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San Francisco gets into the groove with Madonna

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Madonna performs her Madame X Tour at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. Photo by Michael Costa

Walking into Madame X’s world is like taking a pill and having a dream.  

Madonna sets the stage to bring her audience a show that is both electrifying, magical and filled with various caricatures.  Only the ever evolving queen of pop, Madonna, can be both elusive and elusive at the same time (if that is even possible).

The global superstar, who has been known to sell out large arenas around the world, has embarked on a world tour and her venues are small theatres.  The artist, who has been making hits since the early ‘80s, is now supporting her 14th studio album, Madame X. The global superstar has been making hits for almost four decades, and traded in large concert arenas for a more intimate spaces and time with her fans and the venues are selling out. 

The Like a Virgin singer, who first rolled herself across the stage of the MTV Music Awards and into the hearts of millions of fans, is showing no sign of slowing down.  Her moves are more impressive than ever and the energy level is off the roof. The caliber of her voice feels even stronger and more controlled than the days of Material Girl, Ray of Light, Erotica and Evita (well, you get the picture).

Living in Portugal for the past few years, the pop star, who is a full time mother with six children, traded in her fortune and fame, as well as  her New York penthouse apartment, for Lisbon to become a soccer mom. During her stay in Lisbon, she was formally introduced to fado music. Fado music began to resonate with the artist and the first song written for the album, “The Killers are Partying,”  but it wasn’t the first single to be released.  

According to some of the interviews by Madonna, there was no intention to create new music.  The bored icon expressed to the audience that she felt she had no friends in Lisbon, and began wandering the streets and checking out the club scene just like she did in her New York days at age 17.

The diva has been promoting her latest album release since April 2019, but not through radio plays, which mostly have censored the artist due to her age (which I will not mention). The first single, Medellin, a collaboration with Columbian superstar Maluma, has been all over Instagram, Twitter and social media, but not heard on radio or played on TV.    The album was first released in June of this year and went straight to number one, but it’s not selling as many records as previous albums have in the past.  

 For her fans, who are primarily products of the ‘80s or children born from them, this intimate look into the songstress’s new show gives the audience a raw look into her as a performance artist genius.  Although she is doing theaters, don’t expect the energy to lack that of her previous concerts. Mademe X does expect you to get on your feet and get into the groove at all times and if you don’t, then you just might get a good tongue lashing.  She even expresses herself throughout the concert to the audience, that this is her house and the rules are her rules.  

“When I talk, you don’t talk,” commands the singer! 

Madonna’s ability to evolve is even more evident than ever before in this show, which I consider a cross between Hamilton, Book of Mormons and David Copperfield.  Basically it’s an epic journey through politics, religion and magic. Don’t expect all the sex and crosses from previous concerts like Blonde Ambition and The Confessesions Tour.  

She has traded all that in for more of a broadway themed extravaganza that gives the audience a peek into the Madonna that we all love, throwing F-bomb after F-bomb and taking a swig from an audience members beer.  She does personify her raunchier self (to be expected) at times and if you are a lucky star is on your side and you have anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 cash on hand, you can bid for her selfie Polaroid that is auctioned off at every concert.  The show in San Francisco brought in $10,000, and the money is going to her charity in Malawi.

Ticket stubs from the November 22, 2019 concert at the
Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco. Photo by Michael Costa

The Madonna of yesteryear is gone.  Long live Mademe X, who is many things to many people; an equestrian, a cha cha instructor, a secret agent, actress, activist, and a certified hit maker.  Madonna, who is now the biggest selling female of all time, takes her performance artistry very seriously, to the point of perfection.  

In fact, a few of her shows have been rescheduled and some even cancelled, in order to meet the standards of the icon.  As per the queen herself, cell phones are not allowed in the theatre and must be locked in a sleeve provided by the venue.  

The two hour and twenty minute concert is as elusive as time itself.   Although, the pop star doesn’t require an opening act on her ticket, the audience was serenaded by a quartet of musicians playing some of her classic songs like Secret and Like A Virgin, in true fado style for about a half hour.  In Madonna fashion, the concerts rarely start on time and don’t start until eleven o’clock at night or later and in her eyes, a queen is never late.

