I’m not religious, but she makes me want to pray.
Several minutes after 10 PM, the lights dropped at the TD Garden in Boston on Tuesday night as a group of hooded priests huddled around a massive censer, praying quietly to themselves. Behind them, a giant cross with the words “MDNA” brightly burned on the screen. Slowly, the vessel–now smoking with incense–was hoisted into the air by a giant rope, eventually swinging madly just above the audience in the pit to the shrieks of both awe and actual terror below.
After more “Isaac”-like chanting from the priests, the MDNA cross behind them slowly split open to reveal a figure kneeling inside of a floating prayer room, hidden behind a white veil. As it drew closer into the stadium, the ever-familiar Act of Contrition began to pour into the speakers. “Oh my God.” A shiver ran through the crowd. “Oh my God.” we heard on repeat–or was it just the crowd? “Oh my God.”
Suddenly, the priests began to run across the stage. And just as quickly, the figure inside the chamber began to rise, grabbing at something and turning toward the sheet. The synthesizers of “Girl Gone Wild” blared into the speakers, the sheet turned to glass, and shattered. And there she was: Madonna–gun in hand–cocked, loaded and ready to go.
From the get-go, the MDNA Tour is absolutely manic: A no-holds barred explosion of guns, high wires, mirrors, pom-poms, guitars, political statements, corsets and sexy Brahim. The Queen of Pop spends two full hours flying across the stage and strutting across the V-shaped catwalk, dropping to the floor, spinning in the air and flailing around on stage all while getting thrown like a $500 million rag doll. It’s relentless, and perhaps her most mile-a-minute production of all time.
I was blessed to catch the show in the Golden Triangle, which is essentially a very, very gay mosh pit. As I quickly remembered from seeing her in ’08 for the Sticky & Sweet Tour at the same venue, Madonna brings out the, uh, most colorful cast of characters: Gay boys and their heavily done-up accessory blondes, Madonna stans from forums merrily embracing each other and showing off their latest Madge tattoos, little girls, drunk moms, drunker grandmas, that one sketchy guy with his shirt tucked into his shorts awkwardly bouncing to the beat (always a half-second off!), the ever-faithful, ever-sexy Brazilians (a fiercely loyal people), boys dressed as girls, girls dressed as boys and the ambiguous aplenty.
The theme, as was disclosed just before the tour began, follows from the darkness into the light: There’s the bloody opening (“Transgression”) a bout of joyful bliss (“Prophecy”), sultry seduction and gender play (“Masculine/Feminine”), and the point at which Madonna delivers us from evil, or at least reductive pop stars (“Redemption”). As far as pop concert themes go, it works, combining elements of the cyborg-darkness of Madonna’s Drowned World Tour, the celebration of Sticky & Sweet and the circus-burlesque flair of The Girlie Show.
The show truly does go by in a blur (an impressive instant, if you will), but there are plenty of highlights along the way.
Along with the show’s incredible power punch opening of “Girl Gone Wild” and “Revolver,” there’s “Gang Bang,” the show’s most ingeniously choreographed moment of the night, which saw Madonna tackling assassins in a bloody motel room massacre. Between the incredible acting, the intricate choreography and all of the set’s moving parts, it was just stunning to watch, like seeing a movie being filmed in front of our eyes.
The cheerleader section of the concert–something I sort of dreaded from photos–was actually one of the major highlights of the night as well–from the ferocious dance break during the Just Blaze remix of “Give Me All Your Luvin” (who knew it’d be a highlight?), to the dozens of drummers hovering in air over the stage, to the “Express Yourself”/”Born This Way” mash-up/shade fest. Bratty, yes. Shady, definitely. But fun? Massively so.
“Vogue” is purely history in motion, as Madonna sashays her revamped Jean Paul Gaultier bone corset across the stage alongside her gender-bending dancers, pulling shapes and posing in pure Paris Is Burning fashion. It was like witnessing a moment frozen in time, with only the dressings cleverly modernized for the 21st century.
The “Justify My Love” video interlude just prior, by the way, was a smoldering return to form for Erotica‘s mistress, Dita. (She’s been missed!)
