(In the interest of full disclosure, this is likely to be long. Just so you know.)
OK, it's time for me to get my butt in gear and blog the concert. The Sticky & Sweet Tour was the fourth Madonna tour that my good friend and Madonna partner-in-crime Jeff and I have been to and our first Madonna concert in Chicago since our first one, The Drowned World Tour. I'd like to say that it was something cosmic that led us to come full circle on Madonna concert locations this time around, but mostly, it was just the date that fit in best with Jeff's school calendar. We were also kind of looking to avoid having to fly, and Chicago was by far the closest that she was coming to Iowa.
We arrived in Chicago around 6pm on Saturday. Jeff and I were staying in the western burb of Naperville, mostly because hotels are MUCH cheaper in the burbs than in the city and also because the further west you stay in Chicago, the shorter the drive home on the day you leave. Anyway, we got there that night and checked into the hotel. Afterwards we went out and scouted around downtown Naperville looking for food and other diversions. We eventually found both and then headed back to the hotel where I watched my first full episode of SNL in over a decade.
The next day we headed into the city and spent most of our time in Boystown/Lakeview which is one of my favorite parts of the city. Our main destination was Borderline Music, which is a small record store that is a must-stop for me every time I go to Chicago. Named after the early Madonna hit song, it is a virtual treasure chest of Madonna CDs, vinyl and other memorabilia. But it is not limited to Madonna. If it is dance-pop or a gay icon, you can almost certainly find it in this store. It is great fun to shop in, although I'll admit the last time or two that I have gone I have not been as tempted as I was the first few times. Jeff picked up a couple of CDs (Hard Candy Extended Mixes and the Sticky & Sweet Tour Demos) but I left empty-handed. We ate at a little greasy spoon where I got my required Chicago hot dog and then it was time to go pick up my Blogger buddy Yuri, who was staying in a vacation apartment with his wife down by the Sears Tower.
This is where the trip got a bit tricky. On Halstead Street, while headed out to Lakeshore Drive, I managed to somehow mistake a right turn only lane for a parking lane and ended up turning out in front of a very large U-Haul truck. I heard and felt the thump and presumed the worst. Dear God, I have wrecked the car in Chicago. I stopped the car and looked at the damage and, while not bad and certainly not of "wrecking the car" caliber, it was still something I wish had not happened. There was no damage to the guy's U-Haul (he was probably going all of 10 miles an hour when he hit me) and it was clearly my fault so we went on our merry (well, maybe not so merry) way.
We got down to Yuri's place and picked him up and went back to Borderline. I was still rather unmoved and almost left empty-handed AGAIN, but ultimately, I picked up Guy Oseary's book of photos from the Confessions Tour for 40 bucks. First edition hardcover, and really, I just loved the Confessions Tour so much I thought, why the hell not? And as a bonus, I was given the album flat of Hard Candy, even though I had gotten into a disagreement with the owner of the store as to whether or not the Hard Candy album cover is worth a shit.
We grabbed some pizza and then headed for the show. There were some tense moments where I deviated from my map and didn't know exactly if the road I was on would connect to 90/94 or if it would simply go over it or under it, but I trusted my instincts and we made it intact (with only one brief trip through the ghetto that surrounds the United Center thanks to me not being in the right turn lane after exiting the 290 West to Damen Street.)
So, after all this, we finally made it to the concert. Once we got the car parked and got inside, we got in line to get buy the tour merchandise. It cost pennies to make and they sell it at 10,000% markup. However, like lemmings, we buy it anyway. I bought the tour book and the coffee mug (natch) and a little magnet. Total of 55 dollars. Jeez. All to feed the Madonna machine (and her divorce lawyers.)
We took our seats but I had another engagement. I knew that my one of my favorite Madonna bloggers (and fellow Debbie Harry fan) Matthew Rettenmund was going to be at the show as well. I took a chance and e-mailed him prior to leaving and asked him if he'd like to meet up and he was more than willing. He gave me his cell phone number and around 8, we were texting back and forth trying to find each other. Eventually, we met up. He's a wonderfully gracious fellow and it was great to meet him. So not only did I get to meet Yuri (who has been a long time pal via blogging), I got to meet yet another blogger! (XO, we wish you had been there as well!) That does not happen every day.
