Madonna’s tour arrives Saturday night in Cleveland

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop culture writer

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Madonna performs on the "MDNA" tour at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Oct 10. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)

Madonna Louise Ciccone is bringing her traveling circus of pop music bacchanalia disguised as a concert tour to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night.

Though she may no longer be the Queen of Pop, her most recent album, MDNA, peaked at No. 1 on several Billboard charts and garnered the music icon her 38th Top 10 single with the Nicki Minaj/M.I.A. collabo single Gimme All Your Luvin — extending her own record.

The album is still in the Top 10 on the dance/electronic charts. But in terms of sales, MDNA was a disappointment managing to sell only gold in the United States. And a chunk of those sales were inflated by the savvy pop star’s decision to bundle the album with purchased concert tickets for the MDNA Tour.

Also, ever the self-promoter, Madonna took her turn as the “safe” veteran pop performer this year at the Super Bowl, offering her usual colorful and kinetic visual performance.

But Madonna, like fellow rock hall of famers the Rolling Stones and the Eagles, knows that her bread is buttered (or a vegan equivalent) on the road where her still adoring legions of fans snap up tickets to see the 54-year-old shimmy and shake her money-maker backed by a phalanx of dancers and a huge stage production.

The MDNA Tour, Madonna’s ninth in the United States, is the highest grossing tour per city, besting beloved artists such as Bruce Springsteen, hot teen dream Justin Bieber and country star Brad Paisley.

The tour has received mostly positive reviews, although some folks aren’t pleased with the scarcity of past hits in the MDNA-heavy set list or Madge’s meddling with the arrangements of some songs, including a spare Holiday and a slowed, piano-waltz take on Like a Virgin.

Split into four sections — Transgression, Prophecy, Masculine/Feminine and Redemption — Madonna has described the show as “the journey of a soul from darkness to light.” It begins in a dark place with Madonna in a glass confessional. By the third song, she has been assailed by her dancers, whom she murders, an act that includes blood splatters. The nearly two-hour visual spectacle includes Madonna being stripped down to her unmentionables to reveal No Fear written on her toned and tanned back.

She performs Express Yourself dressed as cheerleader and throws in a bit of Lady Gaga’s recent sound-a-like hit Born This Way. There is a drum corps, acrobats flying from the rafters, and her son, Rocco, shows up to boogie with mom during Open Your Heart performed and arranged with the Basque-based European folk music trio Kalakan.

The tour has met with some controversy including a few terrorist threats during the tour’s Russian leg for her support of jailed female artist collective Pussy Riot and a $10 million lawsuit by a group of Russian anti-gay activists who apparently believe Madonna is not only an influential pop star but also has super powers that can alter a person’s biology in the span of a 110-minute concert.

“Maybe someone does not see the link, but after Madonna’s concert maybe some boy becomes gay, some girl becomes lesbian, fewer children are born as a result and this big country cannot defend its borders — for me it causes moral suffering,” Alexei Kolotkov, one of the activists, said after filing the suit.

Uh, whatever you say, comrade.

Madonna has also sparked some minor controversy here at a few shows by suggesting that fans vote for Obama, drawing mixed reactions from her audiences.

If you’re a hardcore Madonna fan, you’ve likely seen her before and will probably be all right with not hearing or seeing Into the Groove, La Isla Bonita or some of her other old favorites. If it’s your um … virgin Madonna show, enjoy the bells and whistles (and guns and corsets) and dance.

Random acts of live music

There’s a bevy of cool live music offerings this week, so let’s begin with a show tonight at Musica featuring Cincinnati retro psyche-tinged stoner rock trio Buffalo Killers, who will perform with tour partner Hollis Brown.

Buffalo Killers feature former Thee Shams members and bearded brothers guitarist/singer Andrew and bassist/singer Zach Gabbert along with drummer Joey Sebaali. It recently released its fourth album, Dig, Sow, Love, which continues its melodic, 1970s-inspired indie rock that often recalls fellow Ohio boys the James Gang.

Buffalo Killers’ sophomore effort Let It Ride was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. The album mixes big rock riffs such as the chugging Stranglehold-inspired opener Get It with a few deceptively complex jams such as the waltz-time Graffiti Eggplant.

Andrew Gabbert is not particularly flashy but he knows a good riff when he writes one and he and his brother’s harmonies soar nicely on Rollin’ Wheel and the stomping blues-rocker Those Days.

• Speaking of Dan Auerbach productions, Shivering Timbers, another Ohio band that got a push from the guitar-picking half of the Black Keys, is playing a homecoming show at the Akron Civic Theatre on Saturday with local favorite Roger Hoover and the Hurt.

The Timbers are husband and wife Jayson and Sarah Benn along with drummer Brad Thorla. The band’s debut album, We All Started in the Same Place, was quickly recorded by Auerbach after they played his 30th birthday party.

While that album was made up of mostly soft-yet-dark, lullaby-like tunes that were written for the Benns’ then-newborn daughter, Shivering Timbers’ new album, Sing Sing, rocks quite a bit harder, mixing originals and a few covers such as a noir-ish take on Neil Diamond’s Holly Holy. A couple of the original songs were co-written by Dan’s dad Chuck Auerbach (I said they were all buddies, didn’t I?).

There are also some Timber-ized arrangements of traditional folk tunes such as Wayfaring Stranger.

• Singer/songwriter Roger Hoover known for his work with the Whiskey Hounds and the Magpies, released an album in August, Lay My Rituals Down, with his current quartet the Hurt. The album is a baker’s dozen of rootsy, rockin’ Americana tunes highlighted by Hoover’s aching voice and sexy slide guitar work.

• Fans of classic jazz should be excited about the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra’s Saturday night concert at PlayhouseSquare’s Hanna Theatre in Cleveland, which will feature Mostly Monk, A Tribute to the Legacy of Thelonious Monk. Besides having an awesome name, Thelonious Sphere Monk wrote some of the most memorable, odd melodies in jazz music from the elegant beauty of Round Midnight and Ruby, My Dear to the angular melody and swing of Epistrophy.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or by email at He’s also on Facebook as Malcolm X Abram. … Go figure.

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