary art, Madonna’s productions – and you have to talk about her concert in terms of productions as much as songs -- were not easily-digested pop confections, certainly not like her early hit singles.

The songs on “Ray of Light” and “Music” variously explore spirituality, death, violence, abuse, dreams and, of course, sex. Sometimes, and to their detriment, they talk about these things all in one song. Madonna is neither deep philosopher nor a particularly gifted lyricist. But she is an ingenious pop conceptualist, and maybe even a better pop-art curator. Working with the various designers of costumes, lighting, video, staging and special effects, she has put together a pop concert with a surprisingly high degree of artistic inspiration.

The show was loosely divided into four conceptual sections, each one presenting Madonna in a different light, costume and hair style. To the tune of “Drowned World/Substitute for Love” she took the stage, emerging from a “Close Encounters”-like Mother Ship dressed in distressed, punk tartan. For “Candy Perfume Girl,” she strapped on an electric guitar and assumed the role of hard-rock, bitch goddess while one of her dancers performed freakish splits and acrobatic stunts.

A few quick video shots of Mike Meyers from “Austin Powers” set the mood for a very 1960s, British Invasion-styled “Beautiful Stranger,” replete with go-go dancer moves and simulated sex, before things took a darker turn for the Japanese geisha portion of the show. Madonna popped out of the stage in a black wig and kimono whose sleeves extended nearly the entire width of the stage, and songs including “Frozen,” “Paradise” and “Nobody’s Perfect” were dressed up in images of Samurai warriors, bodies suspended upside down, and violent and occasionally disturbing Japanese anime projections. “Sky Fits Heaven” featured a martial-arts combat scene right out of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” even down to the soaring fighters leaping through the air, Madonna among them.

Although the cowgirl portion of the show was perhaps the least successful musically – it included an aborted ride on a mechanical bull and one country-novelty number that merely proved that Dolly Parton hasn’t to worry about any competition from Madonna – it did make those silly, flared cowboy pants look sexy, and we got to hear Madonna shout out a hearty “yahoo!”

The instrumental theme from the film “Evita,” in which Madonna played the title character, introduced the final chapter of the evening, the Spanish “ghetto girl.” In some way this theme brought Madonna back closest to her roots. Acknowledging her debt to Latin music, she sang her recent hit, “What It Feels Like for a Girl” in Spanish, and she performed her vintage hit, “La Isla Bonita,” in an intimate, unplugged arrangement that brought out its flamenco qualities.

Of course, this quiet number also served to provide contrast for the final payoff number, a throbbing, disco-fueled version of “Holiday.” For a brief moment, it was 1983 again, and fans got a glimpse of what Madonna’s next world tour – the greatest-hits one, by my figuring – might be.

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