A short and sweet, nonstop high-energy dance party — that was the half-hour-plus set Madonna turned in Wednesday night at New York's Roseland Ballroom, in a special "secret" club show promoting her new LP, Hard Candy.
And after that, we got the rare — as in almost unheard of — opportunity to talk to Madonna and her special guest for the night, a certain talented dynamo named Justin Timberlake. I hate those tired "pop royalty" clichés, but what the hell: We had a 20-minute audience with the Queen of Pop and her Crown Prince.
So how was the show for them? "I think she killed it" was JT's assessment. As for Madge, "Yeah, it was very good. It was a bit airless — a bit of a hotbox in there." Well, it was plenty hot out in the audience, so I can imagine what it was like for them onstage.
Of course, during the Confessions Tour, Madonna had a habit of shutting off all air conditioning in the venues, reducing arenas to 20,000-strong steamrooms. "It's true — I generally don't like AC," she admitted, "but I could have appreciated it in this instance!"
These record-release club shows of Madonna's have become something of a tradition for her last few albums, and they tend to be tightly paced affairs. This was no exception — 35-or-so minutes, or as I put it to her, "no fat."
"Are you saying that my big shows have fat on them?" she shot back. Yikes, here she comes! Madonna likes to come after me: John as punching bag. It's cool. "No, of course not," I replied, "but there's just not a lot of chit-chat in these shows."
Justin chimed in, telling Madonna, "I think you just had a woman moment!"
However, she explained, short-and-sweet is the point of these shows. "It's more like, the record's out — you know, it's a sampler? Like with those chocolate boxes, you just get all the best stuff — and no chocolate-covered cherries, 'cause everyone throws that sh-- out!"
Ah, the inevitable candy reference: perfect for the sex-and-lollipops vibe of Hard Candy. Even Justin admitted that at first, he was a bit surprised to learn the show would be so short, but then he added, "After watching it in rehearsal I was like, 'That's perfect,' 'cause like she says, you get enough of a taste of it to want some more."
(Madonna also weighed in on the recent criticism surrounding Miley Cyrus.)
The show was yet another how-to in pop showmanship, and Madonna spared nothing. The band was tight, the six dancers were tighter. The visuals included retro NYC subways and graffiti, a crew decked out in Kangols and Day-Glo during "Music," lasers on the disco-fied "Give It to Me" — the production values were as high as any you'll find in a 3,000-capacity venue.
So how long does it take to put something like this together? "Well, this time the rehearsal period was a bit short and mad," Madonna said. "I felt like we got thrown into a juggernaut. I like just a tiny bit more preparation — I would have liked two weeks but only got 10 days. Of course, Justin doesn't like to work as much as I do."
"I do!" JT demurred.
Madge relented. "Well, I don't know — you're a fast learner, I'm not. And also, I get a little obsessive about details."
No matter — JT is one guy who seems like he rolls out of bed ready to perform. And when black-booted Madge was joined by white-jacketed Justin for "4 Minutes" — to a deafening roar from the crowd — it was unquestionably the high point of the night. They jammed, bumped, grinded, worked the stage and made the already urgent, driving song drive even harder.
While that was the only appearance from Justin — who not only inducted Madge into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, but also worked extensively with Timbaland on Hard Candy — during the show, he told us that there could have been another. "She pretty much had the set list done and everything how she wanted it," he recalled, "and we talked on the phone about 'Miles Away' [a wistful, acoustic tune that's one of the album's standout tracks], and originally I said, 'Yeah, I wanna come on and play the guitar riff that I came up with for the song.' But she was like, 'Well yeah, but that comes before '4 Minutes,' and I was like, 'Oh. OK.' " Yep, the lady calls the shots.
Madonna ended up playing that guitar part on 'Miles Away' herself — and later strapped on an electric for a rocking "Hung Up" that ended with a Joan Jett moment: a feedback-filled amplifier grind. I wished she would have gone further back in time for at least one old chestnut ("Borderline" was rumored, but it didn't happen), but who's complaining? There's plenty of time for all that on Madonna's Hard Candy tour later this year.
But on Wednesday night, it was a candy sampler — and a chance to see Madge and JT, the pop superhero tag team, together. If they're not saving the world, at least they're making our corner of it a pretty fun place.