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.
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.
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.
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.