Today in Madonna History: May 25, 2004

On May 25 2004, Rolling Stone magazine published a review of Madonna’s Re-Invention World Tour with the headline, “Madonna Reinvents herself. Amid images of war and peace, pop star shows she can sing.”

Here’s the review by Barry Walters:

After twenty years in the limelight, Madonna is expected to cause controversy and reinvent herself for every new tour. So for the May 24th Los Angeles opening of her Re-Invention world trek, Madonna did the most unexpected thing she could: She came back as a great concert singer.

Even the most diehard Madonna fan will concede that her live performances have almost without exception been plagued by a multitude of missed notes, breathy passages, and, as of late, fake British accents. But while Mariah and Whitney have of been losing the acrobatic vocal dexterity and lung power on which their reputations rest, forty-five-year-old Madonna, whom few have ever taken seriously as a musician, has never sounded better than she did during the first of several gigs in her adopted West Coast home. Whether rocking out with classic black Les Paul in hand during a metallic rendition of her early club hit “Burning Up,” or performing “Like a Prayer” behind a screen-projected gospel choir, Madonna belted, and did not once seemed strained. In the midst of a $1 million production festooned with a walkway that jutted out from the stage and over the audience, massive moving video screens, a dozen dancers, a bagpipe player, a stunt skateboarder and a whole lot of emotionally charged anti-war imagery, the focus was nevertheless on Madonna, and how she’s matured into a truly great pop singer.

Opening with a yoga-trained twist on her famous Louis XIV-inspired MTV Video Music Awards rendition of “Vogue” and ending on a kilt-wearing finale of “Holiday” against a video backdrop of national flags that eventually morphed into one, the show was thematically simpler and more focused than her last several productions.

The barbarism of war and the necessity of love were at the heart of the entire show, and both played off each other, sometimes for ironic and decidedly uneasy effect. The original military-themed video footage of “American Life” that the singer withheld at the start of the Iraq war was finally unveiled, and then expanded upon during “Express Yourself,” where Madonna sang her anthem of unbridled, intimate communication in front of dancers dressed as soldiers and goose-stepping with twirling rifles.

By contrast, Madonna closed an extended acoustic section of the show with a straightforward and thoroughly committed rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” as images of war and poverty-ravaged children eventually gave way to footage of a Muslim boy and his Israeli counterpart smiling as they walked with their arms wrapped around each other.

The heaviness of much of the imagery was balanced by Madonna’s own presence, which seemed remarkably fun-loving and self-assured for the opening night of her most technically complex production. Only when she strapped on an acoustic or electric guitar during several songs and repeatedly glanced at her left hand to make sure it was playing the proper chords did she seem at all nervous. “How many people out there really think that I am the Material Girl?” she asked during a break in her most iconic early smash as she strummed with much deliberation.

For the last several songs, Madonna and her dancers donned black and white kilts, an apparent nod to husband Guy Ritchie’s Scottish heritage, and black T-shirts that read “Kabbalists Do It Better,” a cheeky reference to both her religious studies and the “Italians Do It Better” T-shirt she wore during her video for “Papa Don’t Preach,” a song that was performed without the “near-naked pregnant women” described in pre-tour reports of the show. In a number dedicated for the “fans that’ve stood by me for the last twenty years,” she sang her earliest hit ballad, “Crazy For You,” earnestly and without contrivance.

Madonna’s continued relevance was impressive, but it was even more striking that she’s putting more love and genuine passion into her spectacle than ever.

 

Today in Madonna History: October 8, 2004

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On October 8 2004, Billboard announced that Madonna was the lead finalist for Billboard’s inaugural Backstage Pass Awards, in three categories:

  • Top Tour (based on gross dollars): Re-Invention Tour
  • Top Draw (based on total tickets sold): Re-Invention Tour
  • Top Boxscore Event (for a show at Madison Square Garden): Re-Invention Tour

The Backstage Pass Awards recognize the top achievements in touring (according to box office data).

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Today in Madonna History: July 19, 2004

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On July 19 2004, Jane Stevenson published this review of Madonna’s Re-Invention Tour in the Toronto Sun:

After an 11 – year absence, Madonna returned to Toronto last night with the first of three sold-out shows at the Air Canada Centre.

