Madonna sure knows how to stage an engaging and spectacular tribute to herself. Not just by hauling out the oldies — Madonna’s vision of herself insists that Madonna is always contemporary, so nearly half her two-hour set at an undersold Xcel Energy Center last night was drawn from her 2015 album, Rebel Heart. The star began her career by referencing glamorous women of the past, blurring the distinction between parody and homage. She continues that practice today, but now the only glamorous woman she references is herself.
The night began with robed dancers ominously brandishing long, crucifix-topped poles like battle pikes while the video for Iconic played, launching the weathered scowl and belligerent purr of MIke Tyson into the arena. (You can take this #RememberThe80s stuff too far.) Madonna then descended in a spiky metal cage, dressed in black and red, as she would be, in one outfit or another, for the rest of the evening, and a stylized melee of intricate choreography was pitched.
This led into Bitch I’m Madonna, a titular point better made when strapped on a black Flying V guitar and played rock star for Burning Up. Then she got dirty. Her religious-themed set pieces still feel both startling and obvious: Has Madonna really never before dressed her dancers in skimpy nun outfits and joined them in grinding and writhing on crucifixes as stripper poles? (She has now.)
As Holy Water (about how she tastes when she’s wet) morphed into Vogue, her dancers froze into various Last Supper tableaux. After all these years, her need to mine porny sacrilege from a Catholic upbringing can feel like a shtick (if not a tic), but it’s hard not to admire her commitment. After all, even her little purple buddy in Chanhassen has turned prudish with age.
She also offered some nice revisions of her back catalog. There was a ukulele version of True Blue and a stripped-down, sort of bhangra-flavored Like A Virgin, for which she also stripped down, as well as humping the stage. Dress You Up included teasing bits of Lucky Star and Into The Groove. And if Who’s That Girl? probably wasn’t anyone’s first choice for an acoustic singalong, it was a nice moment.
When she left the stage to change outfits (and catch her breath), the terrific dance numbers upstaged the blaring video interludes. There was an elaborate routine with a long white scarf buffeted about by electric fans, followed by another dancer plummeting down a raked stage, the surface of which lit up with simulated explosions as he scaled back to the top. Four partners simulated sex to S.E.X. on not-quite-horizontal beds. And you know that Cirque du Soleil trick of acrobats on bend poles that was adapted for Mad Max: Fury Road this summer? We got that too.
It was essentially a three-act show. First came the sexually blasphemous segment. Later, Madonna remerged in an ornate cape that trailed far behind her, which she dropped to reveal a foxy, snug matador outfit, for a Latin-tinged stretch of material. Finally, beginning with a torchy version of Music that turned into a full-on dance number, there was a 1920s section, complete with spangly flapper outfit.
Madonna’s interactions with the crowd became more natural as the night went on. After Body Shop, (staged in an auto mechanic’s garage, which allowed Madonna to essentially embody both Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley in the “Uptown Girl” video), she awkwardly declared “I come from the Midwest” and teased the crowd for being too quiet with, “Have you had too many beers? Or not enough beers?” It was like watching a presidential candidate bowl a gutter ball while courting potential voters.
But later she grew more conversational and personal, asking fans where they came from, wondering how to refer to us (St. Paul? Minneapolis? Twin Cities? Minnesota? Admittedly, it is tricky) and teasing a Chicago fan for missing her show in his hometown (“You had strep throat? What were you putting in your mouth?”) She later pulled out her ukulele again and dedicated La Vie En Rose to Prince (whom she later visited at Paisley Park). All the spectacle was, well, spectacular. But at such moments, she suggested the one thing that might improve Madonna’s tribute to herself: more Madonna.
Video interlude: Messiah
Video interlude: S.E.X.
Video interlude: Illuminati