Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 15, 2010)
Back in the summer and fall of 2008, Madonna went on the road for her fourth tour in eight years. Aimed at support of her 2008 album Hard Candy, the “Sticky & Sweet Tour” ultimately became unique in one way: it was the first Madonna road show that spanned two years. In the past, she mounted fairly short treks; at 60 concerts, 2006’s “Confessions” tour was her prior peak. At its end, “Sticky” went all the way to 85 concerts.
Originally it would’ve concluded after 58 2008 shows, I guess Maddy enjoyed her time out with “Sticky”, for she brought it back in the summer of 2009 for another 27 performances. Unfortunately for the other American fans and me, she skipped another run through the US and focused on Europe. Boo!
But don’t cry for me, Argentina. I saw “Sticky” 11 times, a number that would seem to be more than enough. Not for me, though. That total was a drop from the 2004 “Reinvention” and 2006 “Confessions” tours; I saw those 14 and 15 times each, respectively. 11 shows felt like nothing!
Hopefully Madonna will come back to the US in 2011 or so, as she continues to provide top-notch concerts. Now in her fifties, she shows no signs of slowing down; indeed, I might argue that her recent tours are superior to those from earlier days.
“Sticky” provides a good mix of material from Madonna’s career, though folks without much affection for Hard Candy might feel disappointed, as the show includes a lot of music from that album. Nine of the concert’s songs emanate from that release: “Candy Shop”, “Beat Goes On”, “Heartbeat”, “She’s Not Me”, “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You”, “Spanish Lesson”, “Miles Away”, “Four Minutes” and “Give It 2 Me”.
The rest of the show provides an overview of Madonna’s earlier career. 1983’s Madonna offers “Borderline”, while 1984’s Like a Virgin delivers its title tune. (Note that this is not a full version of the song; through the “Sticky” tour, Madonna had one slot each night where she would take audience requests and do an a capella number accompanied by a beat box; “Virgin” was the audience choice this night.)
1985’s single “Into the Groove” makes an appearance, and “La Isla Bonita” comes from 1986’s True Blue. Another title track pops up from 1989’s Like a Prayer, and 1990’s I’m Breathless tosses in “Vogue”. From 1994’s Bedtime Stories, we get “Human Nature”, and 1996’s Evita boasts “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “You Must Love Me”. Both 1998’s Ray of Light and 2000’s Music deliver their title tunes, and “Hung Up” comes from 2005’s Confessions on the Dance Floor. Finally, we get a folk tune called “Me Darava/Doli Doli”. Madonna doesn’t do that one; instead, added musicians come on during the gypsy-themed section.
A glance at that set doesn’t make it totally apparent, but the “Sticky” show actually included music from every Madonna album. The main setlist leaves out anything from 1992’s Erotica or 2003’s American Life, but they still maintained a presence in the concert. Every Madonna show has three “costume breaks” during which Maddy leaves the stage to prep for the next segment. During these situations, we get dancer performances and/or video interludes accompanied by music. Via those, we get snippets of Erotica’s “Rain” and Life’s “Die Another Day”.
(By the way, I recognize that without the rendition of “Like a Virgin”, the show would’ve been without anything from that album, so it wasn’t a “Sticky” presence every night. However, “Into the Groove” comes from the same era and was even added to some releases of the Virgin album, so as far as I’m concerned, it counts as a representative of the Virgin period.)
One look at that setlist probably does disenchant folks who dislike Hard Candy, and there are many of them. In the 21st century, Madonna seems to be on a pattern whereby we get one well-received album and then one that fizzles. Music was a hit, American Life flopped, Confessions sizzled, and Candy tanked – in Madonna terms, at least.
Actually, Candy sold okay, and “4 Minutes” was a good hit, though the presence of Justin Timberlake on it certainly helped its success. However, fans generally felt disappointed with Candy, especially since Madonna-philes mostly loved Confessions. Personally, I know it took me a while to warn up to Candy, but I eventually came to like it quite a lot. While it wasn’t as good as Confessions, it surpassed American Life and had more quality material than most seem to believe.
