A sharp influx of sequined booty shorts and fashionable ankle boots invaded downtown last night, and many of them were even worn by women. Madonna, the Queen Mother of pop music, was in Houston for the first of two nights at Toyota Center, and her legion of fans representing every color, creed and kink turned out in force to celebrate in style.
Madonna has made headlines all over the world this year for her political statements from the stage, and she made a few Wednesday night. There was nothing too controversial; she encouraged her admirers to exercise their right to vote in a few weeks and to cherish their freedoms despite the many dysfunctions of their government. Her endorsement of President Obama via temporary tramp stamp was less than shocking.
For her grand entrance of the evening, however, Madonna fell back on more reliable trespasses, appearing first in silhouette as she knelt in a floating confession booth. After an apology to the Almighty for the decadent fun to come, the star threw off a sexy, sheer burqa and lit into "Girl Gone Wild," the torrid opener from MDNA.
It was the first of eight songs of the evening from the new album. Though many of her critics are happy to paint Madonna as a relic, Wednesday's show was no nostalgia act. More than half of her set list was drawn from her 21st Century output, and even the classic hits from the '80s and '90s were freshened up significantly. "Express Yourself," for instance, included passages from Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," a tacit acknowledgement of Madonna's continuing influence on modern pop.
As for the woman herself, she certainly didn't look over the hill. Good luck finding another 54-year-old mother of four with a body like hers at your local gym. Madonna performed the show's characteristically detailed choreography as capably as ever, including a particularly impressive bit during "Gang Bang" that cast her as a Hollywood action star fighting off a band of paramilitary attackers in hand-to-hand combat. Milla Jovovich, eat your heart out.
Tickets to the show weren't cheap, but every cent of the price of admission Wednesday showed up onstage. LED platforms rose and fell beneath Madonna and her small army of dancers all night, which the performers navigated effortlessly.
In addition to the flying confession booth, a uniformed drumline twisted high above the stage during "Give Me All Your Luvin,'" a tune that also featured the singer twirling a mean baton. The sequence was spectacular enough to send TSU's Ocean of Soul marching band back to the drawing board.
Not everything went off without a hitch, of course. At times, Madonna appeared to be struggling to hear her monitors, leading to some slightly off-key singing on "Human Nature." During the set closer, "Celebration," the belt on her pleather jeggings refused to stay buckled.
Rather than humiliate the pop demigoddess, however, the minor gaffes served only to humanize her. Surrounded as she was by so much high-tech scenery and more than a little Autotune, it was reassuring to realize that Madonna is, indeed, made of flesh and blood.
For the most part, her high-pitched, girlish voice rang out strong, particularly on ballads such as "Love Spent." All of the show's elements came together on the mega-classic "Like a Prayer," which featured the entire cast forming a church choir to lead an arena-wide sing-and-clap-along. It was a great performance of a great song, with every eye in the building on Madonna as she whirled around and around to the ecstasy of the sold-out crowd.
By that time, the show had gone on for nearly two hours, but it felt as though it had only begun. Never one for drawn-out goodbyes, Madonna bade a quick farewell and slipped beneath that remarkable stage, still cursing her damned malfunctioning belt. As the house lights came up, many in the crowd blinked, sad to see the fun come to such an abrupt end.
But then, it's not truly over yet, is it? The superstar steps back on stage at Toyota Center tonight, ready to do it all over again. Spry though she is, there's no telling how many of these massive world tours Madonna's got left in her, so if you've got the cash, don't be afraid to place a call to your least-hated ticket broker. It's funny: No matter how much time we spend with her, we can't help but miss her the minute she's gone.
Personal Bias: A Ray of Light poster shared wallspace with Metallica and Tool in my teenage bedroom.
The Crowd: Old and successful enough to drop a couple hundred on tickets without getting pissed off about it.
Overheard In the Crowd "Oh, uh-uh, honey, you are not wearing those shorts."
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Random Notebook Dump: Madonna's eldest son Rocco showed off some pretty decent breakdancing moves during "Open Your Heart."