January 12, 2016
Long before the doors opened at Toyota Center Tuesday, the Madonna welcoming committee had already been formed. They lined the sidewalk down Bell Street, camera phones at the ready. It was still early evening, and it was cold out. But there they were. The Queen was in town. And how many chances do you ever really get to catch a glimpse of royalty?
So, patiently, they waited — even after the doors opened. Through a long, inoffensive set by #DJMaryMac, and through a long intermission afterwards. Madonna likes to go on late, and she kinda makes a habit of it. Nobody seemed much put off by it. To her diverse legion of fans, Madonna is as much a hero as an entertainer. She’s fearless, she respects no boundaries and she always gets her way. If she wanted to push her crowd’s buttons by testing our patience, we could scarcely love her more for it.
Needless to say, anticipation was running rather high when Madonna finally did appear. Descended, to be totally accurate. In a bit of delicious deification, the Holy Mother of Pop Superstardom floated down from the heavens inside some kind of Cenobite puzzle box. On the long catwalk extending across the arena floor, she was to be joined by a bizarrely Catholic coterie of Cylon samurai for the first big dance number of the night. That opening song was “Iconic,” a modest little tune from Madonna’s latest album, Rebel Heart, detailing her proper place in the pop pantheon. And just in case its message wasn’t vulgar enough to be understood properly, she followed it up with “Bitch, I’m Madonna.”
Ms. M has never much given to lengthy career retrospectives; she culled half her set from Rebel Heart. The definite standout of the new songs was “Living for Love,” which kicked off a tremendous Latin-flavored batch of tunes in the first half of her performance. Madonna showed off her best look of the night for that one, donning a form-fitting matador costume to recreate the song’s gorgeous music video with an army of writhing, horned dancers. One by one, she slew them all before transitioning into “La Isla Bonita” and then a flamenco medley of “Dress You Up,” “Get Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star.” Terrific songs all, and they gave Madonna’s voice a break from the digital vocal effect saturating the concert’s early portion.
The production value for the show was simply tops right from the start. Pneumatic LED panels and platforms rose and fell, with Madonna and her young posse disappearing and reappearing with trapdoors everywhere. Everything was choreographed to the finest detail — except, perhaps, for the coolest moment of the night. In tribute to her idol, the late David Bowie, Madonna broke out a damn fine cover of “Rebel, Rebel” that had the arena rockin’ in his memory. It was great moment that Houston was lucky to experience, and it left the superstar visibly affected.
“He showed me it was okay to be different, and he changed my life when I saw him in concert in Detroit,” Madonna told the crowd. “So, I’m feeling a little bit emotional. You don’t understand. He blew my fucking mind.”
Minds were being blown Tuesday, too. Pretty soon, dancers were bouncing back and forth across the area floor on long, flexible poles. I mean, it was eye-popping shit one doesn’t typically see outside of Cirque du Soleil. This show spared no expense, and it had everything. Nearly everything. Could’ve used a few more hit songs. Madonna’s got plenty of them. It’s cool that she refuses to become a nostalgia act and keeps pushing new product, sure. But she’s got more world tours behind her than in front of her at this point, and so do a large number of her fans. Leaving out classic hits like “Express Yourself,” “Ray of Light,” “Like a Prayer” and “Hung Up,” just to name a few, is kind of starting to feel like a missed opportunity.
Then again, maybe it’s unfair to complain that the Madonna show doesn’t include enough of your favorite Madonna. Especially when what we got was so good. A Gatsby-inspired rendition of “Music” was a total show-stopper, and a high-energy version of “Material Girl” followed. “Holiday,” one of her earliest hits, sounded as buoyant as ever during her encore, even if it’s really a bit of a downer. “Holiday” always means that Madonna is leaving.
For the Queen, more colonies to visit. She literally flew up into the rafters to end the show; back from whence she came. And her loyal fans — the ones who stayed out well past midnight to catch every note — starting their waiting all over again.
Personal Bias: Opened my heart.
The Crowd: Queer, square, black and pink.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Is it true she goes on real late?”
Random Notebook Dump: One of Madonna’s dancers performed a couple of numbers completely topless. People tried not to act like it was a big deal, but it felt like a pretty liberating surprise.