Celebration Tour press - North America

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Madonna performs 'This Used to Be My Playground' live for the first time at Chicago concert

Source: Billboard - 2 Feb. 2024
Keith Caulfield

Until last night, the A League of Their Own ballad was the only one of Madonna's 12 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s that she had not performed live.

Fans attending Madonna's The Celebration Tour stop in Chicago Friday night (Feb. 2) got to hear something the Queen of Pop has never done before: perform her 1992 No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit "This Used to Be My Playground" live. (Well, a bit of it, at least.)

The song was written by Madonna and Shep Pettibone for the 1992 film A League of Their Own. Madonna co-starred in the baseball comedy-drama as "All the Way" Mae Mordabito, and the song played over the film's end credits. Until last night, it was the only one of her 12 No. 1 Hot 100 hits that she had never performed live.

During the concert at The United Center, Madonna reminisced about filming the movie, which was a fictionalized story about the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

"I hope that you guys remember," she told the audience, "I made a film called A League of Their Own, and I had to learn how to play baseball in this city. I was here for months! And, um, I kinda sucked in the beginning, but I got good. I got good at it. All the Way Mae, that's right. Remember her? I learned how to play baseball in this goddamn city! And do you remember the song? While we're taking a trip down memory lane in my retrospective [show]."

She then sang a few lines, a cappella, of the beginning of "This Used to Be My Playground," with the crowd's help, telling the audience, "Aww, bless you," after they joined her. She then joked, "I thought only 10 of you would know it. Turns out 20 of you knew it. I'm just kidding."

"I have very fond memories of this city, I'm just saying," she said.

In addition to topping the Hot 100 for one week in 1992, "Playground" reached No. 2 on the Radio Songs chart and No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary airplay chart. It would also go on to score a Golden Globe Award nomination for best original song. In 2023, it ranked as Madonna's 19th-biggest song of all time on the Hot 100 chart.

Fun fact: In 2019, Billboard asked Madonna to consider performing three songs on her then-upcoming Madame X Tour — her three Hot 100 top 10 hits that she, at that point, had never performed live before. They were "This Used to Be My Playground," "I'll Remember" and "Rescue Me." During preparations for the Madame X Tour, she rehearsed "Rescue Me," but ultimately included it in the show as a pre-recorded spoken word interlude while she was offstage.

Madonna celebrates 40 years with career-spanning concert at United Center

Source: Chicago Sun Times - 2 Feb. 2024
Selena Fragassi

Not since Einstein has someone made us pay so much attention to time as Madonna.

Over the course of her global Celebration Tour, there have been countless headlines about Madge's late arrival to the stage, particularly after a pair of fans went so far as to sue the pop star for her tardiness at a Brooklyn date in December. 

She's still not exactly prompt — the advertised showtime of 8:30 p.m. became 9:56 p.m. for her Thursday night concert at the United Center. That said, the focus of Madonna's first-ever retrospective tour is the astute ways in which she examines the passage of time in her life, and how she continues to still stay ahead of it.

"Are you ready to hear the story of my life?" Madonna prompted the very done-up crowd as she kicked off the 25-song, two-hour set, which paid tribute to the 40 years since her 1983 self-titled debut, weaving a tapestry of her life journey — for better or worse. 

A video prologue started the look back, explaining how, at 19-years-old, the Michigan native arrived in New York City in 1978 with $35 in her pocket. As the show progressed, the dueling, rotating circle stage and runway thrusts were decorated with remnants of all her personal reinventions. 

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Chicago. Photo by Selena Fragassi.

There were background sets of New York subway scenes and skylines, notes of her Marilyn-esque Blond Ambition era, all the erotica of her Truth and Dare epoch and flashes of her more recent Madame X days, all told through a dizzying amount of creative themes (boxing rings, strip clubs, religious pantomime, wild west holdups, futuristic VR, and on and on).

Among the best were "Vogue," presented as a full-on fashion show that paid homage to New York City nightlife; "Live To Tell," a gripping tribute to the many who have died from AIDS; and the sinner's delight of "Like A Prayer" that mixed in parts of Sam Smith and Kim Petras' "Unholy."

Gone are the days where topline artists offer mere full album plays to commemorate big anniversaries. We are living in the "Eras" moment, where full careers are explored. Where Madonna and her team upped the ante was finding a way to bring in narrative elements to make the Celebration Tour come off as a real-time documentary or living museum of sorts, with Madonna as host and curator.

There were some interesting creative elements to pad the concept. Like when the entire two-dozen dance ensemble appeared during the finale of "B - - - - I'm Madonna" dressed in period wear from the fashion icon's capsule collection (cone cups and "A League Of Their Own" uniform included). At several points, Madonna was also joined by her "past life" shadow — a dancer wearing a silicone mask and an iconic Queen of Pop look — fully interacting with the mute figure.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Chicago. Photo by Selena Fragassi.

The tour does have an emcee, the affable Bob the Drag Queen, who provided narration to keep the sometimes lagging story moving. But it was the moments when Madonna took the mic that were the most memorable. In particular, ahead of a tender solo acoustic take on "Express Yourself" in which she opened up about the serious illness last June nearly claimed her life and postponed the tour's kickoff.

"This summer I almost died. When I was in an induced coma, the first thing I said coming out of it was 'no.' I think God said to me, 'Are you ready to go?' And I said, 'no.'"

A few of Madonna's children were in tow for the show. Daughters Stella and Estere took turns in some of the dance routines, while Mercy played the piano for an emotional rendition of "Bad Girl." It was one of the few instrumentals of the night as the pop star opted for pre-recorded backing tracks instead of a live band, resulting in an overriding hollowness to the show. 

But there were lags — some incredibly odd pacing, some off-key vocal moments and some very awfully placed dropdown screens that blocked a number of sightlines. Madonna's incredible dancers stepped in to save the day. The troupe continues to be one of the highlights of the show and go to extremes to fit her artistic vision (even appearing topless for a song).

Madonna's attempts like these to remain controversial have fallen apart at the seams, which is perhaps more a commentary on society than it is on the agent provocateur. But she still manages to get the last laugh. As she says at one point, "I think the most controversial thing I've done is to stick around."

Celebration tour is theatrical, bombastic, emotive, and euphoric

Source: WXPN - 27 Jan. 2024
John Vettesse

The pop icon showcased her four-decade legacy in maximal fashion at a packed Wells Fargo Center this week.

As her setlist approached 20 songs deep, Madonna stopped down Thursday night's performance at Wells Fargo Center to check in with the audience. "Are you still with me, Philly?" she hollered, to fervent cheers from the packed house. "I'm trying to tell you my life story here. It's a lot to fit into two hours."

As things shook out, the performance clocked two hours and fifteen minutes, and hit on the breadth of the chameleonic pop icon's four-decade career, from "Burning Up" to "Bitch I'm Madonna." As the night opened, the autobiographical intentions of the Celebration Tour were clearly outlined, with master of ceremonies Bob The Drag Queen (in a flowing and ornate Marie Antionette gown) narrating a rapid-fire visual montage of news clips and vintage photos on many screens draped around the arena. Atop a grid of catwalks crisscrossing the floor, Madonna and a squad of dancers strutted their stuff to a run of her early 80s material.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Philadelphia. Photo by John Vettesse.

The music mostly moved chronologically forward as the night went on, with a central riser at the end of the arena re-creating various environments, from Manhattan nightclubs Danceteria and CBGBs to lavish modernist dance warehouses and Fashion Week style runways to, well, church. But to look at this production as her Eras Tour is a mischaracterization; it is focused as much as it's freewheeling, intimate as much as it's opulent, with blockbuster hits sitting alongside less-expected deep cuts, broken up several times along the way with stunning theatrical set-pieces.

It was loud, bombastic, and confrontational, from the heap of bodies writhing mid-catwalk as the sexy grind of "Justify My Love" soundtracked the scene, to the ominous cult-y shrouds and totems filling the stage on "Like A Prayer," drawing a vague but nonetheless poignant through-line from institutional religion to societal oppression.

