Though Madonna's latest world tour has been dubbed the Confessions tour in honor of the singer's latest album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, the trek, which began Sunday night before a sold-out audience at L.A.'s hallowed Forum, was much more Cirque du Soleil than a night of intimate revelation.
Descending from the heavens at a quarter to nine in a ton-and-a-half disco ball -- covered in 2 million dollars' worth in crystals -- Madonna began the "Equestrian" portion of the show (the nearly two-hour show was broken down into four sections) with Confessions' "Future Lover." Clad in horseback-riding attire, complete with top hat and riding crop, she moved around the stage's center inlet, which stretched halfway through the floor, before making her way to center to pay homage to another disco queen, with Donna Summer's "I Feel Love." She returned to the new album for "Get Together," performing the song without much assistance from her cadre of backup dancers -- and proving why the disco-tinged track is one of the album's high points.
But since the majority of the frenzied throng paid as much as $350 a ticket for some high-powered spectacle, Madonna would not let the faithful down. And she didn't: The pop diva rode a mechanical saddle/stripper pole during "Like a Virgin" and displayed her gymnastics skills in "Jump." Madonna re-emerged for the "Bedouin" portion of the evening on a mammoth disco crucifix wearing a crown of thorns to perform "Live to Tell." She returned to religious imagery for Confession's "Isaac," which featured a woman dancing in a cage. The singer showed some of that who-gives-a-fuck attitude that first made her a star with "Like It or Not," a rendition spiked by her burlesque-style dancing with a chair. And that was only in the first half of the evening.
Changing costumes again for the "Never Mind the Bollocks" section, Madonna came out rocking an electric guitar for "I Love New York," which featured projections of the city skyline on a large video screen. She held the guitar while exhorting the crowd to dance for a hard-rocking version of the title track of Ray of Light. In keeping with the theme of this portion, the background dancers reemerged, New Wave'd out in black-and-white ties.
Madonna's career has been marked by her chameleon-like ability to reinvent herself, and indeed, in the annals of pop music, her talent in that category may be second only to David Bowie's. Throughout the night, she continually assumed new roles -- even playing the balladeer remarkably well, in renditions of "Drowned World" and "Paradise (Not for Me)," the latter of which was a duet with Yitzhak Sinwani, whom she introduced as her friend.
The singer's most recent role in the pop world has been dance diva, and she assumed that mantle proudly for the evening's final "Disco" theme. Emerging to the beat of the Tramps' "Disco Inferno" in a John Travolta-style white suit (circa Saturday Night Fever, of course), Madonna became the dancing queen for high-energy versions of "Music," "La Isla Bonita" (complete with a cavalcade of dancers and tropical-island images), a techno-fied "Lucky Star" and the closer, "Hung Up." With the climax of that runaway single, gold balloons descended from the rooftops.
Madonna had played many roles in the first night of her Confessions tour -- but confessor was not one of them. Apparently, in all the pomp and circumstance, there was no room for warmth, or even the attitude that made her recent Coachella festival performance so memorable.
Performing at Coachella before a largely foreign audience, she appeared as the Madonna of old: defiant, hungry, ready to fight. A determined Madonna, one who might spar with the crowd, seemed largely absent this weekend at the Forum. She limited her interaction to platitudes like, "Are you ready for a ride, L.A.?," "The show is just beginning!" and "Put on your dancing shoes."
Then again, she didn't have anything to prove to these fans. They got exactly what they wanted on this night: a celebration of all things Madonna, for better or worse.