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NEW YORK – You’ve got to hand it to Madonna – she never does anything half-assed.
The Queen of Pop, whose album Hard Candy dropped Tuesday, pulled out all the stops at New York’s intimate Roseland Ballroom on Wednesday night (April 30), dazzling the packed-to-the-rafters crowd – including Fran Drescher and Rosie O’Donnell – with an energetic, fast-paced, six-song set that featured a guest appearance from Justin Timberlake for Madonna’s latest single, «4 Minutes.»
It was an event better-suited for Madison Square Garden and one that these fans – many of whom probably had to call a sitter for the evening – won’t soon forget.
The pre-gig vibe was one of unadulterated excitement, with 45 minutes of candy-themed music (Bow Wow Wow’s «I Want Candy,» New Edition’s «Candy Girl»), compliments of a DJ stationed center stage. Behind the expansive, five-platform stage, the cover image of Madonna’s latest LP flashed on the big screens. Madonna, wearing a skintight black suit and a lace top, was certainly punctual, taking the stage promptly at 10:04 p.m. ET, to thunderous applause, as the first bars of «Candy Shop» reverberated off the packed venue’s walls.
One segment of the stage rotated to reveal Madonna sitting on a gold-and-black throne, wielding a golden walking stick. Images of confections flashed on the television screens flanking the back of the stage. Madonna, along with her six dancers, gyrated in choreographed harmony to the sexy club jam. This performance, even if only 38 minutes long, was production-heavy, with a four-piece band and no fat. One song seemed to blend into the next, with Madonna saying very little to her adoring fans, who hopped on the opportunity to snap pictures of the pop icon with their camera phones as she strutted across the edge of the stage.
Next, Madonna strapped on an acoustic guitar, tossed back a swig from a champagne bottle and strummed her way into «Miles Away,» a midtempo number about being far from home. Images of planes taking off and landing, airports and various locations around the globe were projected across the screens behind her.
The crowd cheered at the first few notes of «4 Minutes,» which mimicked its video with a flashing countdown clock. After Madonna belted out the song’s first verse, Timberlake emerged from a rotating pylon, wearing a white jacket and black scarf. It was the high point of the evening, and the production value of the performance was arena-size.
Madonna paused for a moment to reflect on the talent she’s been able to work with lately, including Timberlake, Kanye West, Timbaland and others. «I feel like the luckiest girl in the world,» she said, before dedicating her next number to her longtime fans – the ones she’d seen «sleeping on the sidewalk» the night before in line for tickets. She then played «Hung Up» from 2006’s Confessions on a Dance Floor, followed by the disco anthem «Give It To Me,» with pink and green disco beams pulsating across the crowd. Madonna danced like a woman less than half her age, and her vocals were at their peak.
«Give it to me, New York,» Madonna yelled. «I don’t see you people dancing up and down enough.»
The stage lights were reminiscent of those at a Daft Punk gig, and that didn’t change during the night’s final song, «Music.» Madonna started out at the very front of the stage, singing the opening a cappella, and was joined by all the concertgoers, who screamed in unison: «Music/ Makes the people/ Come together.» As her dancers emerged from a faux silver subway car (destination: «Freshville»), she pranced across the stage, touching the dozens of outreached hands grabbing for her attention. The show ended with Madonna racing up the stage to the subway doors, behind which she disappeared.
And at 10:38, she was done. In and out.
A crowd far larger than the 2,200 capacity of New York club Roseland camped out overnight on the streets of midtown Manhattan awaiting the chance to see Madonna debut tracks from her new album Hard Candy on Wednesday. The audience of celebs and die-hard fans who actually made it through the doors in time for her 10 p.m. set (which was broadcast on the Web by Verizon) seemed more awed than ready to groove when Madonna hit the stage in the city where she first made her name, spending time texting and taking photos to prove the experience had really happened rather than dancing. But the cheers were ear-splitting, and with good reason: For 40 minutes Madonna delivered an impressive taste of what her upcoming Hard Candy tour might look like – tight choreography to match her sculpted body, reinterpreted tracks, a bit of rock & roll and a star ready to run her mouth.
