1. HD in Concert (Madonna)

    brian on 2006.12.30
    at 04:48 am

    NBC’s Universal HD channel showed a Madonna concert tonight, and I came away very impressed (apparently, it showed on NBC proper on 22 Nov, and actually happened at Wembley Arena, London, in early August.). I should preface review this with the fact that I am not a Madonna fan. I’m more likely to change the station than to listen to a Madonna song if it were to come on the radio. In fact, it would be odd that I would even be listening to a station that would carry Madonna in the first place. But I’ve always respected her as a performer.

    I try to watch as many concerts that come on TV as possible, but there aren’t many. I believe one of the few I have seen was a Madonna concert on HBO. I remember being impressed by the circus of it all and specifically the choreography. I’m not a fan of dance, but they put on quite a show. This, however, came at the expense of the music… M simply couldn’t sing as well as in the studio, when she was giving such an athletic performance simultaneously. I felt that was the biggest hole in the performance, and as a musician, I found it a fatal flaw. She fell off key way too often.

    The first thing I noticed about this performace tonight was that fatal flaw was missing. M was singing full bore. So, automatically, I assumed the worst: lip syncing. So, as an astute observer I went to work checking… and I can’t say absolutely for sure, but I would pick “not lip syncing” if I had to. 75% chance I’d say. The only trouble I’m having is that the show is so over produced (more on this in a moment) that it’s difficult to get a good look at the tell-tale signs.

    To the music, as I’ve said above I’m not the biggest fan of Madonna’s music. Not bad, just I’m not going out to buy the albums. But, and I may be alone here, I have enjoyed seeing her sway towards the electric dancehall sound of recent. This started back in 1998 with the electronica-tinged ambience and Euro-pop sensibilities of Ray of Light. I think she’s well suited for it. And she’s taken the strengths of the genre and built the show upon it… the pace is very dancehall esque, with non-stop beats. Even older songs like “Like a Virgin” or “La Isla Bonita” have been upconverted to the new sound, helping them blend in with the show, while helping her long time fans hear their classic favorites.

    The choreography really charmed me. Again, I’m no fan of dance, though I certainly respect the art form, and the blend of art and athleticism. Here, through, I felt the dance really helped convey the story, easily as much as any lyrics… though the beat is what the story is. I particularly appreciated the troupe’s versatility, swinging from bars, rollerskating, breakdancing, and the usual Madonna-esque poses. Cirque du Solei could certainly do some recruiting here, but I’d imagine a dancer might prefer to tour with M.

    I spoke to how I felt M’s dancing in the past had a negative effect on her singing. This time, I feel she’s either adjusted her moves while singing, and or reduced her total of physical movement to allow her more air to sing with. Awesome. This allows her to finally achieve all her concert experience could be. One of her new tricks is to actually play an instrument (guitar) for part of the concert. No one can expect her to breakdance or ride a mechanical bull with a guitar, so she’s off the hook. And can rest up for the next act. Also, I’ll lump the staging and lighting in here: top notch. I’d hate to have to set all that up. Scaffolds, elevators, trapdoors, huge video displays, and lights to cover the stage and three catwalks. All synced impressively. I wasn’t a fan of the horse imagery, though. Worst part of the show. So many clips of horses taking diggers just didn’t take with me. However I get the reference to bridled power, especially when compared to the middle eastern set with the woman veiled and entrapped within a cage, which was an excellent set, and the music shined her perhaps more than any other one set in the show.

    And lastly, for the music, the arrangements are top notch. Having a great flow. The musicians do a great job of bringing the music to life, and that’s no challenge with all those things to trigger, since the workflow is heavily electric. Of course, that could also mean “programmed.” Well, if that’s the case, at least they were using Apple Cinema Displays on stage. Madonna has clearly learned enough guitar to be comfortable with performing. Her parts are small and basic at most, but I think it’s more notable to focus on the fact that she’s really playing the parts. She not just posing with the instrument. Good for her. I had heard she had learned to play guitar so that she could perform Don’t Tell Me‘s repetitive acoustic guitar hook, from her 2000 release Music live. I could have made this up in my head, though. Music was her follow-up to her 1998 Ray of Light mentioned above.

    The last thing I’ll comment upon for this show is the actual “for TV” production. Wow. What a great use of the HDTV medium. The sound had to be great, that was the point of entry. But the visuals are stunning. Great camera work, and phenomenal integration with the stage’s video presentations… they are actively overlayed and intermixed with camera footage on the run in the broadcast. It really gave an impression of being there. The producers and video editors should all be nominated for whatever awards they qualify for. 5 stars.

    The special is produced by Blackdog Films. Madonna, Angela Becker, Guy Oseary, Kai Hsiung, John Payne, are executive producers; Jonas Ackerlund directs and Sara Martin produces.

    As carefully executed and planned as the concert it covered. Not exactly documentary, but you certainly felt like you attended the concert. I guess the proof is in this overly long review of the program by a non-fan.

    The only problem were the commercials: a) that there were any, it really kills the flow of a non-stop concert – imagine a symphony broadcast with commercials in between the movements… never! b) the commercials UHD showed were all for the most ridiculous and hokey products, things you can only seem to buy on TV (but, if you call now, we’ll throw in, not one but 17 of…)… haven’t they heard of targeted marketing?

    Rated: recommended for all music fans, unless you don’t care for Madonna’s slight obsession with sexuality. But if you don’t, I’m sure you’ve been avoiding her for some time now.

    [note: I stated I was not a fan of Madonna at the top, but I did do some research into basics like song and album names and release dates to write a more cohesive article. But, damn, I should have been sleeping, I have an early morning appointment I’m going to be drowsy for! Must write when the muse chooses, though!]

    Posted in: Music · Television


    Comments (1)

    1. Tyler said on 2007.01.12 at 01:42 pm

      Wow, what a review (for a non-fan)! Like you, I’m not a fan of Madonna, but seriously respect her as a performer and a pop icon.

      I’ve been torn about HDTV. For a while I wanted to make the leap and buy a new TV. Probably a 42” Samsung DLP. The price is reasonable and lots of people tend to like the DLP technology. But I resisted (partly because my wife won’t let me, partly because we’ve got a baby on the way that I’ll have to pay for). But recently I’ve been thinking I should wait a while anyway. It seems like there’s still not quite enough HD programming out there to justify it (to me). And in addition to the cost of the tube, there’s the cables (not cheap), an HD DVD player (which I KNOW I would want), and maybe even a TiVo series 3. (I saw your diatribe about TiVo above… I agree about the MTTG thing, but I love my TiVo series 2.) Anyway, I think that as we get closer to 2009, when all programming will go HD, TV prices will probably come down a little, technology will improve, and programming will be more diverse. So I guess I’ll wait.

      But then I see a posting like this that makes me question my decision!!

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