Madonna has reached a career apex where she’s not so much a longstanding artist, but a living legend. This doesn’t guarantee an all-out commercial takeover for each project she releases, but it does speak to the sheer quality of her body of work: the product sells itself without flashy marketing.
The Sticky & Sweet Tour comprises three hours (two on DVD, one on CD) from a 2008 Buenos Aires concert. The CD component is a given pleaser for longtime fans. It’s the DVD, however, that’s the universal draw. Spanning the breadth of her musical output from 1983’s “Borderline” through 2008’s “4 Minutes,” the show accomplishes a remarkable feat not only in its ability to survey an exciting array of music genres — but also in the infinite spectacle of stage antics, choreography, and fashions that have made M such a long-lasting force. At the same time, the foundation is planted firmly in distinctively contemporary, highly enduring technique.
Indeed, very few artists these days have the luxury to produce a live show of such massive proportions. Over the course of two full, uninterrupted hours comes an abundance of grandiose sets and effects; a voluminous line-up of dancers; precisely engineered sound and sequence; and sharply produced, celebrity-studded video clips.
When M opens the show with “Candy Shop” seated on a throne that’s perched atop a silver stairway, one might be inclined to think the Queen of Pop has bitten off more than she can chew. Certainly, the first few notes out of her robust 5’4” frame sound shaky and timid. Yet, as the determined audience’s cheers mesh with the spectacle of candy-colored lights, she wastes no time picking up momentum. Once she reaches Destination: Center Stage, the “Sweet Machine” can run full-throttle, with agile dance moves and spirited interplay churning out plentiful helpings of sticky rhythm and grooves.
“Vogue 2008” sets the 1990 classic to the Timbaland production of “4 Minutes,” transforming it from a house-driven workout to a minimalist, hip-pop jam. Followed contrastingly by a retrofied update of “Into the Groove,” the scene changes from mechanical futurism to a vibrant, Keith Haring-designed backdrop — over which the 50-years-young performer seamlessly twists and writhes around moving fixtures before double-dutch jumproping in time to the song’s breakdown.
During the second half of the concert, La M delves into her ballad side — as well as her flair for international influences — more smoothly than usual. Where past tours saw her make a strained effort to be serious with slower songs, Sticky & Sweet finds her in a much more becoming, relaxed mode as she delivers the plaintive “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” on which she’s joined by several acoustic guitarists, an accordion player, and violinist. Meanwhile, the entire dance troupe is flanked by traditional folk musicians on a festive, multiculti update of the originally understated “La Isla Bonita.”
Only a couple disappointing moments surface in the show, as far as musical arrangements are concerned. The faux Grunge-rock interpretation of “Borderline” strips the tune of its uncomplicated beauty and replaces it with a monotonous drivel of guitars, to which M adds one of several jarring, random screams of “Motherfucker!” Elsewhere, her '90s proclamation of self-assurance, “Human Nature,” is given a talkbox-driven funk treatment. This itself isn’t such a bad idea; but its placement in the show is noticeably anti-climactic, and the vocal delivery is feeble.
The confident lyrics and engaging musical structure of “Heartbeat” and “She’s Not Me,” both from the Hard Candy album, best encapsulate the energetic flavor of the experience. As M aggressively interacts with a handful of clones adorning the stage, the latter number’s message that “She doesn’t have my name, she’ll never have what I have,” truly comes to life.