It’s quite a coup for Radio 1 to get Madonna to headline its summer showcase event; the effect, however, is somewhat undermined by the brevity of her performance – the time spent setting up is equal to the six-song set.
Given that the whole event is free, however, it seems churlish to complain, and the 20,000-strong crowd is good-natured and warmly appreciative. Many of them have turned out to see Madonna’s latest return to the pop game: still reigning after all these years, she arrives on stage on a throne.
Her new album Hard Candy is getting the hard sell – most of the songs are drawn from there. However, few of the new tracks are particularly memorable – although one stand-out moment is a striking image of Madonna and her highly stylised male dancers moving in tandem across the stage during the opener “Candy Shop”.
It is an energetic performance that belies her age, though the spectacle often undermines her singing, which hasn’t aged as well as her dance moves. At times, her vocals are overwhelmed by the electro-tinged sound and on occasions it feels as if she is merely singing along to a backing track.
For her second song “Miles Away” she strums away rudimentarily on an acoustic guitar, and straps on an electric guitar for a rock reworking of her 2005 hit “Hung Up”. Both gestures ring hollow. Of the new material, “4 Minutes” fuses the divergent elements best, with Justin Timberlake appearing on large screens to complete the duet.
Closing song “Music” from 2000 gets the warmest reception. You can’t help but feel that many in the crowd hoped she would live a little further in the past and perform the songs that forged her iconic status, not those that merely perpetuate the brand.
Two of the better British bands of recent years, Foals and Hot Chip, offer strong if somewhat perfunctory performances. The percussive heavy sounds of Hot Chip’s new album alongside the pop brilliance of two tracks, “And I Was a Boy from School” and “Over and Over”, culled from their second album The Warning, are highlights.
Yet both bands’ sets end abruptly – adhering to the tight time-slots allotted. They seem to be just warming up as they have to finish. A business-like sense of bands appearing to keep Radio 1’s play-list controllers onside while not outstaying their welcome pervades.
Rating : 3 out of 5 stars