Once the red curtains goes up, the action and sounds all come alive and it almost feels like a sensory overload and, in fact, it is.  Madonna has been fortunate enough over the years to be in control of her artistic craft. She references herself as doing all of this for the sake of Art, over and over again, but it seems more like a self reflection of the present mood of the world.    Get ready to be blown away as the show opens with “God Control,” a controversial song about gun control. Words by James Baldwin, “Art is here to prove that safety is an illusion,” are splattered red on a white screen like gunshots, while Madonna’s‘ dark silhouette types on a vintage typewriter.  And, with that said, the music and political theatrics begin.  

Madonna’s name in lights. Photo by Michael Costa

The set list consists of 22 songs that are musically reenacted with Madonna and a cast of dancers, performance artists, and string and percussion musicians, all performing within five acts, throughout the night.   Madame X is the queen’s most powerful album in years. The diversity of the music and influence from fado clubs of her days in Lisbon is very evident in the album.   

This album has become her ninth number one album on the Billboard charts and  currently she has 49 number one singles on the dance charts. Investigating the underground gay clubs in the eastside of New York City, she began her career in 1983 with her first number one song,, “Holiday,” from her self titled debut album, to her recent collaboration with Swae Lee on the single, “Crave,” from her current album.  

Don’t expect Madge to venture too far back into the vault of her music catalog as she is a business person on the road promoting her current album.  During the show you will hear at least 12 songs from Madame X album and eight of her biggest hits re-invented. She performs “Express Yourself,” in acapella and takes on “Human Nature,” while dancing her way into a circular tube, where she contorts herself upside down and sings to the audience, “Express yourself don’t repress yourself.”  She belts out hits like, “Papa Don’t Preach,” where she speaks to the audience about women having the right to make choices over their own body.  

Oh yeah, and the politics continue from there with “American Life,” as she strums her red guitar in front of a backdrop with the words, “Protect Me.” and a visual of the nuclear button underneath.  “I’m just living out the Americn dream and I just realized that nothing is what it seems.” Madonna doesn’t point fingers at any particular political leader but stresses to the crowd the importance to waking up to what is happening currently in the world around us.

The concert isn’t really all about politics or visuals.  It really becomes immersed into this raw look into the human side of Madonna that keeps you glued to her.  Yes, you want her to sing all her big hits, but instead she trades it all in to be her true authentic musical artistic self.  The diva had many impressive moments from singing atop a piano, then off to more dancing with a cast of Madame X clones wearing tan trench coats, dark sunglasses and her infamous blonde locks to singing her own tunes in the Portuguese tongue in a scene straight out of the fado club district in Portugal.  

Several moments that stood out the most from the others were her performances of, “Batuka,” a song influenced by the musical genre from the origins of slave trade in West Africa; “Frozen,” which featured her daughter Lourdes Leon enlarged on a see through screen doing an interpreted dance and the choir, while her mother sang, “You only see what your eyes want to see;” and playing the piano to the song, “Future.”  And, of course, performing the iconic single, “Like a Prayer,” with visuals from her controversial video of burning crosses in the background that sent her to the top of the pop charts back in 1989.

But, in grand Madonna style, the ending song, “I Rise,” which starts from a passage by Emma Gonzalez’ speech at the March of Our Lives rally in Washington, “Us kids don’t know what we’re talking about.  That we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call B.S,” had the entire audience on their feet and singing the powerful anthem in unison.  

Leaving Madonna’s Madame X tour, it felt like the singer herself had grabbed you by the collar and slapped you across the face a few times.  The message she is delivering is for the world to acknowledge that we have to, “Wake-Up” and be present to what is happening in the world. James Baldwin, an American Novelist, playwright and activist wrote, “Artists are here to disturb the peace.” and that is exactly what Madonna has been doing throughout her entire career.

1 COMMENT

  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Michael’s articles. He writes from his heart and you feel what he writes. With this current article, I felt as if I was at the concert with him! I also learned a great deal about Madonna’s journey; truly an amazing artist! Looking forward to his next article!

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