“Like A Prayer,” another (obvious) highlight was, appropriately, a religious experience. Between the church choir swaying on the main stage, those sacred lyrics swirling throughout the arena and the sheer energy of the crowd itself–thousands swaying and singing in unison–well, it’s impossible to describe that moment as anything less than spiritual.
During the folky “Open Your Heart”/”Masterpiece” acoustic segment–one of the very few slower moments throughout the entire 2-hour production–Madonna delivered her nightly sermon, encouraging the crowd to be proud of our country for allowing freedom of expression, and warning us all to protect our rights: “Are you going to let a bunch of crazy shit happen to this country? Say FUCK NO!” Madonna demanded. “I know it’s a bad word, but tonight it’s good. Say FUCK NO!” she repeated, rallying the crowd into a fervor. “FUCK NO!” “FUCK NO!” “FUCK NO!”
Madonna was in a spectacularly cheery mood, especially when compared to the night I saw her four years ago in Boston (she formally filed from divorce from Guy Ritchie earlier that day, and dedicated “Miles Away” to “the emotionally retarded.”) “I love you! No, I love you more!” she semi-sarcastically, semi-genuinely squealed to a friend of mine in the front row before launching into her speech. Either Brahim promised her one hell of a foot massage after the show, or M’s just in a really good place right now.
The shows is also a bit of a family affair, including the sultry strip-down with Brahim and a happy-go-lucky skip around the stage with her son, Rocco. “Get ’em hyped!” she instructed during the major mother-son bonding moment, as the crowd roared back warmly.
Considering all the headlines she’s inspired regarding all her “provocative” behavior, it was surprising to see that the show truly wasn’t any more scandalous than any other pop production. In fact, it was far less: A crotch grab here, a booty slap there. And the “Candy Shop” (with bits of “Erotica”) into “Human Nature” mirror striptease sequence–the show’s most sensual moment–looks and feels like actual artistry, with not even a hint of desperation.
There’s a grace to the entire performance, and by the time she’s writhing on the floor, nearly in tears, during her unbelievably dramatic take on “Like A Virgin” before getting painfully bound into a corset (there’s a certain kind of pleasure in a little bit of pain), there’s no mistake that any skin bared is strictly a matter of self-expression, not a mere cheap thrill.
(Well, for the most part: Just before launching into “Virgin,” post-disrobing, she did get a bit cheeky: “It feels drafty in here all of a sudden,” she deadpanned to the audience after baring her buns for about 30 seconds.)
But that’s just it, really: Madonna’s actually got a great sense of humor, which is something that she hasn’t been allowed to have by the media in years. There are plenty of killer moments on this tour (bang bang!), but there’s just as much gleeful revelry: Between the countless silly faces, the ridiculous costumes (a majorette uniform…I mean, really!), the shadiness of doing a “Born This Way” cover, the pure camptastic cheese of the “Celebration” finale, complete with turntable choreography (a nod to the EDM radio revolution, no doubt), Madonna’s having herself a real blast. It’s not a matter of Madonna trying to fit in–there’s a very knowing wink-wink involved.
The MDNA Tour is incredible, enjoyable (so, so SO much fun!) and thoroughly crucial, if only to serve as a reminder that this is what an actual entertainer looks, sounds and behaves like: It’s in the precision in the tightly choreographed “Gang Bang” fight scene, the guitar breaks, the drama of “Like A Virgin,” the emotionally-charged rants on causes she’s fought about and believed in for over 30 years, and the actual fearlessness displayed throughout. I’m sorry, but she’s 54 fucking years old and walking across a tight-wire, getting tackled to the ground and swan diving. Please. And your faves?
Despite the headlines and bitter queens that have nitpicked and criticized ever since her career began (She’s done! She’s a tramp! She’s old!), Madonna remains as amazing as ever. Truly. It’s evident in the way that, at any given point during the show, a quick glance around the arena leads to an entire body of people in a trance, breathless–that is, if you can manage to take your eyes off of her in the first place.
Sure, she may be refusing to age gracefully. (In fact, she’s quite literally kicking and screaming at the clock.) But face it, she’s Madonna, and she’s still doing it better than anyone half her age: She’s a ball buster, a rule breaker, a sinner, a true artist, icon and still the greatest living entertainer on Earth.
Check out the full gallery of Instagrams that I took during the show below–I’m still in awe.
All hail Madonna, Queen of Everything.