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Madonna dazzles the HP Pavilion

As someone who no longer has anything to prove, Madonna could easily coast through her rigorous two-hour performance and, at age 47, nobody would blame her. But Tuesday at the HP Pavilion, the first of two sold out shows, she pushed herself to the limits in an exhausting, exacting performance and barely paused for a breath.
In a dazzling spectacle that juggled music, dance, video, special effects, she was a slave to the show’s ceaseless pace from the minute she appeared, lowered to the middle of the arena floor inside a giant disco ball. Riding the bare backs of male dancers wearing bridles and blinders, she wore a top hat and brandished a riding crop while images of giant horses filled the massive video screen behind her.
She never let up, driving herself, her band, her dancers through their demanding, frantic paces, although even the big staged smiles couldn’t disguise the basic joylessness with which she approached her tasks. At this point, even Madonna is probably a little tired of her act.
But the girl is game. She sang “Live To Tell”? from a twelve-foot crucifix, sure to go down as one of those Madonna moments that have always marked her shows. She ran footage of Bush, Hitler and Osama to her song “Sorry.”? She worked a merry-go-round contraption like a stripper with a pole. She fondled herself. She flipped the bird. She played electric guitar on “I Love New York”? and told the audience they better jump up and down on the next number. “Or I’m gonna get pissed,”? she said.
Her concerts have never relied on music. She brings so many elements together — staging, video production, choreography — media manipulation is the real performance and music is only a portion. She puts together a package that is part sex, part dance music, part her own tabloid allure and, drawing from the gay and S&M demimondes, delivers a deliciously overloaded, deliberately daring, but ultimately streamlined and safe experience. This is her real talent and she changed the way the entire industry looked at talent after they saw how she played the game.
She concentrated almost exclusively on material from her latest album, “Confessions On a Dance Floor.” Working with British electronica producer Stuart Page, who served as musical director of her 2004 “Re-Invention” tour and played keyboards on her “Drowned World” tour in 2001, Madonna has given her sound a fresh rinse. Big, ringing grooves drive the “Confessions” songs, thunderous, pounding rhythms that Madonna tops with a wall of vocals, her own disciplined voice the mere cherry on top of the frothy, foaming sound.
She used each number as a set piece. A runway shot down the middle of the arena floor and she sent dancers scurrying up and down the ramp constantly, at one point having them whiz around her on roller skates. Two other runaways flanked the stage. The band moved around behind her on motorized platforms and dancers appeared and disappeared through trap doors. A huge semi-circular video screen could lower like a curtain. Every moment of the show, every step, every breath, was written in stone. Nothing was left to chance.
She went through costumes. She changed her hair, first pulled back, then let loose, then pulled back again. She struck dramatic poses and stomped, bumped and ground her way through strenuous ensemble dance routines. She grabbed the spotlight and she held it.
As always, Madonna can get an audience’s attention, but then what? She’s not the kind of performer to touch their hearts. She obviously relishes the attention, demands it actually, but she doesn’t give back any warmth. Attitude she has — saucy mare and naughty girl — attitude and a remarkable athleticism. But it is a spectacle of sound and light, a flash and a roar, not anything ennobling or enlightening, just entertaining.
source : sfgate