The highest grossing tour of 2012 is at last available on DVD and, ahem Blu-ray (and now I've officially dated this article). A non-stop spectacle that traveled everywhere from Tel Aviv to Cordoba, the MDNA Tour looks even better onscreen than it does in person--especially if you couldn't afford the top tier priced tickets. Originally broadcast on Epix (proving M is over the HBO scene), MDNA World Tour, as the video/music version is aptly called, showcases a darker side of Madonna that we haven't seen expressed quite so freely since the Drowned World Tour. Opening with, to use a term I hate, a "hauntingly beautiful" rendition of "Virgin Mary," in which the Kalakan Trio, vocalists similar to Yitzak Sinwani (who also collaborated with Madonna on the song "Isaac" and The Confessions Tour), croons a lamenting chant, the tone of macabreness is set for the tour.
As featured on previous concerts of Madonna's, MDNA World Tour also includes a featurette on the auditioning process for her backup dancers. After auditioning forty dancers over a six-day workshop for a mere eighteen spots on the tour--an undoubtedly grueling process--the fastidious queen finally made her decisions. The result is evident in every song on the tour, with each dancer acting as a cog in the well-oiled choreography machine. Pronounced imagery of what some might dub "illuminati beasts" take the stage as Madonna enters wearing an imposing crown and black veil. The effect is altogether chilling as she segues into a mash-up of "Girl Gone Wild" and "Material Girl." With camera work that closely resembles the slowed down speed on The Confessions Tour, every nuance--both of the show and the video installations--can be appreciated.
"Revolver" featuring Lil' Wayne follows, playing up the gory gun motif of the Transgression section. Backup dancers wearing bandanas over their mouths prance around Madonna as she brandishes a gun (something she got a lot of flak for after the James Holmes incident that took place around the time she toured in Colorado), transitioning seamlessly into the most violent song of the show, "Gang Bang." More masked men come to take Madonna away in a vein similar to her performance of "Lament" on the Reinvention Tour as she segues into an electronic/rock sounding rendition of "Hung Up." A brief version of "Papa Don't Preach" succeeds this, after which Madonna sings one of the least enjoyable tracks from MDNA, "I Don't Give A...". The interlude that follows is a mash-up of "Heartbeat" from Hard Candy and the morose "Best Friend" from MDNA.
The Prophecy segment then commences with a flawless incorporation of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" into "Express Yourself." Dressed as a drum majorette, the theme of a frenetic extravaganza continues with a remix of the under appreciated "Give Me All Your Luvin'", which served as the first single from MDNA. Flashing images of M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj on the screen behind Madonna contribute to the overall energetic feel of this entire performance. For the moments leading up to the next song, "Turn Up The Radio," Madonna once again enjoys a bit of self-reference, with images of her most iconic videos appearing on the screen à la "Music Inferno" from The Confessions Tour. One of the more interactive portions of the show takes place during the next song, "Open Your Heart," reworked to have a more gypsy sounding vibe with elements of the Kalakan Trio's "Sagarra Jo." Madonna's son, Rocco Ritchie, joins her on the stage to show off his break dancing moves as the other dancers partake in the revelry. In the between the end of "Open Your Heart" and the beginning of "Masterpiece," Madonna takes the time to interact with her audience, asking, "Did you take your MDMA before you got here?" She then thanks her fans for thirty years of devotion and reminds us all how lucky we are to live in a country where we can express ourselves.
The interlude for "Justify My Love" is a throwback to the clown aesthetic of The Girlie Show and serves as the perfect transition into the Masculine/Feminine segment of the tour. Giving herself yet another homage, Madonna re-enters wearing a revamped incarnation of her infamous Jean-Paul Gaultier cone bra. Equal parts evocative of her 1993 Girlie Show performance of "Justify My Love" and her 1990 MTV VMA performance of "Vogue," the tour directors, Danny B. Tull and Stephane Sennour, alternate between color and black and white footage to capitalize on the glamorousness of Old Hollywood. A sultry, Parisian-tinged combination of "Candy Shop" and "Erotica"--retitled "Erotic Candy Shop"--plays up Madonna's love of androgyny.
The delightfully vitriolic "Human Nature" also favors the use of interspersed black and white footage as Madonna explores the concept of duality by gazing at herself in a series of mirrors. By the end of the song, she has stripped down to the bare minimum to reveal the word "PSYCHE" written on her back. She then notes, "Sometimes it's easier to show your ass than it is to show your feelings, right? Tonight, I'm gonna try to do both. And if you have a problem with my ass...you can kiss it." This leads into her ballad interpretation of "Like A Virgin," called "Like A Virgin Waltz." Dramatic and stylized, the entire sequence remains in black and white, including "Love Spent," in which Madonna openly and emotionally discusses her divorce from Guy Ritchie. Clutching pathetically to money that has fallen on the stage, she completes the performance in earnest as one of the dancers tightens her corset for maximum theatrical effect.
The final video interlude, a surrealist montage of imagery with other people's faces superimposed over Madonna's, is a choppy "Nobody Knows Me"--the only nod to American Life on the tour. This metamorphoses beautifully into the MDMA anthem, "I'm Addicted," which kicks off the final segment of the tour, Redemption. Appearing in what can best be described as a metallic, futuristic prayer outfit with "MDNA" emblazoned on the back of it, Redemption is the perfect final act you would expect from a consummate performer like Madonna. The psychedelic, Eastern-influenced "I'm A Sinner" fits quite nicely into the concept of recognizing frailty and trying to repent for it. Elements of the unreleased Music track, "Cyberraga," close out the song. "Like A Prayer," always epically performed, finds Madonna's back-up dancers and singers dressed in black and white robes with crosses on the front. Following the formula for "Hung Up" at the end of The Confessions Tour and "Give It 2 Me" at the end of The Sticky and Sweet Tour, Madonna holds the microphone down to her fans for them to sing into.
Concluding the show is the exuberant "Celebration," featuring portions of "Girl Gone Wild" and "Give It 2 Me." Showcasing some of the best choreography of the MDNA Tour, every dancer works together to close with unforgettable panache. As the credits to the show roll, Madonna is shown getting into her car and handing part of her costume to her dresser. She states, "That's it. Let's go home." Though, clearly, her true home will always be on the stage.