One of the world’s most popular DJs, Paul Oakenfold is used to playing big rooms. So he was completely comfortable opening for Madonna last night at Quicken Loans Arena. While his relentless fist-pumps and head bobbing came off as rather cheesy, his set of progressive house music that included lively remixes of Blur’s “Song 2” and Rihanna’s “We Found Love” had at least some of the crowd up and dancing. Oakenfold clearly had the crowd warmed up for Madonna by the time he left the stage at 9:45 p.m.
But it took Madonna nearly an hour to finally arrive on stage. As she finally took the stage at about 10:40 p.m. to the sound of Gregorian chants and the ringing of church bells, the capacity crowd a delightfully eclectic group of housewives, cross-dressers and club-goers that made for good people watching rose to its feet. After an obligatory prayer Madonna, however, didn’t deliver on that energy, despite being accompanied by a live band and a huge ensemble of dancers. Her vocals sounded shrill on “Girl Gone Wild” and on “Gang Bang,” which she performed from the confines of a cool stage prop that looked like a cheap hotel room. “Express Yourself,” which was accompanied by a cheerleader routine, fared better and “I Don’t Give A,” a tune that featured a marching band suspended above the stage with wires, was another highlight.
No show featuring one of rock’s biggest divas would be complete if the diva didn’t throw a fit. In a routine that seemed staged, Madonna stopped the show to demand that more people were ushered into the triangular-shaped area directly in front of the stage. “I want to overcapacitate the triangle,” she said, adding that the show was all about “one soul, one body, one love.” In keeping with the positivity, she encouraged the audience to throw cash at her while she stripped during a prelude to “Like a Virgin,” which she effectively delivered as a moody piano ballad. She then promised to dedicate the money to victims of Hurricane Sandy in a gesture that seemed heartfelt and genuine.
But for much of the show, Madonna, who came off as a rather cold and impassionate performer, seemed to be going through the motions (though she did tell the audience it was more enthusiastic than the crowd she had just played to in Detroit). Admittedly, she perked up for the two closing tracks, “Like a Prayer” and “Celebration,” which were delivered in all their pop glory with a light show simulating 3-D visual effects. At 54, Madonna can still dance reasonably well and she looks incredibly fit and sexy — she performed several segments wearing nothing but lingerie. And the choreographed stage show was visually stimulating. But she just didn’t display the kind of stage presence you’d expect from one of rock’s most notorious divas.