It was heavy and emotional, too: on the gripping power ballad "Live To Tell" from True Blue, those aforementioned projection drapes were filled with cycling images of folks, mostly artists, who passed away from HIV/AIDS: dancer Alvin Ailey, rapper Eazy-E, painter Keith Harring, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, actress Cookie Mueller. (If this seemed a touch exploitative, it's worth remembering that many of these were the faces of people Madonna knew, and that she used her celebrity for advocacy and allyship going back to the late 80s.)

It was, as Madonna acknowledged, a lot, and not without its imperfections. Her voice could come across raw and rugged, especially at the beginning of the set; more often, though, it soared in glorious melodies, like we heard on "Crazy For You." Her dancing wasn't quite the same as we might remember from the Truth or Dare documentary; still, she leapt into the fray of the night's choreography fearlessly, sometimes acting as a compliment to the dance team around her as it took on the heavier lifting, but often stepping out on her own with breathless moves and pantomimes this writer certainly could not manage.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Philadelphia. Photo by John Vettesse.

Even acknowledging these moments of humanity in the context of a review feels mildly problematic, since so much of the conversation around Madonna (historically, as well as this promo cycle) is frontloaded with vilification and criticism. How much have you heard about the exaggerated "three-hour wait" on this tour? Was the show's start time the first thing you wanted this review to tell you? 10:01 p.m., if you must know, a half hour after an opening set from DJ Honey Dijon concluded (shouts to them for spinning the badass house remix of McFadden and Whitehead's "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" btw). The whole "wait" narrative was not Philly's experience, nor is it the experience of somebody who goes to more than one concert per year, and that's just one of the non-story talking points that's driven this tour rollout. (We don't need to get into others, truly.)

Point being: the intense level of scrutiny celebrities receive is staggering, that level is even more intense when you're a celebrity who happens to not be a man, and one who's been in the spotlight for generations no less. This is something that's hammered home — without much subtlety, but with grace all the same — though interview clips of Madonna's voice interspersed into the night: how women are made to feel that aging is a sin, how after a career of controversy around uninhibited sexuality, "the most controversial thing I can do is stick around."

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Philadelphia. Photo by John Vettesse.

Which is why packaging this run as a legacy tour succeeds so much. And it's not just her creative legacy — she showcased her family in the production, from a stunning photo of her mother hanging from the rafters on American Life's "Mother and Father" to several of her children taking the stage. Her son David, 18, played guitar at various moments — including a Prince homage in the aftermath of "Like a Prayer." Her daughter Estere, 11, struck poses and worked the crowd as both DJ and walkoff dancer amid the Ballroom scene setpiece during an extended "Vogue." On a sublime version of "Bad Girl," her daughter Mercy, 18, played a grand piano while Madonna perched atop.

That last song too showed how "legacy" doesn't just need mean the best-known stuff; indeed, it was a baller move to craft a two-plus hour Madonna setlist that didn't include "Borderline," "Dress You Up," "Take A Bow," or "Material Girl" (the latter is kind of soaked in 80s cheese anyway) but did include subtler moments like "Erotica," "Bedtime Story," and "Die Another Day." But the highest highs of the Celebration tour were the ones that wholeheartedly invited the audience in. The high-octane dance of "Express Yourself" imagined as a vulnerable singalong that the Wells Fargo Center gladly lent its voices to as Madonna played acoustic guitar. The pop star soaring across the venue in an enclosed platform to the trancey pulse of "Ray Of Light." And, most powerfully, a show-stopping rendition of "Rain" that brought the night to a euphoric peak of both drama and earnest emotion.

It's a lot to fit in. But it totally works.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Philadelphia. Photo by John Vettesse.

Celebration Tour hits Madison Square Garden: The 5 Best Moments

Source: Billboard - 24 Jan. 2024
Joe Lynch

She loves New York -- after all, other places make her feel like a dork.

A little more than three months since it kicked off at the O2 Arena in London, Madonna's Celebration Tour arrived at Madison Square Garden this week. While the Celebration Tour previously hit New York City in December for three dates, those were all at the Barclays Center – a venue that opened in Brooklyn 12 years ago. Madonna and Madison Square Garden, however, have an extensive history, reaching back to when her debut concert tour, The Virgin Tour, wrapped there in 1985.

So for The Celebration Tour — which is a career-spanning look back on her hits, personal struggles, pop culture impact and enduring influence — it only made sense that the Queen of Pop had to hit MSG despite playing NYC just a month earlier. And sure enough, her Tuesday night (Jan. 23) show (the second of three MSG dates, with her final one slated for Monday, Jan. 29) felt a bit more special than her Barclays gig.

First off, the sound was better. Madonna shaded Barclays as an "echo bowl" when she played it last month, and it's likely her dissatisfaction with the sound was what caused her to (now infamously) begin one of those shows so late that some disaffected fans filed a class-action lawsuit against her, which she's fighting. (Their frustration is understandable, although thinking a rock star will hit the stage on time is a bit like expecting a cat will do what you tell it to do – both do what they want when they want to, and that's why we love 'em.)

Secondly, and more importantly, the shared history between Madonna and MSG made this already spectacular tour feel elevated. So much of her legend – arriving in NYC at 19 with $35 in her pocket; struggling to make ends meet while getting her career off the ground; making those initial musical waves at iconic NYC venues such as the Danceteria – is wrapped up in the fabric of New York City. No wonder she cops to still feeling "butterflies" when she plays in Manhattan.

From a tribute to two nurses who bucked the stigma of AIDS/HIV in the '80s to her "Vogue" guest star, these were the best moments of her Tuesday night show.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in NYC.

Bob the Drag Queen

Throughout the trek, RuPaul's Drag Race winner Bob the Drag Queen has proved to be a deft emcee, introducing the Queen of Pop each night and popping up in various skits, whether dressed to the nines in her gag-worthy 1990 VMAs Marie Antoinette look or that (less flattering) rodeo clown lewk. After a thumping, joyous DJ set from opener Stuart Price (who is also the tour's music producer), Bob waltzed out among the crowd and primed fans for their queen. Eyeing the, shall we say, LGBTQ-forward audience, Bob drily mused that he'd probably had sex with half of the people at MSG – "and Madonna's probably had sex with the other half." Well, gotta keep it 100.

"I Love New York"

Like her Barclays show, Madonna – guitar in hand — mashed up her Confessions on a Dance Floor gem "I Love New York" with her self-titled album's "Burning Up," offering up a garage-rock take on her love letter to a hard-as-nails city. She's not quite Orianthi on the axe, but like the CBGB scene she came out of before embarking on her globe-conquering pop career, she oozed an irresistible IDGAF energy as she rocked out.

Amy Schumer

During the "Vogue" segment of her tour, Madonna has routinely brought out a coterie of guests – everyone from her daughter Lourdes to associates such as Diplo and Jean Paul Gaultier – to help her judge her dancers as they evoke a Harlem ball. On Tuesday night, Madge tapped Amy Schumer, the comedian who opened for her 2015 MSG dates on the Rebel Heart Tour, as her fellow judge. As with all guests, Schumer flashed 10s at the vogueing dancers when appropriate, mimed emphatic praise for Madonna's daughter Estere (who is legit a jaw-dropping dancer) and hugged Madonna before returning to the crowd.

Saluting Two Heroic Nurses

Celebratory as it is, one of the tour's finest and most impactful moments is also its saddest – "Live to Tell," which features the photos of men and women who lost their lives to AIDS/HIV and its related complications. During Tuesday's show, Madonna took an extended moment to pay tribute to Ellen Matzer and Valery Hughes, two pioneering women who fought for AIDS/HIV patients in the '80s (a fight detailed in their book Nurses on the Inside: Stories of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic In NYC).

"I want you all to remember how shocking and horrifying it was in the early '80s," Madonna told the crowd of the early days of the crisis, a time when almost no politician would mention the disease and some religious fanatics celebrated the deaths of LGBTQ people lost to it. "Thanks to them for being at the front line of the AIDS crisis so many years ago. Thank you for your bravery and courage … nobody wanted to associate with these people, people were afraid … These amazing women, these angels, these heroes — thank you for setting up AIDS wards in so many hospitals."

