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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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MusicMusic Review'It's a celebration': Madonna pulled out all stops on...

‘It’s a celebration’: Madonna pulled out all stops on tour through decades of hits

Firing up Chase Center for a two-night extravaganza, pop's iconic provocateur provided plenty of nostalgia.

Madonna’s “Celebration Tour,” which pulled into Chase Center this Tuesday and Wednesday, is exactly that—a spectacular, sensory celebration of her 40-year career.

After a stroll through the floor section, the magnificent Bob the Drag Queen opened the show (and reappeared throughout) as emcee, ringleader, and hype-queen. Madonna graced the stage around 10pm, 90 minutes after start time, feeding off the crowd’s anticipation. Her entourage of lithe dancers and an ever-changing, Transformers-like, fire-breathing set served as a worthy backdrop as she dove in and dazzled the audience with hit after hit—often remixed together or presented in an unexpected form.

Singing while floating above the audience in a giant cube that traversed the arena? Writhing in a Saturnalia of dancers on a stage jutting out into the crowd? Madge still did it all (despite still recovering from a life-threatening illness near the start of the tour, which justifiably requires a little caution). Told in seven acts exploring different eras in Madonna’s life, the show offered an unfolding experience of sound, movement, visuals, and awe-inducing stagecraft.

Madonna. Photo by Kevin Mazur/Wire Image for Live Nation

In Act 1, working through classics “Into the Groove,” “Open Your Heart,” and “Holiday,” Madonna described her experiences as an underpaid dancer at the very beginning of her career. After learning to play the guitar, she got a break playing in NYC’s CBGB club where her first hit was born. The stage burst into an early 1980s street scene, throwing us back to truly another time.

Act 2 reminded us of her support for LGBTQ people from the beginning of her career, and that she was a vocal advocate for HIV/AIDS support and research in the 1980s, when few people spoke up. One of the most moving moments of the night was during a solemn rendition of “Live to Tell”: Screens projected lives lost to AIDS. Large portraits of famous lights—Arthur Ashe, Keith Haring, Halston, Freddie Mercury, Herb Ritts—begin to divide fracture into two more people, then four, then eight, and on and on, creating a photo-quilt of too many souls lost too soon.

Madonna with dancers. Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation

Highlighting the religious iconography that imbues her work, Madonna enacted her own ritual with robed dancers, incense, and rosaries to “Like a Prayer” melded with “Unholy,” and “Act of Contrition.” For her aesthetic, it was an easy transition from that to her longtime image as a sex-positive idol—a thread throughout the night as well. During an “Erotica,” “Justify My Love”, “You Thrill Me,” and “Papa Don’t Preach” melange, her dancers formed an undulating kaleidoscope of various body parts. Later, Madonna and her younger self had a sensuous bed scene. Closing out this set, daughter Mercy James played piano as her mother sang “Bad Girl.”

Paying homage to her mother amid “Mother and Father,” Madonna mused on the importance of mothers “even when they’re mother-fuckers” and her own experiences as a mother. This tour is a family affair. In addition to James on piano, son David Banda played guitar, and daughter Estere followed in mom’s dancing shoes during “Vogue” (after djing)! An acoustic version of “Express Yourself” and a soulful rendition of “La Isla Bonita,” accompanied by a cellist, rounded out Act 5.

Bob the Drag Queen and Estere, with dancers. Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation

Particularly interesting was the use of young “versions” of Madonna in various past signature looks throughout the show. Present day Madonna standing next to a representation of a former version of herself was a poignant reminder of the passing of time for all of us. The final act featured a “Billie Jean”—“Like a Virgin” mashup with stylized silhouettes of Michael Jackson on the forescreen echoed by actual photos of the two on the back screens.

“Bitch I’m Madonna” and “Celebration” closed the party. Many in the enthusiastic audience—from the woman who bought her wife tickets to the show, to the group wearing custom-made Madonna boxer robes—had checked off a bucket list item. And Madonna once again proved her icon status.

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