I had it in my head tonight that I wanted to listen to the MDNA Tour tonight, mostly because I’m trying to figure out what to do with the MDNA Tour poster now that my Rebel Heart Tour poster is framed and ready to be put on the wall. While Confessions Tour is still my favorite of all her tours that I’ve seen live, MDNA holds a special spot in my heart just because I was so fucking close to Madonna.
I doubt that I will ever be in that close of proximity to her Madgesty ever again, and to say the experience was thrilling is putting it mildly. So you can imagine why I look back on that tour rather fondly. It was a perfect culmination of nearly 30 years of Madonna fandom with my friend Jeff who is and always will be my Madonna partner-in-crime extraordinaire.
The trouble with Madonna’s live performances is that she is not the greatest live singer in the world. Fans know this and don’t give a shit. I remember asking Jeff once if he felt cheated because she does lip sync to prerecorded backing tracks more now than she used to – although I felt that Rebel Heart Tour was lighter on the prerecorded vocals than previous tours – and his immediate response was “NO! I pay her to be entertained and she always entertains me.”
Listening to this particular recording of MDNA Tour, there are a few songs that are very NOT live – “Vogue” and “Girl Gone Wild” are the obvious ones, but the vocals on more songs than not are imperfect and decidedly live. Now, don’t kid yourself, they sweetened the vocals for the DVD and CD, but they sound much more live than the dreaded Sticky & Sweet Tour DVD where I might as well just get out the CD and listen to the album versions. The fact that her pristine live vocals are contrasted with her haggard, exhausted speaking voice makes it just that much worse. Soundboard recordings of Sticky & Sweet tell the true story – she was lucky to hit the notes a lot of nights, but I don’t recall her vocals being god-awful the night we saw her.
Ultimately, Jeff is right. We’re paying for the whole package, not just the vocals. Anyone going to a Madonna show for a pitch-perfect vocal performance is going for all the wrong reasons. They would be better off going to a Celine Dion show.
Still, the most unlistenable track from MDNA is without a doubt, “Like A Prayer.” In the live version of this song, she encourages all the people in the Triangle – her “Triangle bitches” – to sing along. The off-key singing of the Triangle bitches is just horrible, so much so that it makes the song completely unlistenable. Don’t believe me? See how long you can last.
Madonna’s vocals, on the other hand, while not perfect, are decidedly live. I just want the bros to shut the hell up.
I get why she lip syncs. It’s not easy to sing like that night after night, especially when you’re dancing. But there is something oddly endearing about her less-than-stellar live voice. What she lacks in vocal prowess, she more than makes up for in stage presence. The thing I remember the most from that night is how TINY she is in person, yet she manages to exude this incredible amount of charisma, something that is really shining through on later tours as she realizes that she’s still around 33 years later because of the fans. All the impromptu adds to the Rebel Heart Tour set list are, in my opinion, a gift to long time fans who have stuck by her through all the shit. She really gets that now, where in years past, she has seemed stubbornly obtuse to that fact.
I’ve been a Madonna fan since almost the beginning and I don’t see that changing, regardless of whether or not I like what she’s currently doing. She soundtracked my entire life and when she does shuffle off the mortal coil, I will probably have to call in sick to work. However, at the rate she’s going, she’ll outlive all of us.