She concluded with a personal recollection of visiting Saint Vincent's hospital in the early days of the crisis, her voice cracking as she spoke: "I remember one young man, he was in another place, he wasn't really conscious anymore, he was near death. I laid down in the bed next to him and he held my hand and said, 'Mother, thank you for coming.' It made me think, these women here tonight did this every f–king day and they got no praise, no thanks."

Naturally, the MSG crowd offered up thunderous applause for the real-life angels in attendance.

Her Joy

Yes, Madonna is in her 60s (and overcame a brush with death just last year, which forced the Celebration Tour's kickoff to be postponed), but when she's skipping across the stage during "Open Your Heart," shadow boxing during "Erotica," spitting at the fuzz during "Human Nature" or dancing high above the audience during the euphoric "Ray of Light," she might as well be that 20-something kid who informed Dick Clark she was going to "rule the world" back in 1984 — and proceeded to do just that.

Madonna shows vulnerability at homecoming concert: 'I hope you're proud of me, Detroit!'

Source: Detroit News - 16 Jan. 2024
Adam Graham

Madonna did something at her homecoming concert Monday night at Little Caesars Arena that she has rarely done in her groundbreaking, boundary-pushing, earth-shattering career: She let her guard down.

Addressing the crowd of 13,000 — including her 92-year-old father Silvio, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease and was in attendance at the show — Madonna spoke of the strength her father gave to her, the work ethic he instilled in her as a child and the need she felt to give her hometown someone they can cheer for.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Detroit. Photo by Adam Graham.

"I hope you're proud of me, Detroit!" said the Queen of Pop, who admitted to feeling nervous about coming home and performing in front of her hometown audience. "Because I care about what you think, and I want you to be proud of me."

It was a deeply personal and surprisingly emotional concert — not to mention a late night at the arena, which didn't see the Material Girl taking the stage until after 10:30 p.m. and wrapping just before 1 a.m. — as Madonna looked to be holding back and even wiping away tears on more than one occasion.

It was also an evening in which Madonna re-affirmed — or re-re-affirmed, or re-re-re-affirmed, depending on how far back you want to take this — that no one does it like her, and frankly no one else even comes close.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Detroit. Photo by Adam Graham.

She took the audience on a journey across her four-decade career, wrapping her own narrative in themes of spirituality, religion, life and death, and presenting a showstopping arena spectacular of the highest caliber. Madonna has been elevating the arena experience for decades, and her current Celebration Tour keeps that bar high, as she performed a two hour, 15-minute showcase through her greatest hits, most iconic looks and all of her many eras.

Madonna, 65, has spent her whole career looking forward, and this look back seems like more than a chance to simply cycle through the hits. If it's her farewell to this level of production and touring, it's an exclamation point on the definitive pop career of the modern era. If it's just her current statement at this particular junction in her life, it will be fascinating to see how she tries to top it the next time out.

She didn't start at the beginning. Opening with Ray of Light's "Nothing Really Matters," Madonna hit the stage solo, performing in a crown (naturally), spinning on a circular stage underneath a large titled light rig, three huge video screens behind her. Then it was on to "Everybody," her debut single, performed with more than a dozen dancers who resembled punk rock clubgoers of Madonna's early New York City days.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Detroit. Photo by Adam Graham.

And then "Into the Groove," which led to her first of two extended speeches to the crowd.

"I'm home! Wooo!" said Madonna, clutching a bottle of Budweiser and periodically chugging from it. "People don't understand how cool you have to be to be from Detroit."

She reminisced about her journey from the Motor City to New York, and then the world. "It's been four decades since I left this place and said, 'I'm gonna be someone.' So thank you for pushing me out in the right direction. Thank you, Detroit," she said. "Because working hard, and the working class mentality that I have running through my veins, it all started here. Period."

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Detroit. Photo by Adam Graham.

Later in the show, Madonna addressed being a parent and shouted out all the working parents in the crowd, before paying her respects to her father.

"My father, he taught me the meaning of hard work. He taught me the importance of earning your way through life. He taught me that life is not a day at the beach, that you better be prepared to work hard to get somewhere in life. And I thank you for that, dad," she said.

"And if you think I'm tough, and if you think I'm a warrior or you think I'm a beast or a superhero, it's because of my father."

She went on to say that her career aspirations and accomplishments were for him.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Detroit. Photo by Adam Graham.

"I pretty much went through the majority of my career just wanting to make my father proud of me, and I hope that I succeeded," she said.

Monday's concert was a makeup date rescheduled from August, after Madonna postponed her entire tour following a health scare that landed her in the ICU for several days over the summer. She said when she was in the hospital, she received a call from her father, checking in on her. "The irony," she said.

Survival, namely her own, was another theme of the show, as she paid tribute to both Prince and Michael Jackson, who along with Madonna formed the holy trinity of 1980s pop icons. Of the three, Madonna is the last one standing — add in a fourth with George Michael, and she's still the last one standing — which further hammers home the point of her resilience. Like she says in the song, "I guess I'll die another day."

She also paid tribute to AIDS victims, showing images of Martin Burgoyne, Keith Haring, Arthur Ashe, Eazy-E and dozens of others who died of the disease on scrims that hung above her stage, after solemnly turning the end of her own jubilant "Holiday" into a haunted cry of loneliness.

She was playing with the forms and the textures of her songs throughout the evening. Her defiant "Human Nature" was mashed with her torch song "Crazy for You," "La Isla Bonita" folded into her rendition of the "Evita" song "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," and "Express Yourself" was reinvented as an acoustic ballad sing-along.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Detroit. Photo by Adam Graham.

Meanwhile, "Erotica" was re-contextualized through its use of boxing imagery, with mini boxing rings (which used light beams as ropes, very cool) set up through the labyrinth-like catwalks that extended from the stage onto the arena floor.

Throughout the show, Madonna visited versions of her past self, and later her past selves, as she shared the stage with her full team of dancers, all sporting the vintage looks she made famous on awards shows and stage costumes, and even her baseball uniform from "A League of Their Own." She was journeying from past to present, taking stock of where she's been and celebrating Madonna like only Madonna can.

She took flight several times, performing in a lit-up box that was like a picture frame and was lifted above the audience's heads, including during a late-evening "Ray of Light." She performed more than two dozen songs in all, closing with "Celebration," before issuing a final "thank you Detroit, I love you!" as she disappeared from the stage.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Detroit. Photo by Adam Graham.

It had been since a 2015 concert at Joe Louis Arena that Madonna had performed in Detroit, but where she's made passing remarks about coming home at her concerts in the past, her comments on Monday — especially those directed toward her father — felt like she was saying things she felt needed to be said, and time was of the essence.

Time is of course the theme of all themes on the "Celebration" tour — what we do with it, how we look back on it and coming to grips with the passage of it — and knowing that nothing, not even Madonna, lasts forever. So if that means celebrating, celebrate away. And make that celebration as meaningful as possible.

Madonna returns with massive show that feels fresh, not just nostalgic

Source: NextMag - 14 Jan. 2024
Michael Hollett

MADONNA'S RETURN to Toronto with her Celebration tour was initially delayed for months by illness. Then it was delayed for two hours Thursday, the night of her triumphant return. But unsurprisingly, the wait is worth it.

After 10 pm, when Madge and her dozens of dancers finally emerge for a career-spanning show that exceeds two hours, the night feels more like a preview of the inevitable Broadway musical based on her life than a traditional pop concert.

She spends the night telling "the story of my life," chatting with the crowd, reminiscing about her journey, and dropping speeches that are alternatively motivational messaging and agitprop, along with dancing, dancing and more dancing. The staging is spectacular, the choreography edgy and her message and energy still feel urgent, even ground-breaking.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Toronto. Photo by Ricardo Gomes.

The amount of actual singing, even counting the many lip-synch tracks, probably accounts for 60 per cent of the show — and no one is complaining in a crowd filled with Madonna lookalikes.

The narrative of her actual life is better than many half-baked tales used to string together the songs in a host of jukebox musicals. And in this show, we get Madonna singing the hits — her hits — not a touring company kid.