The performances during the “Sticky” tour helped make the songs even more enjoyable for me, and I suspect they might change the minds of some fans who don’t care for the Candy album. One wouldn’t expect a pop/dance artist like Madonna to provide concert performances that vary much from the studio renditions. That seems more like the purview of jam bands or rock legends like Springsteen; given the tight parameters of a Madonna concert, one might figure she’d keep the music close to the source.
She doesn’t. Traditionally, the songs from her most-recent album remain the most faithful to their studio predecessors, but that doesn’t they offer carbon copies. Madonna still opens them up a bit, and the live setting adds kick to the tunes. Many folks believe a Madonna concert is a canned, pre-recorded affair, but that’s not true. Yes, there are some pre-taped elements – including a few vocals – but the vast majority of the music comes from the people on-stage, and that factor allows the numbers to show more pep and life than on record.
I will note that it appears many vocals – and probably other elements – have been re-recorded for this release. There are times when Madonna’s singing and visuals don’t quite synch. Either re-recording was done, or vocals from another show were used. It’s not distracting, and the vocals fit fine – the show still has a live sound – but I thought I’d mention it. Madonna didn’t lip-synch during the tour, but one might think she did based on this disc.
While the Candy tracks stayed fairly close to the album versions, the “oldies” tend to get rearrangements. These vary in severity; some get small tweaks, while others are barely recognizable. Some fare better than others. I heard some gripes from fans about the rock-oriented take on “Borderline”, but I dig it. Madonna doesn’t turn it into a death metal version or anything like that; she just strips it of its pop sheen and makes it a little edgier. I think it’s a good reworking.
Initially I wasn’t wild about the redone “Like a Prayer”, but it grew on me as I went through additional concerts. It turns into a high energy rendition that really soars. “Vogue” will never sound as good as it did during 1993’s “Girlie Show”, but the “Sticky & Sweet” take gives it a run for its money.
On the other hand, I’m less fond of the hip-hoppy versions of “Music” and “Into the Groove”. It doesn’t help that both have gotten perfect versions on past tours; the 2004 “Re-Invention” “Groove” might remain my favorite Madonna live performance ever. Both sound fine here; they’re just not great.
Visually, “Sticky” was the usual tour de force we expect from Madonna. As always, she breaks the show into four “acts”. Without question, Act Three leaves me the least enchanted. This one shoots for an acoustic/gypsy vibe that just doesn’t gel for me, though I will say it works better in a home environment. Live, that segment felt like a bit of a drag, but in a more sedate setting – ie, my basement – I can appreciate it better. It remains my least favorite part of the show, but it does fine.
Act Four is definitely the best of the bunch, as it comes with one great number after another. “Give It 2 Me” feels almost like a disappointment as a show-closer. Other tours have featured hits – current or past – to finish concerts, but “Give” pretty much tanked. It’s not a bad way to end the show – I think the song is good and the performance is exciting – but it does lack the big bang one wants to conclude the concert.
That’s quibbling, I do admit, as so much of the show is simply great. As for the Blu-ray, it provides a respectable reproduction of the show. Like most concert videos, it suffers from too much quick-cutting. However, I don’t mind this terribly due to two factors. First, Madonna concerts are well-suited to rapid editing. This isn’t a more sedate affair like a McCartney concert. Madonna shows tend to be fast-paced and active, so this sort of editing doesn’t feel out of place.
In addition, the concert features so many visuals elements that a lot of edits are required to represent all of them. In addition to Madonna herself, the program needs to keep track of dancers, musicians, and video presentations. The quick-cutting gets a bit annoying on a few occasions, but I don’t think it’s bad; I’ve seen a lot more egregious, distracting examples, and the cutting here certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying the show.
And it remains quite a show. I won’t call “Sticky & Sweet” the best Madonna tour I’ve seen; I really can’t choose, as all of the 21st century outings have just been great. “Sticky” definitely lives up to expectations, though, and provides another terrific live Madonna experience.