Madonna's 'Celebration' tour rocks the Chase Center

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Thursday February 29, 2024
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Madonna in her 'Celebration' concert tour (photo: Getty Images Kevin Mazur for LiveNation)
Madonna in her 'Celebration' concert tour (photo: Getty Images Kevin Mazur for LiveNation)

"The most controversial thing I've done is to stick around," says Madonna in a recorded segment from the dizzying array of montages that document her 40-year career in her Celebration Tour, which dazzled audiences at a sold-out Chase Center concert on February 26 and at a second show on the 27th.

The epic multimedia extravaganza of music, dance, pyrotechnics and projections spans Madonna's career from her early days in New York City through her multiple recreated identities and music styles.

Over the more than two-hour concert, fans (many of them LGBT, of course) were treated to remixed beefed-up versions of her songs, as well as some stripped-down acoustic versions that reimagined the original intent.

Madonna floats in a cube in her 'Celebration' concert tour (photo: Getty Images Kevin Mazur for LiveNation)  

Kicking off only an hour late, MC Bob the Drag Queen entered from the main floor back entrance, where he affectionately clocked a few gay couples, then strutted through the crowd and on stage in an 18th-century gown that tipped a wig to Madonna's sensational Marie Antoinette-themed performance of "Vogue" at the MTV Awards (originally choreographed and directed by Vincent Paterson, who also directed her Blonde Ambition tour back in the 1990s).

Madonna herself, triumphant at 65, having endured serious health problems and delayed shows, appeared alone in a dark robe atop the upstage circular set piece, setting off the first of her 30-song set with "Nothing Really Matters."

It was only the first section of a seven-act epic concert, the first delving back to her early New York City rise to fame. "Everybody," "Into the Groove," "Causing a Commotion," and "Open Your Heart" featured the 14 fabulous dancers in a variety of retro-glam costumes designed by Yohannes and Rita Melssen.

After taking a solo turn on a downstage platform, part of the extensive array of runways, Madonna strummed an electric guitar and cranked out a CBGBs punk version of "Burning Up" as '80s graphics flashed on the screens. A wry skit followed, where Bob the Drag Queen played a snobby doorman.

The 'Live to Tell' AIDS memorial in Madonna's 'Celebration' concert tour (photo: Cornelius Washington)  

While the subsequent "Holiday" began with buoyant nightclub joy, replete with a giant disco ball, toward the end a few dancers collapsed to the stage floor, signaling the somber second act.

As Madonna sang "Live to Tell," the five two-way projection screen displays, directed by Sasha Kasiuha, showed headshots of prominent people who died of AIDS, from Keith Haring to Sylvester and designer Halston. Then they multiplied to dozens, then hundreds of faces.

The dark stage drama continued as Madonna and her cocreators (Lewis James and Jamie King) shifted to a BDSM-styled "Like a Prayer," as shirtless dancers in hoods hung from slots in the circling stage with bright crucifixes. The intense choreography's directors include several talents: Travis Payne and Megan Lawson, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, and Nicolas Huchard.

From the first thumping beats and black-and-white projected footage of Act III, fans knew that the next song, "Erotica" would pack a wallop. What wasn't expected was a sporty take on it with hunky dancers sparring between LED-shaped boxing rings.

A 'Vogue' dancer and judge Madonna (photo: Getty Images Kevin Mazur for LiveNation)  

Always a proponent of sexy bisexual erotic imagery in her stage acts, Madonna continued through with "Justify My Love," the zesty "Hung Up," (yes, shirtless male and female dancers) and a brief excerpt of the Peggy Lee hit, "Fever." Overhead camera work showed an oscillating orgy of nearly nude dancers spreading out into a Busby Berkeley-esque kaleidoscope.

And in a stirring softer segue to "Bad Girl," Madonna's daughter Mercy accompanied her on a piano.

Give good face
The show's many roving camera operators (part of the 175-member crew) really got to shine in Act IV's extended "Vogue" number. Along with a montage of historic LGBT protests and people, Bob the Drag Queen channeled Big Freedia as he rattled off compliments and demands to the dancers, who death-dropped their way along the downstage ramp.

Guest performers included Madonna's 11-year-old daughter Estere, who mopped the floor with other competitors. The seated guest judge of the night with Madonna was "RuPaul's Drag Race" star Trinity the Tuck, who seemed a bit gob-smacked to be sharing a stage with Madonna. Who wouldn't?

After getting "arrested" through "Human Nature," Madonna reappeared in a silver bodysuit for "Crazy for You."

Madonna's 'Like a Prayer' in her 'Celebration' concert tour (photo: Getty Images Kevin Mazur for LiveNation)  

Act V was on fire, literally. As the upstage tiered circle's pyrotechnics rivaled a Wagner opera, a recorded Madonna recited a biblical-styled monologue. Occult images flew by and the dancers tumbled about in post-apocalyptic garb.

The drama continued in "Die Another Day" (her commissioned Bond film theme song), then turned upbeat country for "Don't Tell Me" with cowboy hats and chaps-clad dancers.

"Mother and Father" included a tribute to Madonna's own mom, followed by a brief unrehearsed speech (changed with each city) in which she told us about a family road trip from Michigan to San Francisco where she only got a glimpse from the family car to peer at "the girls with flowers in their hair and the men with long hair."

After referencing the ongoing wars overseas, Madonna asked the audience to light up their phones "with love" as she crooned a plaintive solo guitar version of "I Will Survive," a Gloria Gaynor cover.

The pace picked for her "La Isla Bonita" and an excerpt of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from the musical "Evita," the film adaptation in which she starred. Madonna was then draped in the new Pride flag as she exited.

Multiple Madonna styles in the 'Celebration' concert tour (photo: Cornelius Washington)  

Ray out
Act VI opened with a dizzying montage of Madonna media clips, news headlines, concert footage and profound quotes, into "Bedtime Story," which she sang atop a multi-animated cube (and more clever overhead camera shots). For the fervent "Ray of Light" she again rode the floating cubicle, thankfully safely harnessed. It should be mentioned that she's also singing quite well, albeit in a deeper mezzo voice, as heard in the subsequent calmer "Rain."

Unlike the earlier short homage to Prince, the seventh and final act's Michael Jackson homage, a mashup of "Billie Jean" and "Like a Virgin" with a shadow dancing duet, felt out of place, but understandable since they were friends.

The evening closed with a vibrant spin on "Bitch I'm Madonna" and "Celebration" with the dancers dressed in a living history of Madonna's multiple looks, from Material Girl to Evita, with Nicki Minaj on-screen offering a quick rap tribute.

As fans left the Chase Center to pose in front of illuminated billboards and buy up merchandise before packing aboard the T line, ebullient conversations continued as we tried to savor what was truly a fantastic night.

Madonna's Celebration Tour continues in Las Vegas (March 1 & 2), Los Angeles (March 4-11) and other North American cities through April 26.

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