We know it's finally show time when Bob the Drag Queen, in full Marie Antoinette regalia, starts roaming through the crowd like a giant iceberg with a mic, searching for "Canadian bacon" in the crowd.

Eventually, Madonna emerges dressed in black, wearing a diamond-ringed headdress that pops and glitters like paparazzi camera flashes. The circular stage sits atop a series of ramps and runways coursing through the crowd, and the Queen of Pop and her dancers take full advantage of them throughout the night.

She sings Nothing Really Matters before an impressive mass of dancers — around two dozen eventually — join her on stage. She rips through post-disco dance hits Everybody and, what will prove one of many show highlights, Get into the Groove. The video screens behind her and around the arena scream Manhattan in the '80s, with images and names like the Mudd Club and more evoking her early, about-to-make-it-days in the city she moved to at 19.

During one of many "narrative breaks" in the show, Madonna straps on a guitar and tells us how she learned to play and of her subsequent CBGB debut playing the instrument.

Then she and "cast members" perform a bit that sees her and her pals denied entry to an exclusive club by rope-and-stanchion-wielding naysaying bouncers.

Madonna eventually breaches security and she and the team deliver a swirling, stylish disco-ball-sparkled version of Holiday.

She soars above the crowd in a glittering, phonebooth-sized box, singing Live to Tell while moving through screens featuring images of artists and friends lost to the AIDS epidemic.

Throughout the night, Madonna interacts with faux versions of herself dressed in styles of her various eras, from a goofy fedora-wearing kid straight out of a John Hughes teen comedy to the sultry, Marilyn Monroe-inspired vamp and more.

She "dances" a few rounds in boxing rings packed with hunky, swirling "fighters" and later ends up in a pyramid of flesh complete with topless female dancers.

Nothing about Madonna's effort or the audience response suggests her career is close to finished, and her work, reinterpreted much of the night, still feels fresh and edgy. This is not some safe, "Casino-style" nostalgia trip but another example of an artist who remains committed to pushing boundaries, for herself and her audience.

Through the night, she brings out her son and daughters to perform at different times — but clearly, the sense of family at a Madonna show goes well beyond the stage with close to 20,000 people happy to declare themselves her kin.

Madonna wows Toronto crowd in first of two shows

Source: Toronto Sun - 12 Jan. 2024
Jane Stevenson

Bringing her hits-laden Celebration tour honouring her four decades as an artist to Toronto on Thursday night for the first of two evenings, Madge let it be known that she's back.

Don't forget, her entire Celebration trek had to be postponed when she ended up in the hospital with a serious bacterial infection last year.

Bob the Drag Queen began the festivities at a rather late 10:10 p.m. (doors opened at 7:30 p.m., show ended at 12:20 a.m.) as he wandered through the crowd decked out in an MTV-era Marie Antoinette ensemble reminiscent of the one Madonna wore on the awards show in 1990.

"I'm looking for some Canadian bacon," he joked.

Then it was Madonna's turn to appear all in black wearing a silver halo under a beautiful glowing light on a circular stage to begin the two-hour-and-10-minute show with Nothing Really Matters.

Eventually, she was joined by an army of talented dancers armed with flashlights as they danced under the New York City skyline for Everybody and Get Into the Groove before she charged ahead to one of three catwalks to play Burning Up on electric guitar.

"Toronto, I've still got it, so f*** you!" Madonna joked before reminding everyone she arrived in New York City in 1978 at the age of 19 with nothing more than $35 in her pocket and a positive attitude.

"Are you ready to hear the story of my life?" she asked as the show was broken down into five parts with recognizable costumes shown on Madonna avatar dancers who represented her various eras (including all of the dancers at the end decked out in Madonna outfits for the show finale Bitch, I'm Madonna).

Other highlights included Open Your Heart — with Madonna seated on a chair — and Holiday, with The Material Girl back on the circular stage with her crew dancing under a big disco ball.

Black and white photos of AIDS victim ranging from artist Keith Haring to designer Halston were also featured while Madonna sang Live To Tell while floating in a large black box over the crowd. (It would make a return later during another set highlight, Ray of Light, featuring her in a silver jumpsuit and futuristic shades.)

Two of the more striking production pieces included a cross-laden carousel featuring hooded and scantily clad males dancers while Madge belted out Like A Prayer followed by three lit-up boxing rings where she went toe-to-toe with several male fighters while singing Erotica.

The infamous red velvet bed from her Truth or Dare tour also made an appearance while Madonna and another avatar provocatively played around on it during the intro for Papa Don't Preach and she was later joined by nearly naked (certainly topless) dancers for Justify My Love and Hung Up.

Eventually she also brought out some of her talented children including daughter Mercy James, who played beautiful piano during Bad Girl, another daughter Estere, who vogued with the best of them during Vogue, and her son David, who appeared standing side by side with his mom during Mother and Father while photos of her long gone mother, also named Madonna, and his birth mother were displayed on large screens.

She also brought back the Jean Paul Gaultier black coned bra for Vogue, an army of black leather cowboy hat and duster-wearing dancers for the James Bond theme song Die Another Die, some cowboy boots and countrified dance moves for Don't Tell Me, and got the crowd to light up their phones during her acoustic guitar version of Express Yourself.

Madonna's Celebration Tour salutes her history, nostalgia free

Source: The Globe and Mail - 12 Jan. 2024
Brad Wheeler

At various times at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena on Thursday, a capacity crowd saw an AIDS activist, a Budweiser-drinking cowgirl, a cone-bra eroticist, a guitar-wielding raggamuffin, a fighter in a silk boxing robe and a proud, catsuit-wearing mom.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you Madonna, Madonna, Madonna, Madonna, Madonna and [checking notes] Madonna. The above were some of the personas presented at the first of back-to-back concerts by the pop superstar, inimitable cultural figure and devoted provocateur born Madonna Louise Ciccone.

The icon is currently on her Celebration Tour, a retrospective spectacle covering a four-decade career. Not a standard greatest-hits victory lap, the 140-minute show is a dance-heavy jukebox bio-musical. Future Canadian stops include Montreal's Bell Centre (Jan. 18 and 20) and Vancouver's Rogers Arena (Feb. 21).

"If you wanna know about me," she said at one point, "you gotta know all about me." Madonna, of course, is an exhibitionist. In other words, buckle up.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Toronto. Photo by Ricardo Gomes.

The concert began with an appearance from RuPaul's Drag Race winner Bob the Drag Queen, who served as an emcee and wore an elaborate gown either inspired by Marie Antoinette – queen knows queen – or by Madonna herself at the 1990 MTV Awards. We were told that in 1978, Madonna arrived in New York as a 19 year old with $35 to her name.

She arrived on stage at Scotiabank Arena wearing all black and a halo to sing Nothing Really Matters, a song about looking back at one's younger self with age-won wisdom. Standing alone on a multi-level circular stage, she looked like a piece of jewellery on display.

Now chicly scruffy in chains, corset and a short, black skirt, she sang Into the Groove as dancers surrounded her. "That's right Toronto," she said after, "I still got it."

That was in doubt. After her hospitalization for a bacterial infection in June, the initial North American leg of the tour was postponed. Any lasting effects of her illness were not in evidence on stage. While she did dance less than she has on past tours, the singer traversed the three catwalks in a variety of challenging footwear.

There was no live band – the music, with a few exceptions, was pre-recorded. Madonna did strap on a black Les Paul electric guitar for 1983′s Burning Up. Power chords and amplifier feedback were heard. Madonna said she had debuted the song at New York's long-gone punk club CBGB.

In general, the material was presented in forms that were altered – stripped down here, club-remixed there – from the memorable recorded versions. This was invention, not nostalgia.

The 1986 hit Open Your Heart used the same peep-show conceit as the original video. It is pure post-ABBA pop. As the concert progressed, the songs moved from bubble gum to material that marked Madonna as an innovative pop artist with a shark-like need to constantly move forward.

Live to Tell told the story of the AIDS crisis, which touched Madonna personally. Suspended screens displayed the faces of victims including filmmaker Howard Brookner, artist friend Martin Burgoyne, tennis legend Arthur Ashe and fashionista Tina Chow. More and more faces filled the screens, representing the epidemic's relentless advance and staggering toll. A banner at the end of the song read, "In loving memory of all the best lights we lost to AIDS."

