Sunday, November 12, 2023

Madonna @ Accor Arena, Paris - November 12th, 2023

Not being a big fan of Madonna's, I approached this concert with a healthy dose of skepticism. Still, fully conscious of her impact on the entertainment industry and her reputation for stunning live shows, I found myself making the pilgrimage to the Paris Accor Arena for the for the first of her four-night residency in the expansive 20,300-seater venue.. Despite my reservations, I decided to embrace the experience with an open mind. 

Some unspecified technical problems delayed the start of the show by over an hour, and it was almost 10:20 pm when a charismatic character names Bob the Drag Queen, who would act as ringleader throughout the whole evening, appeared in the crowd before climbing on stage and introducing the star of the evening. Then, after being hyped for a solid ten minutes, the superstar finally took the stage to the tune of "Nothing Really Matters", off of her "Ray Of Light" album. We were off for two hours of a breathtaking visual extravaganza, but  the absence of a live band transformed the atmosphere into what felt like a giant futuristic karaoke rather than the anticipated live musical journey.

The "Celebration" tour, true to its name, showcased Madonna's extensive repertoire, spanning four decades of iconic hits. From the eighties, we were treated to classics like "Like a Virgin," "Like a Prayer," "Vogue," "Hung Up," "La Isla Bonita," "Into the Groove," and "Holiday" (though the exclusion of "Material Girl" was a puzzling choice). The nineties reinvention brought forth hits like "Justify My Love" and "Ray of Light," with a surprising scarcity of tracks from her 2000s era but a noticeable nod to her more recent EDM phase. Alas, very few of her hits were played in full. It was usually some truncated version, with snippets of other songs woven in. It's understandable, as she has to cram 40 years worth of classic tunes into a two-hour show...

But despite the veritable bombardment of hits, the experience felt oddly curated, like witnessing someone hitting play on a well-worn playlist, the soundtrack of an over-rehearsed burlesque show. Madonna's larger-than-life production undeniably impressed with its dazzling scenography and astounding choreography, though at times, it seemed as if the show's oversized ego was desperately trying to fill the absence of a real live band.

There were also several long monologues, where Madonna would tell her story, sharing anecdotes, looking back on her past with pride and a modicum of bemusement. Those were actually the most engaging moments of the show, as this was the Queen of Pop talking in her real voice about the one thing that matters the most to her: herself.

Madonna's self-celebration reached a peak, quite literally, during "Erotica," where she engaged in simulated intercourse with an avatar of herself. The inclusion of sexual and religious provocations, once groundbreaking, now came across as relatively tame, almost quaint, in the current entertainment landscape. Tributes to Prince and Michael Jackson were awkward and felt oddly out of place, especially the latter: a pre-recorded mash-up between "Billie Jean" and "Like A Virgin", with dancing silhouettes of the King and Queen of Pop projected onto the screens, with the real Madonna mysteriously missing and once again leaving singing duties to a machine...

There were, however, two genuinely emotional moments. The first one occurred during "Live To Tell", when images of her late friends, collaborators, and fellow artists who succumbed to AIDS graced the Arena's screens, nodding to luminaries like Robert Mapplethorpe, Anthony Perkins, Freddie Mercury, or Keith Haring. The second was a solo acoustic performance of "I Will Survive," seemingly unplugged and not mimed, prompting the entire audience to illuminate their mobile phones and sing along. Yet, as soon as the song segued into "La Isla Bonita," the authenticity vanished, the playback returned, and the empty pageantry resumed.

On a positive note, Madonna's magnetic stage presence remained undeniable, and the sheer scale of the production was nothing short of breathtaking. She is a formidable performer, committed and athletic, and all of the other dancers and performers on that stage, many of which are her own children, are almost as magnetic as she is. However, the reliance on pre-recorded playback left a void for those seeking an authentic musical experience, making it more of a visually extravagant stroll down memory lane than a truly satisfying live performance.

Yet, this seemed inconsequential to the rest of the audience who danced, laughed and cried at all the right places. If the concertgoers were privy to the audio charade, it evidently didn't faze them. So what do I know? Madonna is evidently doing something right if a simple miming routine can turn nearly 20,000 people into a sea of euphoria. Yours truly just happens not to be one of them...

Adorned with faded glory and sprinkled with (too few) moments of real heartfelt emotion, Madonna's spectacle (calling it a concert feels like a stretch) offered a visual spectacle peppered with fleeting glimpses of musical nostalgia. Despite the undeniable influence she once wielded, the show left a lingering sense of melancholy for what once was—an extravagant reminder of a revolutionary icon now treading familiar ground. So, in the spirit of Madonna herself, I donned my metaphorical cone bra, struck a pose, and left with a bittersweet taste of bygone brilliance, where lip-syncing served as the echo of a once-revolutionary force in the pop universe.

Experience or re-live the concert by playing the setlist in the embedded Apple Music player below
(these are only the songs that Madonna "sang"... the audio intros or pre-taped interludes are not included)
Try Apple Music
Click on the banner above to listen to sign up for Apple Music and get one month of streaming for free

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment on this post: