Riddle Me List: 17 Favorite Madonna Performances

Friday, February 3, 2012

It has been a Madonna-licious week, hasn't it? The Cool-Whip topper to it all is that this she's going to flounce her way onto Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday for the only relevant portion of the Superbowl---the Halftime show.

Though she's probably going to be diluted by the likes of LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., and Cee-Lo Green , who are also sharing the stage (the latter is the only one worth a damn out of that motley crew of my most sinister nightmares), we must never forget that Madonna can carry a show all by her lonesome. So it got me thinking about all the great live performances that Madonna has put on over the course of her soon-to-be thirty years as a culture icon and performer. Whittling Madonna's performances (from the lip-synched to not...) down to seventeen favorites is a task that I don't want to take, considering that I know I will overlook a lot of them. But hell, I'm music blogging here, and let's have some fun....So if ever asked, these are the first showcases to come mind as to why I'll always love me some Madge.

17. Ray Of Light - Live 8 (2005)
Possibly the most euphoric performance of this song that I've seen. The early-to-mid 2000's was where my Madonna love kind of waned, but I remember watching this live and was revived just in time for the Confessions era to kick off. No special effects, or fancy costume displays, just a lot of clear singing, audience interaction, and Madge simply looking as if she's enjoying herself.

16. Everybody - Danceteria (1982)
Viciously vintage, but this is such a fascinating look back at what was to come. Madonna is totally green here yet determined to make a name for herself. Skip to about the one minute mark is where things get cooking. The crowd is quite lame, but probably they were dumbfounded at what they were witnessing.

15. Deeper and Deeper - The Girlie Show (1993)
Campy. Campy. Campy. Still it's loads of Disco-inspired fun and "Deeper and Deeper" has never sounded better with it's House music remix.

14. Hollywood - The Johnathan Ross Show (2004)
Didn't care for the American Life era, but "Hollywood" is one of the greats in Madge's catalog. I especially like her classy performance here.

13. Take A Bow (with Babyface) - American Music Awards (1995)
After the Erotica backlash, Madonna got a bit more subdued around the mid-90's and she put out some of her most sophisticated material. She shares the spotlight with producer/co-writer, Babyface for a tender reading of one of my favorite songs off of Bedtime Stories.

12. The Look Of Love - Who's That Girl Tour (1987)
After hearing this version, it's difficult for me to listen to the original. Serious. Something about the execution. Yes, Madonna isn't an Aretha by a long shot, but I always admired that she didn't shy away from a ballad just because her range was limited. This suits her well.

11. Bad Girl - Saturday Night Live (1992)
Taking a coffee-house chanteuse turn, Madonna, though shaky, plows impressively well through one of her forgotten stunners. The SNL stage is known to be terrible on the acoustics, but unlike others, she doesn't let that get in her way of a good performance. Shame that she never performs (or even acknowledges) this song anymore.....

10. Live To Tell - Confessions Tour (2006)
Ah, controversy. Madonna taking a cue from the Crucifixion of Jesus (complete with a thorny crown) got a lot of folks hot under the collar---but it wouldn't be a Madonna display if you weren't squirming slightly, right? Though she's done it many times before, this has always been my favorite performance of "Live To Tell" for the arrangement and how the image gives the track an extremely different meaning.

9. Holiday - Tops of the Pops (1984)
Fresh face at the time. I can only imagine someone seeing her for the first time back then, especially when watching this performance. Lip-synching yes, but love love the energy.

8. Bye Bye Baby - The Girlie Show (1993)
Channeling Marlene Dietrich, a saucy burlesque performance occurs. Camp in all the right places.

7. Dress You Up - The Virgin Tour (1984)
Early Madonna is Hungry Madonna, where she worked her ever-loving tail off to prove her mainstay. Though this was in the early crackles of her career, and the elaborate stage shows weren't yet realized, her opening number (you'll see I like a lot of opening numbers) of "Dress You Up" for the Virgin Tour shows that even in simplistic settings, Madonna was electric.

6. Rain - The Girlie Show (1993)
To date, "Rain" is one of the most underrated ballads of Madonna's career. Decked out in a Hefty bag of a dress, Madonna does some of the best live singing on this number, with her background singers for added oomph. She even blends in a bit of The Temptations "Just My Imagination" into the mix to give the track a different twist and it's just lovely.

5. Borderline - Sticky N' Sweet Tour (2009)
Ever wondered what "Borderline" would sound like as a sizzling guitar-rock number? Well, here ya go. As precious as "Borderline" is to me, this re-decorate where Madge does her best Joan Jett impression sizzles, and was probably the best moment out of the okey-dokey, Sticky & Sweet tour.

4. Express Yourself - Blonde Ambition Tour/Truth Or Dare Edition (1990)
Ask me what 'era' I really love Madonna and it was from about from True Blue to Ray Of Light (if we're gauging by albums), as in that frame, Madonna had sorta already proven herself, but her material was becoming much more introspective and expansive in thought. Her Blonde Ambition tour is possibly my favorite tour of hers and with "Express Yourself" (aka her best song ever, IMO) introducing this wild and glamorous ride off---with the fabulous Jean Paul Gaultier bustier to boot.

3. Future Lovers - Confessions Tour (2005)
Opening up the Confessions Tour with equestrian flair, Madonna emerges from a giant disco ball, and well, amazing sh*t happens. Madonna barely dances, but her come-hither and seedy 'dominatrix' jockey persona is quite thrilling and makes good use of Confessions undertone at channeling the underbelly of Disco culture. Or really she's just getting back at Snoop Dogg for having women on chains and leashes by taking the reigns of men on all fours braying like horses....

2. Family Affair/Keep It Together - Blonde Ambition Tour/ True Or Dare Edition (1990)
Skip to the :54 mark, and feast your eyes on balancing chair acts and acrobatic dance moves, all lightly dusted  with homages to A Clockwork Orange and Cabaret. Instant fabulous.

1. Vogue - MTV Music Video Awards (1990)
Not your historians' Marie Antoinette....Madonna's homage to the decadence and excess of 18th Century France beats out her other MTV Video Music Award performances because she shocks without humping the floor in a wedding dress or tongue wrestling with a pop dot---she's putting on an artistic showcase...just with pant-less men in tow.


  1. Your collection is really great. From the obvious to the obscure, you covered your bases so well. Brava dear! I actually love the "American Life" era & those include some of my favorite performances from her. I also loved "Music Inferno" from "The Confessions Tour," which I say in Philly in the summer of '06. Great, great stuff. Good job!-QH

  2. Thanks :) Lucky you getting to see Madge! I don't get to go to concerts much, but she's always been at the top of my list to see. I just live vicariously through videos on YouTube.

    Madonna always puts on great performances, I really have *yet* to see just a really piss poor display whenever she's on stage. Though I don't care for her guitar thing she's got going on now, I still find her shows just thrilling. Even her Superbowl set was high entertainment.

    How people underestimate her sometimes is just baffling to me...


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