* Prices may differ from that shown
With Madonna currently touring with her MDNA show I've been having a retrospective look back on the career of my all time favourite artist and reliving memories of the past. Madonna needs no introduction really, there can't be that many people who don't know who she is, she's been on the music scene for coming up to 30 years now and whilst she's a "love her or hate her" figure renowned for the controversies that have both damaged and aided her career there's no denying that she's managed to stay at the top of her game and remains to this day a relevant recording artist who knows how to put on one hell of a show.
Ciao Italia features concert footage of Madonna's Who's that Girl world tour and includes the full set list performed to the hundreds of thousands of people that attended any of the concert dates back in 1987, it was originally released on VHS back in the late 80's and in 1999 was transferred to DVD. I bought of my copies when they were released and the DVD has been in my collection for the past 13 years, it's not something that I play very often admittedly but over the years I have watched it dozens of times and deciding this week to start from the beginning of her career again I've been rewatching all of her concert DVDs on my large screen TV in a self-indulgent trip down memory lane.
The Who's that Girl tour was Madonna's first live show that she played globally with, her previous tour (The Virgin Tour) played to American audiences only and saw a chunky-looking Madonna take to the stage performing the songs from her first two albums. This time round she had slimmed down, lost the lacy outfits which exposed her midriff, and cut off her long touseled hair whilst ditching the crucifixes that made such an impact during the 'Virgin' era, here she sported a new look comprising of bleached blonde cropped hair and a new toned, athletic figure, it was clear to see that Madonna had grown up since The Virgin Tour and now had a bit more style and elegance. This would be her first reinvention, the first of many and a taste of what was to come and this is the Madonna that I fell for, she was massive at the time, a global superstar who was about to reach Icon status riding on the back of both the Like a Virgin and True Blue albums which both saw stellar, worldwide sales in the preceding 3 years and whilst the film that shared the name of this tour wasn't as successful as Madonna had hoped there was no stopping her at this stage of her career - the 1980's were dominated by hit singles, albums and public appearances by the singer and 'Madonnamania' was at its peak at this time which culminated with this tour being a sell-out across the world. This was around the time when I became a fan and this concert is one of my favourites of hers so I hope to do it justice here, let's get on with the show...
Filmed in Turin, Italy (although footage is spliced from different dates as well for some inexplicable reason) Madonna had a 3 album back catalogue and a couple of soundtrack albums to pick songs from for this tour, it played just after the release of True Blue so those songs are promoted the most and feature heavily here. The concert opens with Madonna wearing a black Basque and fishnet tights as worn in the Open your Heart video and she performs the track whilst posing provocatively on a simple black chair, it's an energetic opener as she cavorts around the multi-level stage and belts out the song singing live whilst interacting with the audience and dancers. Vocally Madonna is best described as 'rough' throughout this and the other songs in the set-list, she was never a strong live singer at this stage of her career and even the most ardent of fan should be able to acknowledge and agree that her voice always was weak and pitchy whenever she sang live, that said though it is obvious that she is singing completely live without a pre-recorded backing track (something she would heavily rely on in later concerts) and her naivety in this show is quite charming in its own way I think.
Lucky Star follows which simply sees Madonna standing and singing in front of a mic stand whilst waving and smiling at the audience, she looks happy to be there and acknowledges the crowd with a few words spoken in Italian before she slips into a 1950's inspired blue dress and preforms the title track from her third album, True Blue. Choreographically the song is performed with Madonna adopting a coy, playful attitude as she flirts and skips around with a male dancer, she looks joyful and happy once again and gives the audience a big smile and wink at the end of the song. The opening choppy violin chords of Papa Don't Preach introduce the next song and sees Madonna putting on a leather jacket and adopting a more sombre mood as she emphatically pleads her way through the lyrics of the song, taking a moment to reflect and breaking up the song with a video montage playing on the screens at either side of the stage we are shown images of war and of the Pope and Ronald Regan, quite what the message Madonna wants to send here isn't that clear but this was at the time when America was in the middle of the 'cold war' with Russia and this was an unsettled period in American history so presumably Madonna was referencing this here.
Time for a quick costume change and out of the blue dress and leather jacket Madonna returns to the stage in a trilby hat, oversized gold jacket and black billowing trousers for a riotous performance of White Heat (an album track from True Blue) featuring spoken dialogue from Jimmy Cagney this was Madonna's tribute to him back then and she plays the part of a gangster shooting cardboard cut outs with bullet sound effects. This would be the only time Madonna ever performed this song live and it's a forgotten filler track that was never one of her better songs in my opinion, its a nice addition though but nothing spectacular if I'm being honest and filmed a little too darkly to really get the full effect. In the mood for some more dancing Madonna removes her hat and jacket and screeches her way through Causing a Commotion whilst trying to remain upright on a moving walkway. This is her worst performance of the whole concert as her vocals are all over the place and rather embarrassing truth be told, she seems to be having a good time though but she can't sing the song live at all and appears breathless and worn out after a truly energetic performance. If anyone was to accuse Madonna of not being able to sing live they would only have to cite Causing a Commotion as an example as it's not very good at all and could never be considered a tour highlight!
Slowing things down again Madonna remains on the moving walkway and performs The Look of Love, this was a song on the Who's that Girl soundtrack and is a slow ballad, it's an overlooked and forgotten song by many now but it was always one of my favourites and it's a shame that she never performed this song again after this tour as I do think that lyrically it's one of her better songs that should have received more attention than it did. It's a simple performance and Madonna does sing it well and uses it as the opportunity to get her breath back ready for a medley of three of her earlier singles from the Like a Virgin album.