There were other tributes: a Prince clone appeared at the end of Like a Prayer and a silhouetted Michael Jackson danced with a Madonna-like shadow to Billie Jean and Like a Virgin. The Jackson segment seemed like an odd choice, but, then, where others might not stand by the King of Pop today, the Queen of Pop deliberately chose to.

Nepotism happened – when teenaged daughter Mercy James took to a grand piano for Bad Girl, when teenaged son David Banda strummed an acoustic guitar to Mother and Father and La Isla Bonita, when preteen daughter Estere breakdanced and struck poses like a show-stealing champ on the catwalk during Vogue.

A punchy Erotica was choreographed for a boxing ring. Late show highlights included a thumping Ray of Light and a defiant Bitch I'm Madonna.

Some fans in the audience were old enough to have attended the Blonde Ambition Tour at Rogers Centre (then SkyDome) on May 29, 1990, when local authorities suggested that Madonna could risk arrest for her immoral performance. Madonna walked on stage, called Toronto a "fascist state" and didn't tone down the show. (Nothing happened.)

She didn't show fear then, and she didn't show any at Scotiabank Arena, where Justify My Love was gloriously orgiastic and female dancers were topless for Hung Up. Apparently Madonna is not afraid of flying either: She hovered over the crowd in a box (while sensibly tethered to a railing, mind you).

During a costume change, we heard a snippet of her Billboard Women in Music speech from 2016. "The most controversial thing I've ever done is to stick around," she said. A supernova who never left, Madonna recently dropped Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive from her set list. At this stage in her career, that anthem seems superfluous; its truth, self-evident.

Bob The Drag Queen spills all the tea on touring the world with Madonna

Source: The Advocate - 11 Jan. 2024
Ricky Cornish

Why y'all gagging?

Bob The Drag Queen is one of the most recognizable winners and alums from the hit show RuPaul's Drag Race, as the queen took home the crown back on season eight.

Since her memorable win eight years ago, the star has been working nonstop on plenty of passion projects. Currently, Bob is traveling around the world with the one and only Madonna on her iconic Celebration Tour.

"I had been in communication with Madonna since Pride 2022. I serve as a counterpart to Madonna. Obviously, the show is about Madonna. It's not our show. It's her show, but I just get to say some things that makes more sense to come out of my mouth than out of Madonna's mouth," Bob tells Advocate.

Madonna and Bob The Drag Queen perform at the Celebration Tour in Brooklyn. Photo by Kevin Mazur.

The Queen of Pop has been selling out venues around the world following her health scare last year. During her act, Madonna pays homage to the LGBTQ+ community and those that lost their lives in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

"Being in her orbit is really interesting and you get to see her impact on a global level. She is definitely a very impactful woman. When you're in her orbit, you [realize] this woman has affected a lot of people's lives," Bob shares.

Madonna keeps Boston out late in two-night run

Source: GBH - 10 Jan. 2024
Haley Lerner

Boston got into the groove this week — with two performances by Madonna taking over TD Garden.

Unperturbed by a late concert start time, dedicated fans filled the arena to see the pop icon on The Celebration Tour on Monday and Tuesday. Many waited months to see the show, as the Boston leg was originally set for August, but was pushed due to a health scare.

Dedicated fans expected a late start to the weekday shows — in previous stops on her tour, the starlet usually hit the stage near 10:30 p.m. But, attendees at the Tuesday show were treated to a slightly earlier night, as Madonna came on at 9:50 p.m.

TD Garden shared that the concert would start later due to "the intricacies of the [Madonna] production." To prevent fans from getting hung up on potentially missing a trip home – the MBTA Commuter Rail posted that trains at North Station were scheduled to hold an extra 15 minutes after the show.

The singer played a variety of her most famous hits including "Like a Prayer," "Into the Groove" and "Crazy for You." The concert featured a large, intricate stage with pyrotechnics, moving parts and even a lift to fly Madonna across the Garden. The singer and her dancers took concert-goers through some of Madonna's most memorable musical and cultural moments.

Fans were treated to Madonna's tour debut of "Express Yourself," which she performed both nights acoustically in Boston.

Staci Freythe, who came to the show with her wife Sarah, was one fan who was not tired of waiting on Madonna. The couple booked a hotel near the Garden, since they live in Providence.

"I'm really excited to see Madonna, I've been her number one fan since the 80s," Staci Freythe said. "She's just a great performer all around."

Matt Krysten-McElhone and husband Michael also opted to stay overnight at a hotel so they didn't have to travel back to their home in Connecticut. The late start time didn't bother them.

"She can do whatever she wants!" said Matt Krysten-McElhone

Matt Krysten-McElhone said Madonna has been a huge part of the couple's 12-year marriage and they've been waiting for the moment to see the legend in concert together.

"She's an icon and amazing, she's influenced so many people, paving the way for Britney, Christina, every female artist, she's the original," said Michael Krysten-McElhone.

For most of her shows, Madonna brings out a special guest to help judge a "Vogue" ballroom section of the show where her dancers display their best moves. At Tuesday's performance, she brought out musician and Harvard University graduate Maggie Rogers.

Loyal Boston Madonna fan Yanki Okuducu attended both of her stops in town and said Madonna's shows feel intimate and emotional, yet also packed with "banger after banger." Okuducu has been a Madonna fan since he first saw her at age 17 in 2009.

"She tries to be the voice of people who don't have a voice, she raises her opinion whether it's going to be liked or if she's going to get s*** for that," he said. "But she's not afraid. And she says what she thinks she thinks is right. I really appreciate the courage that she carries."

Near the end of the show, Madonna said something she often repeats: "I think the most controversial thing I've done is to stick around."

That was the thesis of the show — highlighting the mega-famous songs and controversial moves that made Madonna famous.

Okuducu admires that Madonna still loves her job more than 40 years into her career.

"I don't want to say, 'Oh my God, her performance was good given that she is 65,' No, her performance was good as an artist," he said. "She is really at the top of her game. She's never been afraid of expressing herself."

Madonna performs 'Frozen' instead of 'Rain' in Toronto

12 Jan. 2024

Last night in Toronto, Madonna didn't sing Rain, but instead opted for Frozen. The song was rehearsed before the tour started, and since the background video is from Frozen, it is believed, it was replaced last minute by Rain. But it seems in Canada, Madonna showed the audience what the original performance was like. It remains to be seen if the next American shows will get more Frozen, or Rain again instead.

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Madonna replaces 'I Will Survive' with 'Express Yourself' in Boston

Source: Billboard - 9 Jan. 2024
Gil Kaufman

Madonna swapped a fan favorite into her set list on Monday night (Jan. 8) in Boston during the fifth act of her career-spanning Celebration concert. In the slot where she typically performs an acoustic cover of Gloria Gaynor's 1978 disco anthem "I Will Survive," the singer offered the audience at TD Garden a surprise unplugged run through half of her empowering 1989 Like a Prayer single Express Yourself.

According to fan video of the moment, Madonna raised a bottle of beer to salute 2024 with "gratitude and appreciation" before picking up an acoustic guitar and momentarily setting aside her gigantic leather cowboy hat, joking, "I have too many props… I feel like I'm in a saloon and everyone is hootin' and hollerin'."

She then gave thanks that she gets to perform on stage every night with her four "beautiful, talented, intelligent, opinionated children," lamenting that her eldest, daughter Lourdes and son Rocco, have "moved on," but that she has twin daughters Estere and Stella Ciccone on the road with her, along with older sister Mercy James and son David Banda, every night.

"I'm very grateful, because while they may need me as a mother, I must admit that I need them," she said. "And I need you, and we need each other, cuz family isn't just what you're born into. Family is the family that you create. And if you feel like you're part of my family turn the lights on your phone."

She then sang an a cappella verse of the 1920s folk song "This Little Light of Mine" with some help from the crowd before saying that while she was telling the audience what she needs, she also wanted to share what she doesn't need. That cued up the No. 2 Billboard Hot 100 hit about pushing away material riches in lieu of women speaking up, and out for themselves.

