Well, she’s still got it. Not just the musical chops, but the ability to surprise. Madonna’s show at the 3,000-capacity Brooklyn Academy of Music, which comes to London for 15 nights in January, is two hours of intimate risk-taking, rapturously performed.
A recurring theme was a quote from James Baldwin that “artists should disturb”, the words punched on to a screen by a woman at a typewriter. Madonna has always liked to see herself as an agitator, but that often gets lost in bigger shows. Here the 61-year-old could communicate directly with a vocal audience, who were all the more engaged for being parted from their phones, which were sealed in special pouches at the door.
A bonkers blend of physical theatre, political sermon, club night and royal audience, the show criss-crossed between pop, disco, ballet strings, Portuguese fado and drumming from Cape Verde. The Portuguese influence comes from Madonna’s new home in Lisbon, where she moved to support her son David, a footballer with one of Benfica’s youth teams. He wasn’t here, but Madonna’s six-year-old twins, Estere and Stelle, danced ebulliently in feather boas, and her eldest daughter, Lourdes, 22, writhed in a giant-sized video cleverly projected over her tiny mother during her performance of Frozen.
Madonna’s often criticised voice was characterful and versatile; authentically Latin on Extreme Occident, imperiously diva-like on Vogue. Dressed at first in sparkly tricorn hat, she looked obscenely fit, treating us to a handstand like a playground show-off.
You wonder if she had been inspired by Kate Bush’s London residency in 2014, the closest example of a big star choosing conceptual chutzpah and audience communion over bums on seats. Here we had nuns playing violins, a gospel choir on a transcendent Like a Prayer and a Portuguese bar filled with hot young things.
Most of the songs were from Madame X, Madonna’s recent album and most ambitious in years. She described the alter ego of the title as a secret agent, professor, nun and whore (“I see you agree with that one,” she said, with a giggle as the audience hollered). In playful mood, she took a sip from a fan’s beer, sold a Polaroid selfie for $1,000 and asked: “What do you call a man with a small penis? Did someone say Donald Trump?”
The political debate got more earnest, Madonna projecting Me Too vulnerability as trench-coated journalists poked a camera up her skirt and mock-jammed her microphone down her throat. Later she addressed abortion rights by adapting a line from Papa Don’t Preach: “Are you OK if I decide not to keep my baby?” Yet, fabulously, she still reserves the right to make such pronouncements while dressed in purple hotpants.
5 out of 5 stars
by Ed Potton / The Times