“Is so good being home… I mean, in a way that only New Yorkers know how,” Madonna, who adopted New York as her hometown in 1978, told the Brooklyn audience attending the North American start of her Celebration Tour in Wednesday. “New Yorkers can identify with motherfuckers who don’t give a shit. We do shit our path. New York is not for sleeping sissies.”
Madonna certainly wasn't tired, and that was the point of the entire show, a tour de force of some of her biggest hits combined with surreal visuals that didn't end until 1am.
Forty-one years have passed since Madonna recorded her debut single, “Everybody,” and performed it in old New York nightclubs like Danceteria and Paradise Garage. The ghosts of these locations are located just a few miles from the Barclays Center, where she performed on Wednesday night (and an hour on Thursday), and she not only survived, but thrived. Her set list contained 27 hits from her career – a rarity for Madonna, as she usually focuses her tours on her most recent album – and even featured “Like a Prayer”, “Open Your Heart”, “Vogue” and “Into the Groove.” ”, still omitted several number ones.
Throughout the night, dancers took to the stage dressed like her at various points in her career – club kid Madonna, ice cream cone bra Madonna, BDSM “Human Nature” Madonna – making the show something like This is your life for the Material Girl, who, at age 65, still has two years to go until she receives her full Social Security benefits. Several times during the performance she expressed how happy she was to be there and, well, anywhere. That's why she introduced herself Confessions on a dance floor “I Love New York” for the first time in 15 years on electric guitar before tearing through “Burning Up” with rare abandon.
The singer had a brush with fate last summer when she contracted a bacterial infection that forced her to postpone her summer tour until now. “No one is more surprised (than me) that I’ve made it this far,” she told the audience after “Into the Groove.” “Four decades, motherfuckers. I have to say, I didn’t think I’d make it through this summer… but here I am.”
The celebration in the tour name simply denotes the fact that Madonna It is here, especially since she acknowledged so many of her colleagues who died in various ways throughout the show. Prince, Michael Jackson, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, among them. Screens displaying black and white images of dozens if not hundreds of notable people who have died of AIDS, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Eazy-E, accompanied by his moving rendition of “Live to Tell.” It would have felt like an awards ceremony farewell montage if the rest of the show wasn't so light-hearted.
Structured into seven acts that were meant to freely tell Madonna's story, the Celebration Tour began with compassion and enthusiasm as she sang “Nothing really matters/Love is all we need” from the album. Light beam “Nothing Really Matters”, before moving on to “Everybody” – “Everybody, come on, dance and sing”. There is no band on this tour, just occasional moments with guitar, cello and her daughter Mercy James on piano, so it's up to Madonna and about two dozen dancers to keep the energy level high. The first act's visuals paid homage to Danceteria and Paradise Garage, right down to a giant disco ball and a doorman who wouldn't let her in, in “Holliday.” “Always remember the struggle,” she told the audience. “For me, it never ends.”
The second act was her elegy to her late friends with the “Live to Tell” montage and a group of druids who kidnapped her in a cape while dancers struck religious poses on a giant zoetrope behind her. Pope John Paul II, who denounced Madonna's 1990 Blond Ambition tour as “one of the most satanic shows in the history of humanity,” would not have approved of her rendition of “Like a Prayer,” where she joined the would-be messiahs and climbed throughout until a musician dressed as Prince played a beatific guitar solo. And Her Holiness would have totally paled in the third act.
The orgy began with erotic boxing in rings with laser stripes, while Madonna sang “Erotica”, and consolidated into a mass of people for “Justify My Love”. She just walked in and gave kisses. For “Hung Up,” topless women and men appeared and teased her until she kissed one of the women, all leading to her climbing onto Mercy’s grand piano to sing “Bad Girl.” (How intimidating must it be to have her mother be Madonna singing next to her and then straddling her instrument in a red satin nightgown like it's a decadent cabaret?)
The sold-out audience of 14,000, which was a wide mix of genders, races and sexualities, many of whom wore “Italians Do It Better” t-shirts (what a Brooklyn!), seemed stunned by the spectacle. Shouldn't everyone be dancing and kissing during “Erotica”? And in the fourth act, shouldn't everyone be posing during Madonna's effervescent “Vogue,” a song that found Madonna and one of her team members assessing the vogues of her dancers (and one of her daughters, Estere) as Dancing with the stars? Instead, most of the audience seemed to just watch the show, possibly because they knew it was a special occasion or possibly because it was approaching midnight on a Wednesday. The appreciative crowd still applauded each song.
After “Vogue,” Celebration’s plot seemed to fall apart when dancers dressed as police officers “arrested” Madonna (“Damn pigs,” she called them) in the lead-up to “Human Nature” and “Crazy for You.” The fifth act began with a long dance in which the soldiers fought each other inexplicably. A quote from Armenian philosopher George Gurdjief appeared on the screen: “To be born, we must first die, and to die, we must first awaken.” But this didn't make it to the network, as the next song was “Die Another Day”.
Madonna raised the mood with Music “Don’t Tell Me,” in which she fought the night’s occasional MC, Bob the Drag Queen, who was dressed as a cowboy with a cow-print hat. Before singing Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive” on her guitar, she pleaded for peace in the Middle East, asking the audience to turn on their cell phone flashlights. “Each of us has a light within us,” she said. “And each of us can share that light with the person next to you… even the people you don't like. Be counterintuitive. Share your light with someone you don’t want to share your light with… Keep your lights on when you leave here tonight.” And then she recapped the night's theme in “I Will Survive”: “You thought I would fall apart, you thought I would lie down and die… You did?— she asks pointedly.
The final two acts served as something akin to Madonna's declarations of intent – to provoke, to enrich, to confuse. After a montage of all her controversies, Madonna, in voiceover, said: “I think the most controversial thing I've ever done is stay here.” And then she sings three songs that exist on different planes from each other: the surrealist “Bedtime Story,” the lysergic dance song “Ray of Light” (which she sings while floating in a giant cube above the audience), and the down-to-earth -land “Rain”.
She ended these songs with the introduction of the final act that focused on her occasional friendship with Michael Jackson. It was long and weird and mixes “Billie Jean” with “Like a Virgin” (which she didn't sing) and the only explanation for why she did it is in the title of the next song, “Bitch I'm Madonna,” which is the another message from the entire night: “Bitch, I’m Madonna/Who do you think you are?” (That self-confidence is also the only explanation for why she skipped “Borderline” and “Dress You Up” and “Papa Don't Preach” and “Frozen.”) Her troupe, dressed like a thousand different Madonnas from pop music history , danced to the song, and the night ended quickly with “Celebration” and a “Thank you, Brooklyn” before she disappeared onto the stage.
The abruptness of the final song was another reminder to appreciate Madonna and the fact that she's doing a tour like this while you can. Her voice is still as strong as ever and she won't be able to enjoy dozens of dancers on stage forever, so now is the perfect time to celebrate her.
Madonna song list:
“In the grave”
“I love New York”
“Open your heart”
“Live to tell”
“Like a prayer”
“Justify my love”
“To switch off”
“Crazy for You”
“Die another day”
“Do not tell me”
“Mom and dad”
“I will Survive”
“The beautiful island”
“Do not cry for me, Argentina”
“Bitch, I’m Madonna”