Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 14, 2007)
Between 1985 and 1993, Madonna embarked on four concert tours. From 1994 to 2000, however, she entirely avoided the road. I thought she’d finished with touring forever, but 2001’s Drowned World Tour proved me wrong.
And how wrong I was! Back in 2001, I figured Drowned World would represent one last concert fling for Madonna and we’d not see her on stage again for years – or maybe ever. But that wasn’t remotely the case. Madonna returned for another outing via 2004’s Re-Invention Tour and came back around again on 2006’s Confessions Tour. That’s three tours in the span of five years, a feat that echoes her schedule from 1985 to 1990.
Hopefully this means we’ll see Maddy on the road again in 2008 or 2009. As seen during these recent tours, she’s lost none of her ability to put on a great show. Unfortunately, we have yet to receive an official live DVD from the excellent Re-Invention Tour; a documentary called I’m Going to Tell You a Secret covers that trek but offers only a few glimpses of the actual concert.
We’re not stuck in limbo for the 2006 tour, however, as this DVD establishes. Logically called The Confessions Tour, the program lets us see an entire 2006 concert. Shot in London near the tour’s end, we find a show that heavily emphasizes Madonna’s most recent album, 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor. 10 of the concert’s 19 tunes come from that release. (I don’t count “Confessions” and “Sorry (Remix)” as proper “songs” since they’re used simply to link parts of the show and give Madonna time to change clothes.) The new album offers “Future Lovers”, “Get Together”, “Jump”, “Forbidden Love”, “Isaac”, “Sorry”, “Like It Or Not”, “I Love New York”, “Let It Will Be” and “Hung Up”.
That’s the most number of songs from one album Madonna’s ever featured in a concert, so fans looking for the greatest hits vibe of Re-Invention won’t come away happy. (Drowned World featured even fewer old tracks, but it didn’t concentrate so heavily on one album.) As for the other nine tracks, two originated from 2000’s Music: the title tune – here mashed up with “Disco Inferno” to create “Music Inferno” – and “Paradise (Not For Me)”. 1998’s Ray of Light also contributes its title song along with “Drowned World/Substitute For Love”.
This leaves a mere five songs for the Golden Oldies side of things. To my disappointment, Madonna omits “Holiday” for the first time ever. No, I’m not all that wild about the tune, but I liked the fact it was the one consistent thread through each of her tours. The title song from 1992’s Erotica makes its first appearance in 13 years, though, and we find two tunes from 1986’s True Blue: “La Isla Bonita” and “Live to Tell”. “Bonita” is a Madonna regular, as it last popped up in 2001, but this is the first use of “Tell” since 1990. Another title track comes out with 1984’s “Like a Version” in its first performance since 1993, while 1983’s “Lucky Star” rounds out the show. That tune makes its first reappearance since 1987!
Since I saw the Confessions show live 15 times, I figure I should be able to adequately judge how well the DVD represents the tour. I must admit I didn’t much like the show when I first saw it. Part of that stemmed from my love or Re-Invention; other Madonna die-hards disagree, but I think it might have been her best tour. Maybe the less than great seats I had for the first couple of shows – coupled with a crummy, muddy sound mix at the Glendale Arena – also made Confessions a tough show for me to embrace.
Whatever the case, it took me a few viewings to embrace Confessions. I eventually came to like it very much – not as much as Re-Invention, mind you, but a lot more than what I took from those early Arizona performances. I’d put Confessions at least on a par with Drowned World, and it’s probably better, to be honest.
I definitely like the spin Madonna gives the new songs. I really enjoyed the Confessions album, but I didn’t listen to it during my 15-concert spree. When I gave it a play after the tour’s end, I found it tough to take. I’d come to enjoy the live renditions of the songs so much that they sounded stiff and sterile in their studio renditions.
Don’t take that to mean that Madonna radically recasts the Confessions tracks. She alters some of the older tunes to varying degrees, but the Confessions stuff receives fairly literal treatment. Nonetheless, the tunes get a nice kick in the pants. There’s a spark and groove to them not as obvious in their studio incarnations. These elicit plenty of show highlights and help keep the concert flowing. A performance so oriented toward new stuff – especially given the dance floor tone of these tracks – could have gotten old. That doesn’t happen, as the Confessions tunes work very well in the live setting.