"You don't need diamond rings or eighteen karat gold," she crooned in the instantly recognizable "Express Yourself" second verse. "Fancy cars that go very fast, you know they never last, no, no/ What you need is a big strong hand/ To lift you to your higher ground/ Make you feel like a queen on a throne," she sang while strumming her guitar and hitting the iconic chorus and the next verse, pre-chorus and chorus about never going for "second best."

The mini performance ended with an a cappella sing-along with the crowd to the line "express what he's got, oh baby ready or not."

Madonna gives Boston something to celebrate

Source: Boston Herald - 9 Jan. 2024
Jed Gottlieb

"Open your heart, I'll make you love me," Madonna sang to a thrilled, packed, up-way-past-bedtime TD Garden Monday night.

Hearts were wide open. She made us love her.

Madonna has always looked forward, charging out in front of a genre perpetually obsessed with the next young thing. This year, Madonna, who is — GASP! — 65, is taking some time to celebrate her — GASP! — past. Not a greatest hits show (no "Material Girl," no "Like a Virgin"), the Celebration Tour is a retrospective, a finely curated biography set to the greatest pop of the past 40 years.

She started her story (at 10:15 pm) in the most obvious place: the dance floor. The first mini set crammed in many of catchiest '80s club jams, often with too much club bass. The whole night had too many melodies crushed under a tuneless low-end rumble, even ballad "Crazy for You" had a needless thumping. (Note: Pop stars, hire an actual band and minimize pre-recorded tracks.)

But, true to form, she overcame the sound with spectacle and charisma. "Open Your Heart" was captivating with Madonna staring into a camera, her dancers recreating the video's peepshow burlesque vibe behind her.

The narrative moved on to different chapters (heretic, sex positive champion, mother and daughter). In each act, what worked — what's always worked — remained: great pop, spectacle, charisma, and dancers, oh so many dancers!

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Brooklyn. Photo by Kevin Mazur.

The stage expanded from a main section with multiple smaller sections all connected by catwalks. And Madonna and troupe used every inch of floor. "Erotica" had Madonna and her troupe throwing punches in boxing rings on side stages. "Don't Tell Me" saw the crew strutting in chaps and cowboy hats, and Madonna can still strut with awesome energy.

In one of the most arresting pieces of choreography in any pop show, a dozen dancers spun on a carousel, shirtless, undulating, bathed in warm light, striking crucifixion poses. At the center, Madonna sang a pumping, hypnotic remix of "Like A Prayer."

"Vogue" played tribute to its inspiration, New York's ballroom scene of the '80s. With each dancer dressed in a radically different glammed out outfit showing off in front of judge Madonna. In a twist, 11-year-old daughter Estere topped the competition with her skills (four of her kids helped out including 17-year-old daughter Mercy who accompanied her on a grand piano for "Bad Girl").

The show covered so much ground. The world-conquering rush of "Ray of Light" and breezy "Isla Bonita" and a wonderful, acoustic and raw version of "Express Yourself." There was pyro and costume changes, hydraulic lifts and moving video screens with endless montages

And yet, it wasn't enough. That's a good thing. She's made us love her and we want more.

"I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around," she said in a video clip from an event honoring her as Billboard's 2016 Woman of the Year. The comment couldn't be more true considering the ageism and sexism she has faced and still faces. So please, shock he haters, stick around some more.

Santa takes a tumble at DC show

Source: The Daily Beast - 20 Dec. 2023
Alex Nguyen

A Tuesday night Madonna concert in Washington, D.C., featured a lap dance sequence between a dancer and Santa Claus that ended up with the two taking a hilarious tumble onto the stage. The show, which was part of the North American leg of Madonna's Celebrationtour, saw Santa sitting in a chair enjoying the performance before the dancer mounted him. As seen in videos of the incident, he then fell forward and landed on top of the dancer. The pair was able to get up and it appeared that neither were hurt, although Santa did take a while to collect himself. But Madonna, a seasoned professional, carried on with the concert, unfazed by the embarrassing moment. The pop star's tour is scheduled to run until April 2024.

Madonna thanks 'very important' friend who 'saved my life' amid health scare

Source: Billboard - 18 Dec. 2023
Rania Aniftos

The woman, named Shavawn, was in the audience at the Queen of Pop's show in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday night (Dec. 16).

Madonna opened up about her health scare over the summer that led to the Queen of Pop being induced into a coma for 48 hours in the ICU.

"The fact that I'm here right now is the f—ing miracle," Madonna told the crowd at Brooklyn's Barclays Center on Saturday night (Dec. 16) amid her Celebration tour, as seen  in a video shared by a fan to X. "There's very people in the room tonight who were with me in the hospital."

The "Material Girl" superstar went on to thank a "very important woman," named Shavawn, who "dragged" her to the hospital after she "passed out on my bathroom floor and woke up in the ICU." Madonna added that Shavawn "saved my life."

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Brooklyn. Photo by Ricardo Gomes.

Madonna also shouted out her Kabbalah teacher, Eitan Yardeni, who was also in the audience and stayed by her side throughout her induced coma for two days. "The only voice I heard was his," she recalled.

"A couple of things I thought about when I first became conscious and saw my six incredible children around me," she continued, before joking, "By the way, I had to almost die to get all my kids in one room."

Madonna noted, "And I was thinking, 'What if I left my children?' That would destroy me to leave my children at this moment in their lives. I wasn't thinking about me. I was thinking about them, and I was thinking about my mother and how scared she must have been to know that she was going to leave us all behind."

"I don't take any of this s— for granted," she concluded. Madonna is mom to Lourdes Leon, 26, Rocco Ritchie, 23, David Banda, 18, Chifundo "Mercy" James, 17, and twins Stella and Estere, 11.

In June, Madonna spent several days in the hospital due to a bacterial infection. The hospitalization forced the star to put her massive, career-spanning Celebration tour on pause, though the rescheduled dates are now underway.

Madonna released her first statement after her hospitalization in July, thanking fans for their positive energy and assuring that she's feeling better. "I have felt your love. I'm on the road to recovery and incredibly grateful for all the blessings in my life," wrote the singer.

Madonna calls Andy Cohen 'Troublemaking Queen'

Source: EW - 18 Dec. 2023
Lester Fabian Brathwaite

It takes a troublemaking queen to know one and so when Madonna spotted Andy Cohen in the audience of her Celebration Tour at Brooklyn's Barclays Center on Saturday night, she called it like she saw it.

"If you say one more bad thing about me on your show, you're gonna get in so much trouble," the eternal Material Girl joked from the stage. "You little troublemaking queen!"

Cohen, being a professional homosexual, was absolutely living, mouthing "I love you" to the "Ray of Light" singer. It's one thing to be called a queen by the Queen, but a troublemaker? The Watch What Happens Live host took to Instagram to share how much he was gagged.

"I'm a life-long Madonna fan, so it's a thrill and an honor to be called a 'troublemaking queen' by the Queen of Troublemaking," Cohen wrote sharing a video of the concert moment and a montage of all the 'bad" things he said about Madonna over the years, including multiple "Mazels of the Day."

Cohen went on to write that the tour "blew" him away and that he "can't wait to go back," tagging his post "#TroublemakingQueen."

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Madonna kicked off her Celebration Tour, commemorating her 40 years of keeping the game in a chokehold, in October in London, after postponing the trek this summer following a health scare. She started the U.S. leg of the tour at Barclays and will wind through North American until late April.

Meanwhile, Cohen's bestie Anderson Cooper recently recalled his own Madonna concert moment on Kelly Ripa's podcast, Let's Talk Off Camera. Cooper's anecdote kinda trumps Cohen's, though, since it's just really hard to beat getting humped by Madonna in front of thousands of people.

Madonna is late but worth the wait

Source: Variety - 14 Dec. 2023
Ramin Setoodeh

Hello, Brooklyn. Is Madonna in the house? It's after 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, and the Material Girl is nowhere to be found on the first hometown stop of her career-retrospective Celebration tour.

