Madonna's live shows go way back, as do the visual documents of them. The first was 1985's the Virgin Tour (there is a shifty DVD version of this going about), and back then it was mostly about the songs, the band, and most importantly, HER; the hottest new pop star of the era. There was no visual back drop, no interludes or awe inspiring distractions; just Madonna, in her twenties, squeaky voiced, bubbly and brilliant. The Who's That Girl tour, and the Italian 87 video (still have my VHS of this) showed a progression, while her next tour, Blond Ambition (again, no official release of this yet but some creaky bootlegs that do not do it justice) was possibly Madonna at her most iconic.
The Girlie Show followed in 1993 (there's a great DVD/VHS of this), but for me, the live shows and their DVD releases got better in the new millennium. The Drowned World Tour DVD was the first step on this musical/visual evolution, where Madonna redefined herself, her songs and what a live show ought to be. Sure, I love seeing some of my favourite artists just plugging in and playing their songs with no screens, fireworks or backing dancers (Neil Young was great with a simple band set up in Leeds last year, and it just wouldn't be right seeing leotard clad dancers strutting behind the rocking legend), but for Madonna, the live show in this form has become the ultimate piece of art. Her singles and albums are what we put on everyday, but the concerts, and the DVDs they spawn, are for me the true art Madonna has given us. In decades to come, I believe people will refer to these as her purest output. She is of course, just as much a visual artist as she is a recording one. While her acting work - in films as varied as Desperately Seeking Susan, Evita, Body of Evidence and Swept Away - may not be remembered so fondly in the future (unfairly in my view, as a big fan of her films), her live DVDs will be. On every level, they define what Madonna is about and what she offers us, creatively and mentally.
In my view, she achieved a sort of zenith, in many ways, with the Confessions Tour DVD, featuring some of her finest ever performances, a voice in fine form and a balanced measure of all the components that make a solid Madonna concert. Besides, the Confessions version of Live to Tell with her on the cross is possibly the finest piece of live performance ever filmed.
I would be lying if I didn't say Burning Up was the main highlight for me, but seeing Madonna strap on an electric guitar is always going to please me, and this rendition is utterly blistering, the heavy power chords slicing through you, and Madonna's agitated vocals a real treat. I was also a sucker for the ukulele version of True Blue, a very moving moment with a loved up crowd, and a fantastic version of Rebel Heart, which was equally as emotional. Devil Pray comes into its own here too, and you realise that Living for Love has already entered her classic canon, a brilliant song that sits comfortably with classics of old. La Isla Bonita is staggeringly good too, but picking out highlights is not doing the show as a whole any justice. For me, it's excellent from start to finish, and the editing, filtering and effects only enhance it. After all, Madonna is a real artist, and just putting the concert on a DVD probably isn't something she wants to do at this stage. It is, in essence, a "film", a piece all of its own, both a part of and independent from the tour itself.
There's nothing bad to say; this is Madonna in her prime, and the fact she is well into her fifties during these performances is pretty unbelievable. I can't imagine any Madonna fan being disappointed by this. Something of a masterpiece, which will have you grinning from start to finish. She really is a brilliant artist, and this DVD illustrates that beautifully.
(Did I sound English enough at the end there?)