BOSTON – If the devil has a place for performers who have blasphemed against God, it’s a safe bet there’s already a human-sized hibachi with Madonna’s name on it waiting for her in hell.
And, if so, Saturday night in front of 13,000 screaming fans at the TD Garden, Madge sealed the deal for eternal damnation, while putting on one hell of a show for her devoted fan base to cherish for years to come.
Then again, this is Madonna, the same risk-taking, taboo-breaking, button-pushing pop provocateur who has never bowed to the heat of controversy or apologized for her indiscretions.
And after 30-plus years in a business in which pop stars burn out and fade as fast as matchsticks, Madonna has not only outlived most of her musical rivals, she has proven to be practically immortal. In the end, she will probably outlive us all.
Madonna, the grand dame of the pop concert stage, knows how to put on a dazzling show. She also knows how to make a memorable stage entrance. And when she wasn’t pushing societal buttons during her spirited 21-song set that lasted nearly two hours Saturday night, she was playing the hits, sometimes unrecognizable and totally revamped, other times faithful and capturing the spirit of the original.
The concert was broken up into four mini-musical vignettes – the over-the-top samurai-sacrilegious part; the down-to-earth, loose and carefree part; the spirited Spanish fiesta part; and the roaring ’20s jazz club part.
On the elaborate opening number, which looked like “The Last Samurai” meets “Game of Thrones,’ Madonna’s dozen male dancers came out on the stage dressed as a squadron of cross-carrying, armored warriors suited up for battle, while voice-overs played of the singer pontificating about using her female attributes to get ahead in the world, her “insatiable desire to be noticed” and “too much creativity being crushed beneath the wheel of corporate branding.”
Despite the last mantra being a case of the pot calling the kettle black, an incarcerated Madonna, inside a steel cage made out of pointy spears, was lowered from the rafters. Wearing a red and black ceremonial kimono adorned with black furs, Madonna broke out of her imprisonment and into “Iconic,” the first of nine songs from her latest, “Rebel Heart.” As a song it was secondary to the stage antics, but the audience didn’t seem to mind.
“Holy Water,” the raunchiest song on her latest, arguably is Madonna’s raunchiest choreographed stage spectacle to date (and that’s saying a lot). Accompanied by a mini-convent of scantily clad nuns, Madonna led her flock to elongated crucifixes that doubled as stripper poles and they all started gyrating their torsos for Jesus. Interspersed with snippets of “Vogue” (which amusingly flickered a who’s who of saints as depicted by Renaissance masters), “Holy Water” went over the top with a restaging of “The Last Supper” as if it was catered by director Ken Russell. And not only was Madonna served up as the main course, her cup, ahem, runneth over.
After a brief video/dance interlude, the stage was transformed into an auto body shop, complete with mountains of tires and a bevy of chiseled good-looking grease monkeys eager to check under Madonna’s hood. The number, “Body Shop,” had a breezy, feel-good vibe, especially compared to the very dark but captivating opening sequence.
Wearing a jewel-encrusted blazer and checkered shirt that looked like it was stolen out of Paula Abdul’s closet (circa 1988), Madonna continued the fun with a ukulele-strummed “True Blue,” which turned into a playful singalong. Then the stage was transformed, once again, into a pulsating dance club with “Deeper and Deeper.”
On the bile-spewing heartbreaker “HeartBreakCity,” Madonna poured her guts out while going up and down a spiral staircase, all the time in hot pursuit by the man who broke her heart. While the song was strong enough on its own, Madonna belted out a snippet from “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” which was greeted with thunderous applause. In the end, Madonna gave the abusive suitor his just deserts by pushing him off the top of the stairs and watching free-fall to a hidden mattress down below. At least I hope there was a hidden mattress down below.
Madonna’s biggest triumph of the evening was when she delivered one of her most indelible signature hits, “Like A Virgin,” and celebrated – rather than distance herself from – her past. Doing classic dance moves that harked back to her early “Boy Toy” days, Madonna commanded the stage with her playful body language and smirking stage humping. Performing without any dancers or theatrical fanfare, Madonna proved once again that all she needs to sell a song is herself.
Arguably the concert’s best musical vignette was the Spanish-tinged segment, which culminated with “La Isla Bonita” and featured a few surprises.
After Madonna played matador to red-horned, bare-chested minotaurs on “Living For Love,” “La Isla Bonita” transformed the Garden into an all-out fiesta, complete with flamenco guitars and sexy Latino dance couples. The only thing missing was Antonio Banderas, Madonna’s co-star in “Evita.”
A Latin-tinged “Dress You Up” contained snippets of “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star” before erupting into an infectious conga line on the catwalk, and an acoustic version of “Who’s That Girl” hinted that there was more soul-searching in the song than the original pop hit ever indicated.
Going into the homestretch, Madonna made the people come together with “Music,” one of the evening’s most colorful and ambitious stage outing. Madonna, wearing a sparkly flapper dress, was cast as a sultry jazz singer in a speakeasy nightclub. This lively segment also included Madonna dancing on the tables, a barroom brawl over Madge’s honor and a Josephine Baker look-alike who danced topless.
Even better, “Material Girl” was deliciously over the top with Madonna being pursued by elegant gentlemen wearing top hats, tuxes and tails; she unmercifully sent them tumbling down, one by one, off a platform angled at 45 degrees. She completed the number with a mock walk down the aisle, complete with wedding veil and bridal bouquet and a joke about the three rings of marriage (engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering – get it?).
Not only did she sing “La Vie en Rose” with little accompaniment atop a circular riser, Madonna dedicated the song to her son David, who turned 10 that night, making it the first time in history that anyone dedicated an Edith Piaf song to a 10-year-old on his birthday.
Wearing a red top hat and sleeveless blue jacket with white stars and draped with the American flag, Madonna ended the evening with the celebratory and (unbeknownst to me, until Saturday night) patriotic “Holiday,” a perfect number to end an impeccable pop concert.
By Craig S. Semon
Telegram & Gazette Staff