The promenade down memory lane — by Madonna, for Madonna — kicked off in London in October, and is now belatedly on its North American leg (which, as anyone reading this probably knows, was scheduled to launch last July but was postponed just weeks before after the singer was found unconscious, reportedly due to a bacterial infection). So some people have been waiting six months for this show. If only Madonna would — to quote another great poet of his time, T.S. Eliot — hurry up please, it's time! Or, to quote Madonna herself: Time goes by so slowly for those who wait…

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Brooklyn. Photo by Ricardo Gomes.

The vibe inside the Barclays Center had started off with puffs of pot smoke and Fire Island-circuit, party-ready club music curated by DJ Honey Dijon. Costumed fans decked out in glitter, Madonna T-shirts, hoodies and even a "Like a Virgin" wedding dress grew increasingly impatient. It's a power move for a stadium artist to keep his or her concert-goers waiting … and waiting … and waiting, and it's certainly one that Madonna is (in)famous for. But this isn't the '90s, and New York is no longer the city that never sleeps. People were starting to get drowsy. Those gummies had started to kick in.   

Finally, at 10:45 p.m., the evening's host, Bob the Drag Queen, sauntered onstage in a pink Marie Antoinette-like ruffled gown. As he invited fans to travel back to 1978 New York City, with "Madonna at 19 years old," he declared, "This is not just a show. This is not just. This is not just a partttty. It's a celebration, bitches!" 

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Brooklyn. Photo by Ricardo Gomes.

And with that, Madonna manifested herself in a black kimono, gyrating to her hit "Nothing Really Matters," from 1998's "Ray of Light" album, undoubtably one of her best records. Despite being a get-on-your-feet dance party, Madonna's mind on this greatest-hits tour seemed to be fixated on one theme: time. It's perhaps the only thing that this perfectionist can't control. Before the show was over — at the very late hour of 1 a.m. — Madge had not only marveled at her 40 years as the queen of pop, she'd pretended that she was a young teenager who couldn't get into a club (as if a bouncer wouldn't know the name Madonna), mourned a dancer lost to a drug overdose during "Holiday," and even shimmied with the Grim Reaper while belting out the Bond theme "Die Another Day."  

The song, and the dance, felt apt: Madonna may have dodged fate only very recently. She addressed the bacterial infection in a rambling speech to fans, between songs, early on, standing next to an actor dressed as Madonna, meant to represent her as a young woman.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Brooklyn. Photo by Ricardo Gomes.

"Oh my god," the real Madonna said. "It's so great to be back in New York. You have no idea. The enthusiasm, the joy, it's just coming out of my pores. It's amazing. Touch me right now. Please someone, touch me." Madonna, at 65, looked at her younger doppelganger. "Touch me. Yes. Thank you. So uh — the relief. People can speak my language, the language of c–t! Uh, I don't know where to begin. First of all, no one is more surprised that I have made it this far than me. Yeah, four decades, motherfuckers! And I got to tell you, I didn't think I was going to make it this summer, but here I am. Thank you for having me. Thank you for standing by me, for your support, your love.

"You don't understand — the love from a New Yorker is like making a big fat smelly rat come up to you and put your arms around you: 'I made it.' I'm not comparing you guys to rats," she continued. "I know that sounded weird. First of all — I mean, fifth of all, I want you to meet myself. Have you met myself? She was little bit shy back in the day. Let's see if she's ticklish." The real Madonna poked the other Madonna, hugged her, and then seemed peeved to be sharing the spotlight, so she ordered her to sit down. 

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Brooklyn. Photo by Ricardo Gomes.

Madonna, after all, doesn't co-headline with anyone — not even herself. But for all that she's changed music, she may, today, be chasing the descendants her fame helped create. "The Celebration Tour" is coming at the end of the year defined by three other superstar artists on the road — Taylor Swift's "Eras" tour, which became the first concert in history to gross $1 billion globally; Beyonce's "Renaissance"; and SZA's "SOS" tour. In all honesty, "The Celebration Tour" doesn't fall in the same league as those transcendent fan experiences — and it's also no match for Madonna's greatest concert of this century, 2005's "Confessions" tour, based on her tenth studio album "Confessions on a Dance Floor."

But Madonna is still Madonna, and that's probably enough even if the "Celebration" show doesn't always stick the landing. Throughout the night, there are too many costume changes to count, yet Madonna is best when she puts the music front and center, focusing on her vocals instead of trying to outdance her competition. The booming acoustics inside the Barclays Center may have also thrown her off her game, as Madonna asked fans if they could hear her, and she complained at one point, "It's an echo bowl in here."

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Brooklyn. Photo by Ricardo Gomes.

One of the best moments of the night featured Madonna flying through the air as she sings the ballad "Live to Tell," against a collage of photos of men who died of AIDs. It's not only a poignant reminder of friends Madonna lost, but her place in queer history. She still has a gravelly grit to her voice when she belts out "I Love New York" with a guitar — and could there be a better setting for the song?

She shows the classic Madonna insouciant wit as she dons a cowboy hat and leather jacket for "Don't Tell Me." She knows her target audience when she wears a Pride flag as a cape, during a mashup of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," from "Evita." And watching Madonna soar above a strobe-lit stadium as she performs "Ray of Light" is alone worth the price of admission.

It's enough to make you pine for a time when New Yorkers could really stay out all night dancing to Madonna on a weeknight. At least, among those willing to wait to be transported, the indestructible Madonna could give us a ride in her time machine.

Madonna jokes about boyfriend, sings surprise song in Brooklyn

Source: Billboard - 14 Dec. 2023
Joe Lynch

Madonna's Celebration Tour rolled into Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Wednesday (Dec. 13) for the first of several New York City dates. Two months after opening in London's O2 Arena on Oct. 14 (with five of her children in attendance), The Celebration Tour is going strong. Billboard Boxscore recently reported that the tour tally so far is approaching $100 million in grosses, with the trek likely to net $225 million worldwide when all is said and done.

Despite a late start, the high-energy show featured a setlist surprise as well as an on-stage appearance by her rumored boyfriend, boxing coach Josh Popper, a reality TV veteran who runs a gym in New York City called Bredwinners.

The tour is a vocally impressive showing for the reigning Queen of Pop, especially given that a health scare forced her to postpone its start by a few months. And the setlist is a dream, encompassing essential Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, deep-cut fan favorites and a few tracks she hasn't trotted out in years. "It's a tour which is essentially biopic in style, documentary in style," Stuart Price – the tour's music producer – told Billboard shortly after the Celebration Tour opened in London. The beating, bleeding heart of the show remains "Live to Tell," which pairs the melancholy ballad with images of lives lost to HIV/AIDS (many of them being friends of Madonna's). The most transcendent moment, however, is "Ray of Light," which finds Madonna soaring above the crowd in an airborne window of sorts, belting out the sublime chorus while bubbling swaths of acid house roll around the crowd (which, naturally, loses its collective mind).

Madonna returns to Barclays Center on Thursday (Dec. 14) and Saturday (Dec. 16). The Celebration Tour swings back through NYC next year, hitting Madison Square Garden on Jan. 22, 23 and 29.

Setlist Surprise

Though she was born in Michigan, NYC serves as a de facto hometown for the Queen of Pop, who moved here when she was just 19. She gave the crowd a special treat early on in the show, busting out "I Love New York" for the first time live in 15 years. It's a song that skewed a little harder than the rest of its parent album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, and Madge leaned into the rawk even further at Barclays, ripping through the song on an electric guitar as images of CBGB and NYC's punk past flashed around her, eventually segueing into "Burning Up" while continuing to shred.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour in Brooklyn. Photo by Ricardo Gomes.

Speaking New York's Love Language – Insults

In keeping with the theme of her setlist surprise, Madonna honored the audience of New Yorkers by adopting their native tongue. "The relief – the relief that people here speak my language – the language of c-nt. No one is more surprised that I have made it this far than me. I didn't think I was gonna make it this summer, but here I am," she added.

"Thank you for your support, your love. People don't understand – the love from a New Yorker is like making a big fat, smelly rat come up to you and put your arms around you. It's like, I made it! Not to compare you guys to rats."

