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Even for an artist famed for reinvention, it must have been a dizzying 10 months for Madonna since her last appearance in London at Wembley Stadium: the divorce, a new daughter, four-year-old Mercy from Malawi, and the death of Michael Jackson, originally scheduled to play the O2 three days after Madonna.
Her tribute last night made this spectacular performance — the launch of phase two of the 50-year-old’s European Sticky & Sweet tour — even more memorable.
Some fans who were also at Saturday’s 17,700-capacity show knew what was coming, but that didn’t reduce the impact when dancer Kento Mori, dressed like Jackson, moonwalked to Billie Jean and Wanna Be Startin’ Something.
“Let’s give it up to one of the greatest artists the world has ever known — Michael Jackson,” said Madonna, while a boyish Jackson appeared on the big screen. “Long live the king!”
Madonna couldn’t claim to possess the virtuosity of Jackson at his peak. But whatever her vocal limitations, this was a triumph of eye-popping production, exhausting choreography and her indomitable personality, as well as those fantastic songs.
The appearance of Kanye West and Britney Spears on video as well as a vintage Rolls-Royce on the ego ramp initially suggested a show big on gimmickry. Yet, while it was rehearsed with military precision, Madonna gave much more than you expect from a global superstar, even when tickets cost up to £175.
Nevertheless, the pounding musical interludes during the costume changes were actually better than plenty of concerts. So when Madonna rose from below the stage in a mini-skirt, skipping and then pole-dancing on a moving DJ booth during Into the Groove, the reaction was approaching hysteria. “Who says the English are reserved?” she bawled.
Despite her own raunchy history, Madonna’s rock-hard body was not too exposed, although she did manage to snog a look-alike of her Eighties self and a dancing monk grabbed her backside for a stipulated two seconds.
It was her fearsome pop power and the fantastic dancing that kept you transfixed though, whether on joyous renditions of Like a Prayer and La Isla Bonita, or the fantastic clubby finale of Give it 2 Me, during which Madonna and her dancers each wore one white glove in honour of Jackson.
“No one’s going to stop me — ever,” Madonna pointed out after a breathless two hours. Based on this performance, who can doubt her?
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