1. I do like Wembley Arena’s new (to me) bar-queue-busting wheeze, whereby drinks sellers wander round the venue with big plastic barrels strapped to their back, stop-me-and-buy-one style. It’s certainly the only way that I would ever have bought Smirnoff Ice – but faced with a massive queue or an instant transaction, Smirnoff Ice suddenly seemed an attractive proposition. It’s clever marketing: that little moment of Positive Affirmation with the product. Next time I see a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, I’ll think: Ooh yes, that time that I beat the queue at the Madonna concert. Lovely stuff.
2. I thought the audience would be wall-to-wall The Gays, but not a bit of it. 10-15% percent, maybe. Mind you, it was Madonna’s ninth and final night at Wembley, and what self-respecting London boy is going to wait that long?
3. At a stadium gig, the people nearest to you can make or break the whole show – witness Joe.My.God and his Madge-nemesis, the Tall Queen – so thank the Lord for the well-behaved gaggle of Short Queens In Interesting Spectacles, who were directly in front of us. Good as gold, the lot of them.
4. This was the first stadium gig where I actually remembered to pack my binoculars (after several years of trying). These made all the difference at the start, but progressively less as the show went on. Because, unlike at Earls Court in 2001, the visibility at Wembley Arena was really not bad at all. Why, you could almost call it intimate.
5. Still it was nice to be able to lend them to my neighbour. (“Wow, I can see her wrinkles!”) Gave me a warm altruistic tingle, so it did.
6. I’ve already said this on the podcast, but this was a notably warmer, more inclusive performance than 2001’s tightly scripted, icily aloof exercise in Sod The Back Catalogue, This Is My Art. This time round, Madonna actually seemed aware that she was playing to an audience of real live human beings, and actually seemed vaguely bothered about making them feel good. Why, there was even the odd moment of genuine rapport. You know, just like you get at Robbie Williams, or Neil Diamond.
7. Madonna looks seriously great in riding gear. (Was that a proper dressage hat? My companion Dymbellina thought it might have been.) And it takes a brave 47-year-old (as she was then – happy 48th birthday, Missus!) to wear a leotard cut quite so high. (OK, so there was some sort of flesh-coloured body stocking underneath – but still, someone had been awfully busy with the old Ladyshave.)
8. But the outfit that suited her best? No question, it had to be the white Saturday Night Fever trouser suit, as displayed during the final disco-themed section of the show. This also featured the best choreography – loads of Travolta-esque pastiche, expertly done – and also the best re-workings of tracks which I’d never thought much of before: a transformed “Erotica”, and a bootleg mash-up of “Music” with John Otway’s “Bunsen Burner”. (Or was it something older? Before my time, probably.)
9. However, maximum cheese points go to the staging of a heavily re-worked “La Isla Bonita”, in a style which can only be described as Kids From Fame meets The Love Boat. This was a rare moment where the 2001 show did it better – another being the choreography of “Ray Of Light”. (This time round, it was all Kraftwerk-esque robotics, whose stylings evoked the video for Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”. Interesting, but 2001’s staging was stunning.)
10. Still, there was only one serious misfire, namely Madonna’s attempt to “rock out” on the last album’s only dud, “I Love New York”. This misfired because, although she can appropriate the trappings of just about any other popular music genre, Madonna simply cannot stretch her range to accommodate Rock. This is the one genre where mere pastiche can never cut it – and since Madonna does not possess one Rock bone in her entire body, the exercise was doomed to failure. (Also, she really needs to put that guitar away. It made its point in 2001.)
11. Oh, but here’s me, focussing on the gripes! Don’t get me wrong: this was a fantastic show, and here are some more reasons why.
- 11.1 The artist’s entrance, descending from the roof inside a giant mirror-ball which opened up like a lotus flower.
- 11.2 The version of “Like A Virgin”, performed on top of a saddle, attached to a floating pole.
- 11.3 The choreography during “Jump”, the nature of which should be fairly self-explanatory. (Although I did keep having to excise memories of a certain French & Saunders sketch.)
- 11.4 The one bit of rock pastiche that did work: Madonna’s lurching performance of “Let It Will Be”, which kidded you that she was off her face, in Courtney Love self-destruct mode, while simultaneously demonstrating that she was fully in control (in amongst all the free-form slipping and staggering, there were some perfectly timed moves).
- 11.5 The whole use of a smaller spur stage, as linked by a catwalk, as lined by a throng of beseeching, nearly hysterical super-fans – which had the effect of dragging Madonna closer to her audience, unable to hide behind her usual glacial artifice.
- 11.5.1 (Not that this didn’t stop her from chastising the beseeching super-fans, firstly for smoking, and secondly for acting as if they were “at a hamburger stand”, all grab-grab-grab. “They must have got free tickets! Thank God for the rest of you!”)
12. Honestly, it was worth every penny. All those Swarovski crystals don’t pay for themselves, you know.