The 45-year-old pop icon notably didn’t bring her 2001 Drowned Tour to T.O., disappointing fans, but she seemed to have been forgiven last night judging from the roaring reception.

“Ah, it’s good to be back in Toronto,” she said towards the end of her hour-and-50-minute set. “It’s been so long. Just because I have two children doesn’t mean I don’t like to have fun.”

Believe it or not, Madonna last performed in this city in 1993 with her sexy Girlie Show Tour at SkyDome. (She mistakenly remembered her last visit as the infamous 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour saying: “The last time we were here, the police almost arrested us. I’m a good girl.”)

But back in 1993, she was a vastly different artist, single and childless, and without her new – found faith in Kabbalah, the study of a kind of Jewish mysticism that has found her choosing the Hebrew name of Esther for herself.

Not to give anyone the wrong idea.

Last night’s show — which began 45 minutes later than scheduled and found 17,000 anxious fans chanting “Madonna! Madonna!” – – was still a hi-tech, flashy and fun affair but overall more tame, and slightly preachy with plenty of Bush-bashing, anti-war messages and Hebrew references.

Like the L.A. tour launch on May 24, a select group of fans were guided into tiny pits on either side of the stage before the concert began for a first – class view of Madge, although five giant moving video screens enabled the masses farther away to get a good look at The Material Girl.

Kicking off the night with a slick, stylized video and recorded spoken – word monologue called The Beast Within, the concert really began when Madonna made her big entrance laying down on a platform that came out of the stage floor to the opening strains of her 1990 uber-hit Vogue.

She was quickly joined by nine dancers, all dressed in French period costumes, with her seven-piece band divided into two camps in the shadows on either side of the stage.

The biggest production number, however, came during the title track from her 2003 release, American Life, which saw a gleaming silver catwalk descend from above for a fashion show featuring Madonna’s dancers dressed as everything from a rabbi, a priest, a nun, an Arab, etc.

By this point, Madge — who began the night in a sparkly champagne – coloured corset top, short black shorts and knee – high black boots – – had changed into army fatigues and a black beret with the rest of her dancers brandishing rifles for army – themed choreography.

The background video, meanwhile, was sober images of victims of war ending with a Bush and Saddam Hussein look – a-likes sharing a cigar. (Similar video of children in war – torn countries was shown during her cover of John Lennon’s Imagine.)

Because this is called the Re-Invention Tour, many of Madonna’s songs were reworked, some better than others.

Often she appeared as a solitary figure on stage playing the electric or acoustic guitar on such songs as Burning Up and Material Girl or the new tune, Nothing Fails, respectively.

The weakest link in the entire show was the circus – themed third portion where, for some unknown reason, Madonna dragged out the awful Dick Tracy song Hanky Panky, and turned the normally robust dance song Deeper And Deeper into a cabaret ballad.

Thankfully,that segment was saved by a wonderfully inventive tango version of her James Bond theme song, Die Another Day, before she was placed in an electric chair for the Evita number, Lament.

Other crowd – pleasers proved to be a mix of old and new songs like Frozen, Express Yourself, Don’t Tell Me, Like A Prayer and Music.

Although Into The Groove, which featured bagpipes, drums and Madonna and her dancers in kilts, and the show – ending Holiday, complete with red – and – white confetti and another stroll down the catwalk, have to be singled out for special mention.

Madonna wraps up the North American leg on her Re-Invention Tour on Aug. 2 in Miami before heading over to Europe.

Otherwise, she plays two more shows at the ACC, tonight and Wednesday. The Toronto shows initially sold-out in a record-setting 80 minutes but more seats were released once the Re-Invention production was finalized.

Rumoured among those to be in attendance last night were Madonna’s two children — seven-year-old daughter Lourdes, a.k.a. Lola, and three-year-old son Rocco — and hubby Guy Ritchie.

Today in Madonna History: March 5, 2004

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On March 5 2004, Madonna began working with Steven Klein and Craig McDean (separately) to shoot the many looks for the tour book and promotional materials for her upcoming Re-invention World Tour.

Giovanni Bianco acted as the art director for the project.  Arianna Phillips was Madonna’s stylist. Julien d’Ys did Madonna’s hair and Gina Brooke did Madonna’s makeup.