Self-parody is something that Madonna has always played up to even early on in her career and emerging from a public telephone box located on the stage she has no shame in wearing an outrageous outfit complete with oversized spectacles and top hat. She looks ridiculous in her outfit but this was at the stage of her career when she didn't care what people thought of her and just wanted to have fun and her playfulness comes across well as she performs a medley of Dress you Up, Material Girl and Like a Virgin, she doesn't waste time during these songs as they seamlessly flow in to one another on but a mash-up with "Sugar Pie, Honey bunch" from the Temptations injects an added bit of light-heartedness and Madonna sounds great on the songs. Carrying on with the fun she then performs Where's the Party? a True Blue album track which she uses to make fun of the paparazzi who were all over her at the time of the concert and again she shows that she does have a sense of humour by ridiculing the press and journalists in her energetic performance.
Slowing the mood down again before the final push of up-tempo songs Madonna performs Live to Tell. Simply staged and seeing Madonna singing to an oversized projected image of herself it's a chilling performance that she sings well, it's one of my favourite slow Madonna songs is Live to Tell and vocally she's about the strongest she has been throughout the concert as a whole during this song. It slows things down nicely and allows the audience to get themselves ready for what's about to come as next is my own personal highlight of any Madonna concert before and to come and that's Into the Groove.
She's at her best during this rendition of Into the Groove, it features elements of the version that was included on the "You can Dance" remix album and it's stunning. Madonna has, in my opinion, never looked or sounded as good as she does on this song and its truly a joyous moment that is a real concert highlight for me. It's an extended performance of the song that she performs here and is a fan-favourite, she skips around the stage, interacts with her backing singers and dancers and invites the crowd to join in with her. Madonna was fun back in the 80's and this performance shows why she gained the fan base she has and those who do follow her have remained loyal throughout her career. She uses the song to close the show but is soon back for more as a few minutes later she returns in a flamenco style red dress ready for the final 3 songs of the concert and flirts her way through a near faultless performance of the Spanish influenced La Isla Bonita.
Given that this was the Who's that Girl tour she pays special attention to the penultimate song and performs an extended version of the tour's namesake, Who's that Girl. Again, the only time she would ever perform this particular song live the Spanish vibe continues during this song and an acapella repetitive closing of the song gives me Goosebumps when I hear her sing it without any music track accompanying her. Because the film of the same name was panned by the critics it seems that Madonna now wants nothing to do with anything from the WTG era, she's never sung the song live since this tour and its almost as if she'd rather not be associated with any of the songs from the film's soundtrack. This is a shame as it's one of my all time favourite song of hers and she does perform it very well here and even though the song is now 25 years old it still transports me back to my youth and I have no problems in admitting here that I love it.
Finally Madonna closes the concert with another fan favourite, Holiday. The most performed of any song of hers and the one that has featured in the most concerts that she has toured with it's still an uplifting, happy song that proves to be a fitting ending to a fun and exciting concert. It's probably one of the best known Madonna songs and again she performs it well to close her show with. Ending with an explosive finish it's been a 100 minute visual spectacular and I don't think that Madonna has even seemed as happy or as at ease with any audience than she appears to be here, the crowd love her and she loves them, the smiles from everyone confirms that its been an exhausting but satisfying evening for all concerned and this goes to prove that she does know how to put on a great show for her fans.
As she's got older I think Madonna has become a lot more calculating in her career, she knows exactly what she's doing now and knows what will get a reaction. Back at the time of this concert she was still relatively new on the scene and had only just broken through to become a superstar, this is Madonna at her most uninhibited, she didn't care about what people thought of her and wasn't nearly as controversial as she would later become. She seems happier here than at any time after and this was my own favourite stage of her career when she just wanted to perform to her fans and have some fun. The fact that she sings live throughout the concert shows that she was once quite naive, she knew back then that she wasn't the best singer in the world nor the best dancer but she didn't seem to care, the concert was all about giving something back to her fans that had made her famous and she played this concert for them and not the critics. I'm still a fan now and have followed her throughout her career but this period of time and the 3 or 4 years that follow it is when she was at her best in my opinion and these were the songs that made me the fan of hers that I am. There are some duffers in the set list as mentioned in my review of the concert itself but those can be forgiven when the concert is viewed as a whole, it's not as polished as later concerts would be and the stage design isn't as elaborate as they would become but any fan of the singer should see this for themselves to see how was when she first became very famous and had the world at her feet.
To say the concert is 25 years old this year I do think its aged well, the songs have definitely withstood the test of time and the hits are still as memorable today as they were when they were first released. If you are a new fan of Madonna or didn't happen to be around in 1987 then this is well worth seeing as she was just a young woman herself at this time who had broken through to become a global superstar and this concert was the very first time she took a live show out of America. The only criticism I could have with the show is that the retail DVD is a VHS transfer and isn't quite true DVD quality, that and the fact that whoever produced the show decided to splice together footage from at least 3 different performances of the tour which is obvious when you see Madonna wearing a gold necklace in some angles during certain songs and not in others make it quite distracting at times (and her hair alters in-between shots too!) That said though any fan of Madonna new or old should have this in their collection and despite some dodgy singing from the star herself and a cobbled-together DVD production it still gets a 5 star rating from me and remains my own personal favourite live show that she has ever performed.
The concert DVD is still widely available online and prices start from a little under £7.00 for it, definitely recommended as far as I'm concerned, thanks for reading my review.