Gay boys, rejoice: The Material Girl a.k.a. Madge a.k.a. M-Dolla, (as she is currently known) has returned to save us from the Miley Cyruses of the world. The diva's latest album, Hard Candy (her last for Warner Records), dropped April 29 to rabid fan anticipation and generally positive reviews. In many ways Candy is a continuation of Madonna's last album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, albeit a starker, more minimalist collection of rump-shaking tunes. Ever the shrewd one, Madonna enlisted some of the top names in the music business to create her latest project, including Pharell Williams, Timbaland, the Neptunes, and Justin Timberlake. On April 30 the queen of pop staged a one-night-only concert to promote the album, at New York City's famed Roseland Ballroom.
Tickets to the show were in very limited supply; a handful were available to customers of Verizon Wireless (the show's sponsor), 200 through the Madonna Fan Club, and 1,000 more were distributed through radio station contests. The truly hard-core wannabes staked out a spot on the curb outside the club for their shot at an audience with Her Royal Blondness. Jamie King of Long Island arrived at 5 a.m. to get one of the coveted wristbands. He first saw Madonna perform on her "Blonde Ambition" tour when he was in sixth grade and has been hooked ever since. "I never miss any of her shows," said King. "I'm always afraid it will be her last one." That's not likely anytime soon. Madonna has always been an unabashed attention junkie, and she knows just how to keep her fan base under her spell.
That fan base has always been a devoted bunch. Inside the club (after suffering through the most disorganized, abusive door scene ever) the crowd was palpably jacked up to see their queen. Amid the cute young gay boys and funky nightclub types were throngs of bridge-and-tunnel radio listeners so drunk and so amped up to see the living legend that they cheered uncontrollably when someone merely held up a license plate that read MADONNA. Some in attendance were seen sporting Hard Candy T-shirts and hoodies, available for purchase in the club's lobby ($35 and $60, respectively).
The show could be seen live on MSN Music and would also serve as the first global, live Verizon "V Cast." At 10 p.m. precisely, the house lights dropped, the crowd roared, and the magic began. Madonna appeared to ear-splitting screams and cheering. Blond, sexy, and impossibly youthful-looking, she was perched high up on the stage on an M-shaped throne, her legs spread wide in a defiant, sensual pose. Launching into "Candy Shop," she immediately gave the crowd what they came for, strutting and dancing in a tightly choreographed routine, joined by a half-dozen energetic backup dancers. The track was perfectly emblematic of the album as a whole: a percolating pop confection with lyrics that are meant to get the listener moving, not thinking ("Get up out of your seat / Come on up to the dance floor / I've got something so sweet / Come on up to the front door"). Video screens displayed psychedelic imagery of candy corn and peppermints behind the frenzied dance routine, while some members of the crowd paid homage to the night's theme by raising their own oversize, swirly lollipops in the air.
After getting the party started with that kinetic opening number, Madonna strapped on an acoustic black guitar, complete with sparkly crystal-studded strap, and launched into "Miles Away." Arguably Hard Candy's best track, it was also the standout number of the night. Madonna's voice was strong and clear over the deep bass line, strumming guitar and jagged percussion. Rumored to be about Guy Ritchie, Madonna's husband, "Miles Away" was a melancholy reflection on imperfect love ("When no one's around then I have you here / I begin to see the picture, it becomes so clear / You always have the biggest heart / When we're 6,000 miles apart").
By this point the crowd was swooning, and the relentless Ms. Ciccone did not let up for a moment. The music for Hard Candy's first single, the Timbaland-produced "4 Minutes" pumped out of the club's powerful speakers, while onstage, several elaborate rotating video screens projected the clockwork and digital tic-tac-toe imagery of the song's video. The central screen rotated to suddenly reveal Justin Timberlake, and the crowd exploded. One could feel the excitement in the room as JT and Madonna performed their hit song, enacting a sexy, playful dance number dynamically echoing their work in the "4 Minutes" video; the two pop superstars have an undeniable chemistry together. Madonna was smiling quite a bit, and seemed to actually be enjoying herself, a rarity. The night momentarily became "The Justin Timberlake Show"; his dancing was effortlessly erotic, and together they generated heat that sizzled throughout the venue.
The lights dimmed, and the rough, familiar guitar riff of "Satisfaction" blared through the speakers. "Did you guys think you came to a Rolling Stones concert?" asked Madonna, looking amazingly fresh. "Yeah, fuck that!" The Blond One took a moment to talk to the audience. After saying she's done "what seems like 100 records," she revealed that "every time I put out a record, it feels like the first time and the best time." She dedicated her next song to the fans who camped out on the sidewalk for tickets, the ones who would most appreciate one of her older hits. "That's enough of the present," she said, then exclaimed "Fuck the present!" With that, she tore into a coarse, thrash-rock rendition of "Hung Up," which was actually far superior to the discofied album version, all gut-wrenching guitar squeals and an ominous drumbeat punching through. She ended the song by giving the crowd the middle finger before vanishing offstage.
After that brief foray into rock 'n' roll, it was right back to more of Hard Candy's bouncy electro-pop. The Pharrell Williams-produced "Give It 2 Me" proved to be a rousing, dance floor-ready jam that allowed Madonna and her underlings to show off their amazing energy and tight dance moves. The crowd loved this song, and no doubt remixers and DJ's will also. At no point during the evening did Madonna's energy falter; the woman is going to be 50 this summer and easily kept up with backup dancers half her age without even breaking a sweat.
She demands just as much from her audience. "I don't see you jumping up and down enough!" she admonished, then moved on to the night's final number, "Music." Against a simulated graffiti-splashed subway car backdrop, she and her crew of dancers (in full on '80s B-boy style, complete with track suits and Kangols) performed a kinetic, hip-hop dance extravaganza. For good measure, Madonna also threw in a taste of voguing for the old-school queens. As the song escalated into dance-pop nirvana and the room reached a frenzied peak, everything went black and it was all suddenly, shockingly over.
That move -- leave 'em wanting more -- was quite calculated and totally in keeping with the Material Girl's shrewd machinations. The show -- 32 minutes from start to finish -- was completely and utterly choreographed; not a spontaneous movement or word to be had, but no matter. "The package" is what her fans have come to expect, and that is exactly what they got. Madonna is a robot, yes, but a sexy, entertaining, and fascinating robot. As a promotion for Hard Candy, an album of sugary, syncopated, disco-meets-hip-hop dance anthems, the night was a total success. Every sweet tooth in the house was thoroughly satisfied.