Madonna gives lackluster audience ‘C’ grade

She entered upon a gleaming throne, leg draped over one of its shiny arms, exposing the goods like a little girl who keeps pulling her dress up over her head.

"Don’t be fooled by my humility," she’d later wink, which was kind of like a shark urging you to pay no mind to its teeth.

Madonna’s no more subtle than a cat in heat, its hindquarters in hot pants, its mind in the most glittery of gutters.

She speaks her mind and she grades on a curve.

"I’ll give you a C," she told a near-capacity crowd at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday night, underwhelmed by the crowd’s enthusiasm in joining her for an a cappella version of "Open Your Heart."

It wasn’t three songs into her set before she was flipping the audience the bird and bemoaning the relaxed vibe in the arena.

"There’s a lot of laid-back people here tonight," she sighed at one point. "It’s freaking me out. … (Expletive) you."

But Madonna has always delighted in pushing peoples’ buttons — she’s that kid in the back of the classroom, lobbing spitballs and trying to get the substitute teacher to lose his cool — and she did her best to overwhelm at the first of two Vegas shows on her current "Sticky and Sweet" tour.

During the propulsive pop of "Beat Goes On," she and a phalanx of dancers rode down the runway that jutted into the crowd in a sparkling white convertible, undulating to the beat.

She took to the stage skipping rope and playing double- dutch during the cardiovascular aerobics routine that was "Into The Groove," interacted with a quartet of Madonna look-alikes from different eras of her career during "She’s Not Me" and flung herself around a stripper pole mounted on a movable DJ booth at one point.

Through it all, an interesting duality emerged that defines a Madonna concert: They’re highly choreographed, down to every more, and she lip-syncs (though not exclusively), not even pretending to sing the chorus on a show-opening "Candy Shop," for instance.

But she also dramatically re-configures many of her songs live, transforming them into new shapes and forms, thus keeping the show from feeling overly canned despite how prefabricated it really is.

Few popsters would ever think of toying with some of their biggest hits the way Madonna does on stage.

Clutching a bright purple Gibson SG guitar, she turned early dance pop confection "Borderline" into a riff heavy rocker with flared nostrils that actually had some crowd members playing air drums.

"Hung Up," the heart-pounding disco dervish from Madonna’s last disc, "Confessions On A Dancefloor," was given a similar treatment, slathered in muscular power chords until it could nearly be classified as a metal tune — seriously (Madonna’s live guitarist, Monte Pittman, actually plays with long-running headbangers Prong).

"Ray of Light" was also turned into a bawdy, Bic-in-the-air sweat bath.

Elsewhere, Madonna ramp-ed up the BPM and added some serious torque to the bass lines in "Music," once a spare and slinky little hip-shaker, which got turned into a concussive, full-contact rave up, as did "Like A Prayer."

And during "La Isla Bonita," Madonna brought out a fiddle player, an accordionist and a pair of older gents with guitars and wide smiles to add some indigenous instrumentation to the song, turning it into a raucous foot-stomper that sounded as if it were inspired by gypsy punk fireballs Gorgol Bordello.

Throughout the course of the show, there were a few moments of understatement, and they were a welcome break from the bombast, namely porcelain-delicate ballad "You Must Love Me" or the forlorn "Miles Away," which she sang atop a piano cloaked in a flowing black robe.

Yeah, it was all patently ridiculous at times — Madge in glittery red and silver shoulder pads during "4 Minutes." Huh? — and we could have done without all the video interludes and dance routines, especially the one where a couple of dudes sparred to the beat in a makeshift boxing ring for no apparent reason.

But to lampoon a Madonna gig for its occasional detours into the absurd its kind of like critiquing a stripper based on her math skills, it’s missing the point.

And the point is that bigger is almost always better, audacity certainly trumps reticence.

This was underscored by the time the show reached its sweaty conclusion with a seismic, hands-in-the-air "Give it To Me."

"Don’t need to catch my breath," Madonna howled on the tune, the rare sentiment that the crowd couldn’t echo on this night.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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