Looking at the older tunes, “Erotica” stands out as my favorite reworked number. It gets a lithe, sensuous reworking that makes it brand-new and possibly better than its original take. I’m not quite as enamored of the “Music Inferno” mash-up, but it’s a fun new edition of that tune. Since it’s the only song to appear on each of Madonna’s last three tours, it’s good that she spices it up a bit. “Like a Virgin” and “Live to Tell” also work rather well in their new versions. “Lucky Star” and “La Isla Bonita” aren’t quite as strong, but they’re more than fine.
As a stage production, Confessions proves very consistent. I don’t think I like it as much as Re-Invention, as it lacks that show’s wonderful highs. On the other hand, it also fails to suffer from the 2004 show’s lows. Not that a lot of those occurred, but Re-Invention clanked at times; Madonna’s cover of “Imagine” is one of the least interesting things she’s ever done. Confessions keeps us involved and entertained from start to finish without any significant sags.
Confessions boasted arguably Madonna’s best-ever live vocals. After 1996’s Evita, she sang with greater precision and strength, but she developed a fussy, overly mannered take on songs. With Confessions, she finally loses the Broadway feeling but she maintains the positives. She sounds simply great throughout the show.
Speaking of singers, my biggest complaint about Confessions comes from the diminution of backup vocalist Donna Delory’s role in the concert. Back in the 90s, she and fellow singer Niki Haris played a major part in the performances and served as Madonna’s foils. That dropped a bit in 2001 but they still had a lot to do in the Drowned World show.
Due to a rift between her and Madonna, Haris didn’t come along for Re-Invention and was replaced by Siedah Garrett. She and Donna didn’t get as much to do as Donna and Niki did back in the day, but that still had more than a few times to shine.
To my major disappointment, Confessions almost always keeps Donna and new co-vocalist Nicki Richards in the background. Their only real spotlight moment comes as they strut around the stage with Madonna during “Lucky Star”. Otherwise, they’re usually stuck in the corner of the stage. I loved seeing Donna and whoever work the stage, so I feel sad that this factor no longer occurs.
Maybe that’ll change for Madonna’s next tour. Otherwise, I have few complaints about Confessions, and that goes for the DVD presentation as well. Okay, here’s one gripe: for reasons unknown, director Jonas Ackerlund makes Donna and Nicki even less prominent in the show! During the concert, they chatted a bit with Madonna during the James Brown-style “I’m too tired to go on” intro to “Lucky Star”. This was a personal highlight for me, as Madonna improvised something different – and usually funny – every night. Oddly, the DVD totally omits any dialogue from this part of the show. Why? I have no clue, and it bugs me.
Overall, however, I think Confessions provides a reasonably good depiction of the concert. The visual presentation gets a little busy at times, mainly because I don’t like the way it runs video screen material over stage shots. I know that it’s tough to accurately capture a Madonna show since it uses so many different media, but this solution proves mildly unsatisfactory.
Some may object to the editing style, as Confessions goes with a very quick cutting pace. However, I think it fits the material just fine, as Madonna runs a fast concert. Yeah, it’s a bit more hyper than I’d like, but it fits the music so it doesn’t become a distraction ala the various Paul McCartney DVDs. The editing fails only when it doesn’t match the artist or the material. I’d prefer longer shots, but the cuts don’t seriously distract.
This leaves Confessions as a pretty good view of Madonna’s 2006 tour. It’s not her best stage show or the strongest concert DVD I’ve witnessed, but it’s above average in both regards. It certainly shows how great Madonna remains as a live performer.
Personal footnote: as I mentioned, I saw this concert 15 times. Due to its construction, not many variations occurred. Occasionally, some goofs popped up, and those were amusing to see. My favorite? When a major a large prop got stuck at the start of “Jump” during the first Miami concert (I think – they’re hard to keep straight after a while). As you can see on the DVD, a ramp with various gymnastics bars lowers to the stage and buff dancers hurdle on these.
Not in Miami. In a very Spinal Tap moment, the ramp stopped about 10 feet above the stage and didn’t make it all the way down until about halfway through the tune. This left the dancers puzzled and stuck without anything to do. I don’t know what the others in the crowd thought, but I laughed my butt off when I watched this massive goof. Someone must’ve gotten fired that night!