The pop music icon delivered a potent three-hour spectacle Wednesday night at the Chicago Theatre where she kicked off the first of seven shows at the venue.
There will be a lot of exhausted people in Chicago over the next week and a half, particularly after attending one of Madonna’s shows during her mini-residency at the Chicago Theatre, which, after Wednesday night’s kickoff affair, boasts six more shows over the next 10 days.
With a 10:45 p.m. start time, and topping nearly three hours, the late-night, cell-phone-free spectacle will no doubt garner the ire of some attendees, but the greater takeaway is just how mentally exhausted the performer leaves her fans after the multi-faceted affair, making the show a worthwhile time investment at any start time.
In support of her new album, “Madame X,” released in June on Interscope Records, the show — like the record — extrapolates the many personas of one of the most polarizing figures in music history through well-rehearsed theatrical bits that blur the lines of performance art. Madonna as an artist, a mother, a global citizen, a New Yorker, a Midwesterner, a feminist, a provocateur, a human — all shine through in very distinct and connected ways under the guise of a secret agent looking to find her true identity.
The album/tour title is the moniker originally given to Madonna by dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, with whom she studied in her late teens. But while Madame X is a nod to the singer’s origin story — with a very concerted effort to bring the concert back to an intimate theater setting much like her very first tour — it’s also indicative of how Madonna is pushing the envelope forward with a conscientiousness demanded in the new world order.
“Artists are here to disrupt the peace” was the proclaimed theme of the night. Taken from a quote from the great American writer-playwright-activist James Baldwin, the words were scrawled across a massive sheer curtain, spelled out one letter at a time, as the pounding of every “typewriter” key stroke became a percussive heart beat introducing the opening number “God Control,” which begged for a new democracy. “Everybody’s hurt. What is important is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive,” the passage continued.
The words also hinted at Madonna’s decision to also ban cell phones throughout the tour. “I want nothing to be between us … be present and enjoy the world of Madame X,” she explained.
Madonna, who now lives in Lisbon, Portugal, gave fans a view into her personal world, talking of how she repressed her loneliness in a new country by venturing out into fado clubs and meeting people who would eventually shape her new record, including the late singer Celeste Rebordão Rodrigues whose 16-year-old grandson, Gaspar, was part of the instrumental ensemble. The two paired up for a sweet fado serenade sung in Portuguese; Madonna would also sing in Spanish throughout the show. In another act, Madonna delivered her new song “Batuka” with a history lesson, introducing her audience to the women carrying on the traditions of the Batuque, a music and dance genre native to the Republic of Cabo Verde.
Through panoramic projections, hi-def video and a brilliant use of light and silhouette to denote set changes, concertgoers were transported to the clubs of Lisbon for a trifecta of “La Isla Bonita,” “Sodade” (a Cesaria Evora cover) and “Medellin” and then to the desert of Marrakesh for rousing versions of “Come Alive” and “Future.” There were easily 25 collaborators who made the vision come to life, including her own children. Seven-year-old twins Stella and Estere were an adorable addition to the live ensemble, while oldest daughter Lourdes was projected on a giant screen in a slow-mo, black-and-white dance montage as Madonna delivered a tender version of “Frozen” that made the two virtually inseparable.
Though Madonna relied way too heavily on Auto-Tune, and her intimate between-act stage banter was incredibly bizarre and disjointed (swigging beer from strangers, selling Polaroid selfies to the highest bidder and making jokes about Trump’s small manhood), when she was on stage all eyes were glued to her and her backup squad, particularly for legacy songs “Vogue” and “Like A Prayer.”
The queen of choreography lived up to that title with evocative interpretations, even though a knee injury that delayed the beginning of the tour prevented her from fully participating. True to character, every song rendition had its share of innuendo, sexual or topical, and Madonna relied heavily on the latter in a good deal of hyper-political moments, using “Papa Don’t Preach” as a platform for pro-choice beliefs and padding “Express Yourself” and “Human Nature” with feminist credos. It was the final song “I Rise” that left a lasting impression as a video reel documenting the students of Parkland, the fight for marriage equality and the Flint water crisis gave way to a rainbow-colored flag as Madonna and her backup dancers marched through the audience with fists raised.
“I ask you to be freedom fighters, stand up for those that don’t have the voice or privileges we have. We won’t always be popular,” said Madonna, “but we have to disturb the peace.”
by Selena Fragassi / Chicago Sun-Times