June 7, 2012

The indisputable queen of pop laid claim to her cult-status with some historical diva dramatics to an estimated 25,000 audience on the first night of her two-day performance in Abu Dhabi on June 3, 2012. Arriving on stage amidst a lot of major booing, two hours over-schedule, the audience was immediately hushed as the sound of deafening church bells filled the Yas Island’s du Arena. Madonna landed on stage while a giant thurible swung in defiance, and dancers clad in red monk cloaks took their places within hovering smoke, as she descended against the back-drop of a large crucifix in a black skin-tight costume to the prelude of Girls Gone Wild. After which, poised at the corner of the stage, pointing a Kalashnikov at the audience, she challenged the crowd with her characteristic flamboyance, “Hello Abu Dhabi,” shouted the diva.

Next up was Revolver, a femme fatale’s take on love from her  twelfth and latest, deftly-titled album MDNA, also the name of her current tour. Blood and bullets splattered across expansive LED screens throughout the song, which during other singles such as Radio and Gang Bang displayed impressive vivid imagery, including cartoon graphics and whimsical patterns, quite hallucinatory in their effect, coupled with seamless dances and elaborate acrobatic performances from her entourage. The lighting and sound equipment on stage was set-up by 120 technicians, all of whom, along with the equipment are reported to be flown to each destination of Madonna’s MDNA 2012 World Tour in  three Boeings’ 747. This is the singer’s first concert appearance in the UAE.

Cementing her position as the ultimate pop diva, Madonna took a jab at singer Lady Gaga’s Born this Way — there was a recent controversy about the song being derived from Express Yourself — by performing both singles consecutively in a fiery display and mockingly ending the sequence with She’s Not Me. Catty as ever, at 55, Madonna’s message was clear: she could give most contemporary music counterparts a run for their money.

Fans looking forward to some of the icon’s older hits would have met with disappointment as the singer, in what seems to be an attempt to get the attention of a relatively younger crowd was quite stingy about singing older hits. But, Material Girl and Vogue were performed with sheer brilliance, not just in terms of tenacious vocals but also stage execution and costumes. In the former, Madonna marched out with a 15 plus entourage in the English Massed Band style, and in the latter, set atop sleek vertical white pillars, clad in a black corset atop a crisp white shirt with trousers, which she consecutively undid in the next few songs to finally reveal the famous Jean Paul Gaultier cone-shaped bra. With ‘no fear’ tattooed on her back and a male dancer grazing her body, Madonna seductively sang Erotica.

In what was the most anticipated concert of the decade for people in the Middle East and South East Asia, there was a huge audience from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, apart from several other countries. In Pakistan, corporations and agencies went all out to out-do each other to sell attractive promotional packages to the event, which included private entrances to the concert site and free drinks at the VIP bar.

However, as the concert drew to a close some twenty minutes before the regular two hours — and in spite of the almost studied grandeur of the performances — many first-timers could have felt mildly cheated that in this concert in Abu Dhabi, no time at all was spent on the pop icon’s extensive musical oeuvre. Well, maybe next time!

The writer is freelance journalist.