After spinning approximately an hour’s worth of music ranging from Rihanna to the Eurythmics (though the biggest cheers came for «Sweet Child O’ Mine» and a spotting of Rosie O’Donnell in the balcony), Madonna’s DJ flipped on 50 Cent’s «Candy Shop» and dropped in a bit of «I Want Candy.» Eventually the tracks faded, making way for the sound of Madonna singing the chorus from Hard Candy opener «Candy Shop,» at which point the lights dropped and the night’s main attraction emerged on a throne swinging a cane. Giant projection screens flanking the stage displayed mesmerizing animations of spinning candy as Madonna strutted around the stage in tall lace-up boots and a lacey black top with six dancers in tow.
After greeting the crowd with, «All right, New York City!» she was handed a black acoustic guitar with a sparkly silver strap and immediately launched into the new album’s lush but wistful «Miles Away,» assisted by a small band consisting of a drummer, two keyboardists, the DJ and the guitarist who played her past three tours, Monte Pittman. After stepping up to the front of the stage to strum the last bars of the song as images of airplanes landing and plane tickets flashed on the screens behind her, Madonna retreated only to re-emerge a moment later, after Hard Candy’s first single «4 Minutes» kicked off with a brief fanfare. The set began to rotate across the stage, creating a few narrow columns that doubled as screens projecting images of booming speakers as the song’s video played at the back of the stage. When it came time for Justin Timberlake’s first vocal parts, he emerged from behind one of the set pieces in a black-trimmed white jacket and dark scarf to wild cheers (Hamutsun Serve, the Japanese dance duo who appear in the video, also made an appearance). Timberlake and Madonna ended the song by replicating the choreography from the video, moving swiftly back and forth across the stage.
After the set spun back to its original position, the riff from the Rolling Stones’ «(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction» sailed off the stage. «Did you guys think you came to a Rolling Stones concert?» Madonna asked the crowd, and responded to the audience’s slight boos with, «Yeah, fuck that.» After thanking «the lovely and talented» Timberlake for joining her show, she added, «I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be able to make a record with him, Timbaland, Pharrell, Kanye West. And even though I’ve made what seems like 100 records, every time I put one out it’s like the first time, and the best time.» Madonna: always like a virgin.
«But that’s all I can take of living in the present,» she said sharply. «Fuck the present! We’re going to go back in time. All you people I saw asleep on the sidewalk last night, this song is for you, and I want to hear you singing it loud and clear.» She then picked out the chord progression for Confessions on a Dance Floor’s «Hung Up» on a black Les Paul, turning the super-digital disco tune into a grungy, guitar-based sludge-fest as black-and-white images of blurry breakdancers appeared on the screens behind her. In an extremely rare moment of imperfection, she skipped a «tick-tick-tock» and got slightly ahead of her band and backing vocal, turning around to glance at her fellow musicians before popping back onto the beat. «Anybody who knows me knows how much I hate to wait,» she announced as the song neared its end, replicating the sound of waiting in her brain by executing a slow pick slide, then provided a rocking coda – as though she was taking aim at those who criticized her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – as her DJ threw up devil horns. She then stalked offstage and gave the crowd the finger in a move reminiscent of the punk section of 2001’s Drowned World Tour, where she first debuted her guitar playing.
Madonna returned after an extremely swift outfit change in a sleeveless jacket for «Give It 2 Me,» the Pharrell-produced club track that will serve as Hard Candy’s second single, surrounded by two male dancers in doo-rags who encouraged the crowd to hop up on the track’s synth-amped chorus. Pharrell appeared on the video screens throughout the song, and green lasers cut across the stage, pulsing in time to the thumpy track. «I don’t see people jumping up and down enough,» Madonna complained, singing the chorus to «Music» accompanied only by the beat from her new album’s «Heartbeat.» After vanishing briefly once again, the back screen changed to a projection of a subway car, and a central panel spun to reveal Madonna and her dancers lounging on seats as though they were hopping the D to the Bronx (the car actually read «Freshville»). Unlike «Hung Up,» «Music» got a synth-soaked remix treatment, which soundtracked a gender-split dance-off between Madonna and her lady dancers and their male counterparts.
At the end of the song the Kangol-topped crew returned to the subway and the lights came up signifying the conclusion of the set, but the beat went on – literally – as the PA blasted «Beat Goes On» from Hard Candy and fans danced their way out the door.
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