Madonna was, of course, fashionably late. She started around 9PM which was just about what Yuri predicted (I was predicting 9:20.) But when the lights went down and the music for the intro started, the crowd went wild. The opening animated sequence that led into "Candy Shop" was great. It was a bit like the opening credits to Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and set the tone for the opening segment quite well. Before we knew it, the revolving platform came all the way around and revealed Madonna sitting on her throne. It was not quite the disco ball - nothing ever will top that - but it was a good entrance and kicked the show off well. I still am a bit embarrassed by how much I like "Candy Shop" but it is kind of one of those songs that is so bad it is good.
Far and away, my favorite segment of the tour was the "Old School" segment which featured Madonna doing the long rumored double-dutch jump roping in high heels. Starting with "Into The Groove" and winding through new and old stuff with remarkable finesse, it rivaled the opening segment of the Confessions Tour in quality. Included in this set was the rocked-up "Borderline" with Madonna doing her guitar playing. I did not miss out on my chance to sing along with 30,000 other fans to a 25 year old song that has not been performed live in just about that long. It was a great moment, right up there with the similar singing of "get up on the dance floor!" from "Vogue" at Re-Invention. And "She's Not Me," a new song from Hard Candy that I had been warming to was FANTASTIC, with Madonna beating up look alikes from various stages of her career while classic images played on the screens behind her.
My first moment of stunned awe came during the beautiful performance of "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You." Sitting on top of a grand piano, surrounded by transluscent screens upon which images of rain were being projected, Madonna was dressed like the grim reaper and performed what is perhaps my favorite song off of Hard Candy. This "gypsy" section also featured "La Isla Bonita" but really, for it being the 58,000th live performance of this song, it was pretty good. It was also pretty much the same performance that she did at Live Earth, so it's a bit lazy recycling that, but who can blame her? One big surprise of the evening was a very heartfelt performance of "You Must Love Me" from Evita. We expected it to be terrible, but it was actually VERY good.
The last segment of the show started off with Madonna in football gear (ill advised, IMHO) singing "4 Minutes" along with holographic images of Justin and Timbaland. I have been famously NOT a fan of "4 Minutes" but this performance was pretty good. The highlight of the last act, and arguably the whole show was "Like A Prayer." As Yuri would say, it was off the chain. Between the performance of this classic song and the words and images being projected up on the screen which included quotes from religious texts that highlighted just how similar all world religions really are, well, I'm not ashamed to say that I was profoundly moved. It was the point in the concert that many of her detractors would accuse her of being pretentious but the fans lap up.
Ultimately, the last act of the show was also its weakest, mostly because we had to suffer through yet another version of "Ray Of Light" which was not all that different from its Confessions Tour incarnation and a completely bastardized "Hung Up." Removing the synths and the ABBA sample and replacing them with crushing electric guitars was not a stroke of genius. And "Give It 2 Me," while a rousing closer, seemed a little too much like "Hung Up" from the Confessions Tour.
Still, I thought the concert was amazing and SO much better than I was expecting, especially since I am so lukewarm to Hard Candy. However, the tour has made me rethink a lot of the harsh words I had for Hard Candy. I still think it is mediocre and no Confessions on a Dance Floor and that Madonna is capable of MUCH better, but it is not terrible. I still cannot fucking stand "Incredible" and "Spanish Lesson" is still ridiculous, but I came to appreciate the album a lot more thanks to the live versions presented in the tour. And sometimes, it takes a live performance to get the song to the right spot in your head.
Leaving the United Center proved to be tricky as we waited for 45 minutes in the parking lot before hitting the expressway to take Yuri back to his apartment. It was far too short of time to spend together. I would have liked to have hung out with him more! I am happy to say that he is a great guy and damn lot of fun to hang out with. And we both share the same aversion to parallel parking. Brothers from another mother indeed.
And with that, Jeff and I were off to Naperville.
It's funny...every time Madonna tours, I say to myself "Oh, I went the last time, I don't need to go this time." Yes, it is expensive but the woman earns the price of those concert seats. And especially Sunday night, she was in such good spirits, smiled more than I have ever seen her smile during a show and engaged the audience in a very un-Madonna way. While I still think I liked the Confessions Tour better, this one probably took the place of Re-Invention in the number two spot. She never fails to amaze me in concert. There is something so surreal about being in the same room with Madonna, even if it is an arena the size of the United Center.
Next time, though, I'm joining the fan club so I can get those primo floor seats.
(all photos of the tour courtesy of madonnalicious)