Madonna did what she does best last week at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit: she used her splashy two-hour show for serious things like religion and politics – and lots of half-naked men.
It was, just like the name of her closing song on the MDNA Tour that culminated into an all-out dance party, a “Celebration” – because not only did the Bay City-born diva come home to Michigan on Nov. 8, making this her first stop since 2008’s Sticky & Sweet jaunt, she was still high from President Obama’s re-election a few days before. It was her feeling of being “ecstatically happy” over his win that roused loud applause…and boos.
“You can boo all you want,” she retorted, “but I’ve been to countries around the world where people can’t vote for their leaders.”
Madonna handled the uproar coolly, finally flat-out telling the crowd, “Don’t be haters.”
Haters gon’ hate: Critics, and even fans, have called her MDNA Tour – a spectacle with wowing production and age-defying dancing (how the hell is she 54?) – a desperate plea for attention and nothing more than shock-value without any real purpose. Detroit finally got to see what the fuss was over, and why Madonna is still the queen.
With big screens used to replicate a breathtakingly life-size temple, Madonna descended – at a fashionably diva-late 10:45 p.m. – from the ceiling in a confession booth to the sound of church bells, teasing the packed arena with just her silhouette. She was a “Girl Gone Wild,” the song she opened with from “MDNA,” her latest album, before becoming a gun-carrying mass murderer, the role she inhabited for a violent blood-splattered “Gang Bang.” Set in a motel, and remarkably choreographed, it had the awesomely gratuitous aimlessness of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
The transition into “Papa Don’t Preach,” performed with her sprawled on the ground, was an inventive reinterpretation of a classic that had her begging for mercy before she was carried off by a group of terrorists. It was dark and menacing, and uniquely bold and provocative: Who can say they’ve blasted their own audience with a machine gun? Was it too much? Not if you know Madonna.
Whatever motifs of sin and redemption were a part of the show’s first third were abandoned when she came out as a baton-twirling majorette for “Express Yourself,” featuring a flying marching band and updated ’60s propaganda that spotlighted queer love. To reclaim her status as Queen of Pop, the song was mashed up with Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” a song criticized by Madonna as “reductive.”
We all know how progressive Madonna is: She won’t even do her own songs the same. Even though there were just a few, the classics she did do – “Open Your Heart,” “Like a Virgin” and “Vogue” – were, as much as she abhors the word, reinventions. That’s also when she connected most with “fans.” Because she hasn’t had a legit hit in so long, and also because only 2005’s “Confessions on a Dance Floor” lived up to her greatness, those were the songs that shook the non-homos out of a coma. (The show obviously needed more gays, something I thought I’d never say about a Madonna concert.)
But there’s a reason why the gays were so enthralled: aside from the man skin onstage, Madonna acknowledged us loyal followers who’ve been through the wilderness with her in a way that seemed more endearing than ever. It became especially poignant when she remembered young gay lives lost to bullying – including Tyler Clementi – during a dramatic interlude.
It wasn’t long after, during the penultimate “Like a Prayer,” that the show reached a peak that no song before it quite achieved. With white lights signifying rebirth, and a full choir, it was a rousing performance that lifted everyone. And not just out of their seats (finally), but also to a spiritual place.
From the Vegas-type sets to her tireless energy, the show was like a prayer – and Madonna, for two hours, took us there.