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Madonna's electrical hit parade
Extravagant United Center show reimagines Madge's pop catalog
By Jeff Pizek | Daily Herald Staff

Madonna puts on a show, including a car, for fans at the United Center.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Madonna wows fans during a sold out show at the United Center.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Madonna strums and struts for fans at the United Center.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/27/2008 12:04 AM

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Madonna's "Sticky & Sweet Tour" stopped for the first of two concerts at United Center Sunday, toting a reported 3,500 individual wardrobe elements by 36 different designers, 28 onstage performers and nine hydraulic lifts. With a production this huge and a sold-out crowd paying $50 to $350 per seat, it would seem the economy is doing just fine.

By touching on each of her 11 albums (with "Erotica" and "American Life" relegated to wardrobe-change video interludes), the chameleonic pop icon should have had diversity on her side. Instead, her setlist leaned heavily on her dance music, as club-oriented material has sold the best for her in recent years. These hard-thumping songs celebrated self-confidence, sexuality and, uh, dancing, reflecting her career-long love of electronic beats, yet also selling her adaptability short.

Three quarters of Madonna's 2008 album "Hard Candy" were aired, including the hit Justin Timberlake duet "4 Minutes," which aside from its bright brass samples sounded identical in its hypnotic monotony to Timberlake's "SexyBack." That's somewhat understandable since both tracks share predictable megaproducer Timbaland, but it points to a larger problem with Madonna's recent stuff. Sure, it fits into the current pop landscape better than that of any veteran artist, but it no longer stands out.

Take the new arrangement of "Vogue," which incorporated pulsing electro beats and elements of newer Madonna songs. This approach helped the decades-old track blend in with the sleek contemporary material, but to the effect of making it interchangeable with the rest. A rocked-up variation on early hit "Borderline," one of several during which Madonna stummed a guitar, certainly sounded different, but lacking the bubbly enthusiasm of the original synth-pop setting.

"Into the Groove" fared much better, set to a thumping house rhythm with breakdancers and animated Keith Haring art nodding to its '80s origin. "La Isla Bonita" also sounded energized by a quicker tempo and Romany folk musicians injecting the evening's most genuine multicultural expression.

But, hey, who sees Madonna for the music? Her shows are more like theatrical productions, her dancers and lighting technicians as crucial to the night as her lithe, limber strutting. Although it started nearly an hour late, the spectacle was seamless and immense, from the ever-moving video screens (they held cameos by Kanye West and Britney Spears) to the bizarre boxing/dance routine accompanying the prerecorded "Die Another Day."

Yet the biggest spectacle of all was naturally Madonna herself. She's in fantastic shape and almost never stopped moving while she was in front of the crowd, all of which spoke volumes about her self-respect. However, during new track "She's Not Me," she flashed dozens of images of herself on the screens while dismissing a series of look-alikes, turning a pithy kiss-off to an ex-lover into a creepy parade of self-worship.