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Help! Madonna’s trapped in a disco time warp

Disco, most assuredly, is not dead. Not anymore.
But too much of a good thing was exactly what killed disco the first time. That’s something that Madonna, judging from her show Tuesday night in San Jose, apparently didn’t learn.
The problem with disco was never a lack of fun. Nearly 30 years later, it can still be a hoot. All one had to do was watch the dancing crowd loving Madonna at San Jose’s HP Pavilion on Tuesday night.
No, the problem with disco was that it got so fun, there was just way, way WAY too much of it.
Which takes us to Madonna’s “Confessions” tour, which pulled into HP Pavilion Tuesday night for the first of two shows. A Madonna concert is usually one curveball after another; a big, well-planned production peppered with thoughtful moments. The mix of material is usually enough for old and new fans alike. There’s enough tongue-in-cheek humor to soften the indulgences in ego. It’s usually an excellent concert by someone who’s almost never accused of being boring.
Tuesday got boring, ironically because Madonna was working so hard to not be boring. Tuesday wasn’t a concert. It was a loud, throbbing disco party, with Madonna as the centerpiece in the pink-purple Olivia Newton John “Let’s Get Physical” leotard. Maybe boring isn’t the right word. Maybe irritating is a better description.
Yes, we were warned. Madonna’s newest record “Confessions on a Dance Floor” is most assuredly not a pop record. It’s a well-crafted dance record by someone who knows well-crafted dance records. But, and I could be wrong, when people shell out hundreds of dollars to see the Queen of American Pop/Dance Music in an arena, shouldn’t they get a cross-section of 23 years of memories, instead of one long mix-tape where the beat never changes? Even the rare old song she performed brimmed with a massive beat, at times obscuring the song itself.
Even with a disco theme — forgetting for a second the first half of the show, when Madonna hit the crowd over the head with every world problem of the last five centuries — the show was far more disjointed than your typical Madonna effort. It was just strange, watching her tackle everything — starving children, the KKK, natural disasters, the Middle East — with a throbbing disco beat. It wasn’t done in the smart, pop-art way of which she’s more than capable. At one point she even flashed images of Richard Nixon at the crowd. If there was a message there, it was obscured by sensory overload.
For two hours she mostly rolled through the dance-heavy material of the past decade. Emerging from a giant disco ball, the 47-year-old came out in tight equestrian gear, occasionally using a horse whip on male dancers with horse bridles in their mouths. By second song “Get Together,” the big bass dance-fuzz was so heavy, it was hard to hear the vocals — kind of like that mini-truck at the stop light with the stereo that sounds like a passing 747.
There were good moments. During “Like a Virgin,” Madonna climbed a mechanical saddle and did … well, Madonna stuff to it (she may be 47 but find me a 27-year old who looks that good in riding gear). A large narrow contraption of monkey bars lowered from the rafters during “Jump,” so Madonna’s shirtless boy-toy dancers could swing around. A bit later came the much-hyped scene angering some Christian groups on this tour. Wearing a crown of thorns, Madonna set herself on a large glittering cross to sing “Live to Tell.” On one hand it was kind of fun just for the shock value. On the other, the stunt aspect and bad sound nearly obliterated the effect of a song that’s so much better when standing quietly alone. Her voice was barely audible. It got way overblown when video images of starving children (this from a pop star selling $90 sweat jackets in the lobby) started rolling. It reeked of being disingenuous, a feeling that continued when she jammed every religious symbol she could think of onto the video screens for “Forbidden Love.”
The message came off about as deep as a bumper sticker. Later, when her dancers donned what looked like desert garb, I couldn’t help but think of a dance number in Mel Brooks’ “History of the World.”
But the fans ate it up, dancing for two hours straight. In that regard, the show worked. Things got better on the usually superb “Ray of Light” and well-crafted “Substitute for Love,” but even those sounded hurried. “La Isla Bonita” was jumbled and rushed. The big dance number and colorful backdrops couldn’t hide that she was strangling the song into a hyper-disco bore. When the beat takes precedence over the dynamics, good songs suffocate — it was a problem Madonna had with her older material all night.
She did manage to ratchet up the party near show’s end, doing “Lucky Star,” dropping balloons and cranking up the noise. The effort was obvious, especially for a woman nearing 50 who was running circles around singers half her age (even if there were more piped-in vocals then in recent years). And, yes, she warned us that she really likes disco right now. But, if anything, she was trying to too hard to prove she can still run in place for two hours. More variety and a few pauses to properly recognize the career that got Madonna where she is today would’ve been more effective.
source : contra costa times