Halfway through her two-hour show at the Sprint Center on Tuesday, Madonna acknowledged the raucous response she’d received from the crowd that nearly filled the place. And in so many words (including a couple that can’t be printed here), she apologized. To paraphrase: This is the first time I’ve been in Kansas City. What took me so long?
She turned 54 in August; in May she launched the MDNA Tour, the ninth of her career. And if the first time turns out to be the last time she performs in Kansas City, then she gave a crowd a once-in-a-lifetime treat and an everlasting hello.
The show was a relentless and extravagant spectacle of sights, sounds and feats, a screaming locomotive of music, dance, theater, videos, lights, costumes, and cocksure attitude from a woman who may be in the midst of her sixth decade on earth but is hellbent on proving she’s still royal and relevant.
She would make her fans wait. It was a few minutes past 10:30 p.m. when church bells rang, heralding the start of her show. From the start, she, her band and her small legion of dancers/acrobats/contortionists enflamed that mood. The stage was set with an enormous video screen in back that displayed a barrage of images and visual stimuli that competed with all the live action going on and with the music, which, a few times, felt incidental to the visual drama.
Madonna spent much of the show keeping up with her younger gymnast/dancers, most of whom who looked like they indulge in extreme cross-training and yoga twice a day. She would prove she was nearly as fit as they are, joining a slack-line routine and even dropping her drawers and revealing her sculpted buttocks .
The show followed its stated theme -- a journey of the soul from darkness to light. After the church bells tolled and the dancers, dressed as monks, set in a pendulum swing an enormous incense thurible, Madonna made her descent onto the stage, carrying an assault rifle. Firearms and violence were a big part of the first three songs. During “Gang Bang,” she shot and killed several assassins/would-be killers. Each time, that big video screen was splattered with blood (which looked more like pureed cranberries).
After the initial ovation, the first big eruption came for “Papa, Don’t Preach,” one of her certifiable hits. If this show has a weakness, it’s the setlist, which favors heavily Madonna’s latest album, “MDNA,” released in March. (She would perform eight of its 12 songs, more than one-third of the show.)
The crowd, which stood for nearly the entire show, seemed familiar with most of the new material; “I Don’t Give A,” which featured a video appearance by Nicki Minaj, “Turn Up the Radio” and “Give Me All Your Luvin,” which featured a video cameo from M.I.A., all ignited outbursts of dancing and big sing-alongs. But with all the anticipation that preceded the show and as wound-up and giddy as the crowd seemed throughout, Madonna could have ripped a hole in the arena’s roof if she’d uncorked a few of her biggest hits on a crowd that was surely primed for them.
Instead, she altered one of her biggest hits, “Like A Virgin,” into a gothic waltz on piano, making it sound like some tragic Leonard Cohen ballad. “Vogue” was played close enough to its original version to generate a big ovation. And the loudest, most cathartic moment came near the end, during a gospel-anthem version of “Like A Prayer,” which employed a 36-piece choir --- the best use of one since Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” In a show that was rife with religious themes and imagery, that was its spiritual peak.
If “light” was this show’s destination, she reached it, emphatically. After the church bells chimed again, Madonna and her crew uncorked the rubbery bubble-gum disco anthem “Celebration,” an invitation to a party and to “the dance of life.”
As it was for most of the night, the stage was ablaze with movement and light and sound. Yet there was no doubt who was the force in the middle of all that color and motion: the woman who introduced herself to Kansas City two hours before and ultimately left it wanting more.
Setlist: Girl Gone Wild; Revolver; Gang Bang; Papa, Don’t Preach; Hung Up; I Don’t Give A; Best Friend/Heartbeat; Express Yourself/Born This Way; Give Me All Your Luvin’; Turn Up The Radio; Open Your Heart; Masterpiece; Justify My Love (interlude); Vogue; Candy Shop/Erotica; Human Nature; Like A Virgin; Nobody Knows Me (interlude); I’m Addicted; I’m A Sinner; Like A Prayer; Celebration.