Popper Time

During the tour's "Vogue" segment — which draws upon the Harlem ball culture that inspired her 1990 classic in the first place — different famous face have been joining Madonna each night to help her judge the runway, flashing "10s" or "CHOP" depending on the performance. But instead of bringing up a NYC celeb at Barclays, Madonna got personal. She brought up Josh Popper, a champion who runs a boxing gym in NYC called Bredwinners — and who has been romantically linked to the pop star for much of 2023. Later in the show, she thanked him for helping coach her dancers for the pugilism-meets-pop choreography of "Erotica."

"Josh, who came up here for the 'Vogue' ballroom moment, you saw him when we were doing 'Erotica,'" Madonna said. "He taught all my dancers how to box – I taught him a thing or two, too," she drily intoned. "We'll talk about that later though."

Having a Ball

Not much gets past the Queen of Pop. After a therapeutic, vocally impressive "Mother and Father" (with her son David Banda on guitar), Madonna began speaking to the crowd about her parents when a familiar voice caught her ear.

"Is that Kevin Prodigy? I can hear your voice. How the hell are you?"

Sure enough, Philadelphia ballroom emcee Kevin Jz Prodigy was in the audience, right near the stage, towering over the crowd. "Kevin, how did I miss you? You're so tall. Are you standing on something? You're a giant," she joked. "Thank you for all your hard work and inspiration," she told him. "Kevin is one of the many people who helped me put this show together, added their special sauce to it," she explained.

M's tour isn't the only blockbuster 2023 trek Prodigy has been helping with – the artist/commentator's voice is all over Beyoncé's Renaissance Tour, too. Who says you can't worship at two thrones?

Being 'Grateful'

During the London opener, Madonna commented on the escalating Israel-Hamas war, saying, "It breaks my heart to see children suffering, teenagers suffering, elderly people suffering — all of it is heartbreaking, okay?" Two months later – with the war still raging and many kidnapped Israelis still being held hostage – Madonna again addressed the violence in the Middle East, telling the crowd to be grateful that "people aren't blowing us up and shooting us and kidnapping us."

"There are people on the other side of the world that don't have that privilege," she said, "That cannot depend upon tomorrow. Let's take a moment to be grateful."

Celebration Tour dazzles with hits, surrealistic visuals, and reminders of our mortality

Source: Rolling Stone - 14 Dec. 2023
Kory Grow

The queen of pop finally kicked off the North American leg of the trek at Brooklyn's Barclays Center

"IT'S SO GREAT to be home… I mean that in a way that only New Yorkers know," Madonna, who adopted New York as her hometown in 1978, told the Brooklyn audience present for the North American kickoff of her Celebration Tour on Wednesday. "New Yorkers can identify with just-not-giving-a-fuck motherfuckers. We do shit our way. New York is not for little pussies who sleep."

Madonna certainly wasn't tired, and that was the point of the whole show, a tour-de-force of some of her biggest hits paired with surrealistic visuals that didn't end until 1 a.m.

Forty one years have passed since Madonna recorded her debut single, "Everybody," and sang it at long-gone New York nightclubs like Danceteria and Paradise Garage. Those venues' ghosts are located mere miles from the Barclays Center where she performed Wednesday night (and one hour of Thursday), and she has not only survived but thrived. Her set list contained 27 career-spanning hits — a rarity for Madonna since she usually focuses her tours on her most recent album — and even with "Like a Prayer," "Open Your Heart," "Vogue," and "Into the Groove," it still omitted several Number Ones.

Madonna performs at the Celebration Tour. Photo by Kevin Mazur.

Throughout the night, dancers took the stage dressed as her during various points of 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 65, is still two years shy of collecting full Social Security benefits. Several times during the performance she expressed just how happy she was to be there, and, well, anywhere. It's why she performed Confessions on a Dance Floor's "I Love New York" for the first time in 15 years on electric guitar before shredding her way through "Burning Up" with rare abandon.

The singer had a close call with fate this past 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've got to tell you that I didn't think I was going to make it this summer… but here I am."

The celebration in the tour's name simply denotes the fact that Madonna is here, especially since she acknowledged so many peers who have died in various ways throughout the show. Prince, Michael Jackson, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, among them. Screens bearing black and white images of dozens if not hundreds of notable people who died of A.I.D.S., from Robert Mapplethorpe to Eazy-E, accompanied by her moving rendition of "Live to Tell." It would've felt like an awards show's farewell montage if the rest of the concert weren't so joyous.

Structured into seven acts that are supposed to tell Madonna's story loosely, the Celebration Tour opened with compassion and excitement as she sang, "Nothing really matters/Love is all we need" from Ray of Light's "Nothing Really Matters," before segueing into "Everybody" — "Everybody, come on, dance and sing." There's no band on this tour, only occasional moments featuring 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 up. The visuals in the first act paid tribute to Danceteria and Paradise Garage, right down to a giant disco ball and a doorman who wouldn't let her in, for "Holiday." "Always remember the struggle," she told the audience. "For me, it never ends."

The second act was her elegy for her late friends with the "Live to Tell" montage and a group of druids who abducted her in a cloak while dancers strike religious poses in 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 all over them until a musician dressed as Prince played a beatific guitar solo. And his Holiness would have absolutely blanched at the third act.

The orgy began with erotic boxing in laser-banded rings, as Madonna sang "Erotica," and it congealed into a mass of people for "Justify My Love." She just climbed right in and gave out kisses. For "Hung Up," topless women and men came out and teased her until she kissed one of the women, all leading her to climb on Mercy's grand piano to sing "Bad Girl." (How intimidating must it be to have your mom be Madonna singing next to you and then mounting your instrument in a red satin negligee like it's a seedy cabaret?)

The 14,000-strong, sold-out audience, which was a broad mix of genders, races, and sexualities, many of whom were wearing "Italians Do It Better" T-shirts (how Brooklyn!), seemed stunned by the spectacle. Shouldn't everyone have been dancing and making out during "Erotica?" And in the fourth act, shouldn't everyone have been striking a pose during Madonna's ebullient "Vogue," a song that found Madonna and one of her crew members grading her dancers' (and one of her daughters, Estere's) vogues like Dancing With the Stars? Instead, most of the crowd seemed to just take in the concert, possibly because they knew it was a special occasion or possibly because it was approaching midnight on a Wednesday. The appreciative crowd still cheered for every song, though.

After "Vogue," Celebration's plot seemed to come apart as dancers dressed as cops "arrested" Madonna ("Fucking pigs," she called them) for the run-up to "Human Nature" and "Crazy for You." The fifth act began with a lengthy dance in which soldiers fought each other inexplicably. A quotation from Armenian philosopher George Gurdjief flashed on the screen: "To be born, we must first die, and to die, we must first awake." But that didn't quite make it over the net since the next song was "Die Another Day."

Madonna lifted the mood with Music's "Don't Tell Me," in which she battled the evening's occasional MC, Bob the Drag Queen, who was dressed like a cowboy with a cow print hat. Before singing Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" on her acoustic guitar, she pleaded for peace in the Middle East, asking the audience to turn on its cell-phone flashlights. "Each and every one of us have a light inside of us," she said. "And each and every one of us can share that light with the with the person standing 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 recapitulated the evening's theme in "I Will Survive": "Did you think I'd crumble, did you think I'd lay down and die… Did you?" she asks pointedly.

The final two acts served as something like Madonna's statements of intent — to provoke, to enrich, to confound. After a montage of all her controversies, Madonna, in voiceover, said, "I think the most controversial thing I've ever done is to stick around." And then she sings three songs that exist on different planes from each other: the surrealistic "Bedtime Story," the lysergic dance song "Ray of Light" (which she sings floating in a giant cube over the audience), and the down-to-earth "Rain."

She capped these songs with the intro to the final act that focused on her sometime friendship with Michael Jackson. It was long and strange and mashes up "Billie Jean" with "Like a Virgin" (which she did not sing) and the only explanation for why she made it is in the title of the next song, "Bitch I'm Madonna," which is the other message of the whole evening: "Bitch, I'm Madonna/Who do you think you are?" (That self-assuredness is also the only explanation 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 into 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 make out with dozens of dancers onstage forever, so now is the perfect time for her celebration.

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