Madonna, Gogol Bordello

Matt Haigh 23/08/2008

Madonna stakes her claim as the Queen of pop in true style on her Sticky and Sweet tour, the show kicks off with a revolving screen unveiling her Majesty upon a throne for her opener Candy Shop. Clutching a cane, she saunters across the stage like some gangster Willy Wonka. Indeed, the show is divided into four distinct sections, the first of those being the Gangsta section, wherein Madonna and her troupe of brilliant dancers strut their stuff in a white Rolls Royce for Beat Goes On, before the singer is left alone with her guitar to perform a rock version of Human Nature, replete with some help from her protégé Britney Spears (in an excellent video piece). Within a matter of minutes, Madonna proves she is as excellent at 50 as she was 30 years ago, if not better. There is no mistaking a brilliant performer at work.

Perhaps the best summation of the tour follows in the second act, a dazzling, bold and colourful array of boxing, televised dancing jelly babies and pole dancing. If it wasn't clear enough in the opening segment that Madonna rules the stage, it's hard to miss in the ensuing melee of carnival-like exuberance, including a rocked-up version of od classic Borderline, which proves a huge crowd pleaser. For She's Not Me, a number of models dressed in various Madonna costumes of the past appear on stage, only to be slapped, throttled and tackled by the singer, a metaphor maybe for tearing down her past, wiping the slate clean, starting afresh. The song closes in spectacular rock-out style with Madge throwing a full-blown strop on stage, writhing and thrashing and pounding the floor until exhaustion.

A short animated video interlude precedes the Gypsy section, possibly this writer's favourite part of the show. Things start in typically dramatic style, with the singer swathed in a black cloak and performing Devil Wouldn't Recognise You atop a revolving grand piano. She's then joined on stage by a gypsy fiddle band for excellent performances of Spanish Lesson, La Isla Bonita, and an incredibly fun, stomping gypsy folk song. Quite a surprise inclusion for this tour is You Must Love Me, a track from her Evita days, delivered beautifully by a note-perfect Madonna.

Some brilliant editing and video work follow for the interlude Get Stupid, a message to all of us about how the planet is running out of time. Images of swastikas and global tragedies flash across the screen with Madonna trilling tick tock tick tock over the top, the montage closing with an image of Barak Obama, suggesting that hope for America's future, at least, is somewhere over the horizon.

Things are somewhat weaker in the final Rave section, where, with the exception of a new trance version of Like A Prayer, the choice of songs takes a turn for the unimaginative. Surely Ray of Light has been performed to death now? Rather surprisingly for such an empowered, action-driven song, 4 Minutes also proves slightly lacking in excitement. 'This is the part where I take requests,' shouts Madonna, before singing a few bars from 80s hit Express Yourself, before adding, 'Enough of that shit, I'm in charge, I decide the songs!' Luckily, things pick up with a brilliant performance of Give It To Me, which also closes the show.

The overall impression this leg of the tour gives is one of empowerment, of attitude, of fighting spirit from a woman clearly determined to stay glued to her throne as Queen of both pop music and reinvention. There is also a sense of urgency to the show, with messages of time for the human race and planet quickly dwindling: comprising a good chunk of the video backdrops. It is a bold show, a colourful and, at the most basic level, a fucking fun show, and definitely worth the ticket price.