January 24, 2024

Madonna played Madison Square Garden (Night 2)

After postponing her shows after a near-death experience over the summer, Madonna's long-awaited Celebration Tour finally came to New York's Madison Square Garden and felt like a homecoming for the ages.

For four decades, Madonna has been a force of nature in pop culture, changing the rules of the game with almost every step of her career. From her punk spirited early days in New York, her world-conquering albums of the '80s where she became one of the biggest stars on the planet, her foray into acting and more boundary-pushing styles of the '90s, and her reign as the classic queen of pop in the new millennium. Along the way, and perhaps most recently, she's faced backlash over how a pop star should act and, in particular, look, but as she said on stage, "the craziest thing I've ever done is stick around" and even after a near-fatal stint this past summer, Madonna looks and feels like she's in her prime. Taking the stage around 9:30 and going to just past midnight, she took us through her famed career from humble beginnings of arriving in NYC with only $35 in her pocket through her rise to global superstar. Bob the Drag Queen served (and I mean served) as the emcee for the evening, narrating and acting out various scenes on stage that helped make this more than just a concert, but an elaborate production as well. The only appropriate way to celebrate the Queen of Pop. Jumping right in to some of her earliest hits, she led a crew and danced through timeless hits like "Everybody" and "Into The Groove" which had people up and dancing along with her before she picked up a guitar to rock through "Burning Up" and "I Love New York" as tributes to her days of being in a band and living in an abandoned synagogue out in Queens. She then regrouped with her dancers for a sensational "Open Your Heart" before a triumphant "Holiday" which felt like the true start of the celebration aspect as her crew of dancers basked in her glow as a revolving stage put them on display for all to see. Her stage set up was, well, immaculate. Runways extended out into the crowd and huge screens vaulted from the ceiling for dazzling displays of old New York and other images that became integral parts of the show. The main stage was comprised of a giant circular rotating disc that shifted up and down, giving new depths and at times heights as well. As the arena darkened, candles began to light the stage and dark, gothic imagery took over the set before she launched into an industrial strength version of "Like a Prayer" that incorporated elements of Sam Smith's recent smash "Unholy," proving that she was here first and influenced countless other acts, but still used her spotlight to shine some praise on others. As masked, chiseled, bare chested men adorned her, it was a highlight of the night and the rather brutal beats made it one of the most punishing and fierce moments as well. Reappearing in silken boxing gear, she transformed the stage once again into a fighter's theme for a steaming rendition of "Erotica" as she exposed her new classic blonde wig that had fans losing their minds over the timeless throwback. This all led into "Hung Up," without question the best song in recent memory that she's dropped and the crowd once again lit-up when she hit the dance mode. Obviously the Abba sample adds to the glory, but it was an electric rendition of the song that again had the building shaking. For the next act, Bob reemerged to introduce the crowd to ball culture as Madge led us through an astounding version of "Vogue" that could've been the biggest sensation of the night. Interpolating elements of Beyoncé's "Break My Soul," she once again took the time to remind everyone that Madonna came first, influenced the rest, and helped bring ball culture and voguing out of the clubs and into mass-culture. It was an incredible spectacle that felt like a celebration beyond the artist and just a real moment as her dancers strutted down the runway with Madonna throwing up perfect 10s as the judge. It was rapturous and something I'll be thinking about for a long time to come. "Die Another Day" was another recent track that performed better than expected, but launching into the countrified "Don't Tell Me" once again had Madonna putting her dancing skills to the test and proving that she still does have it and I was reminded that I knew way more of this song than I would've guessed. Earlier in the night, she had floor to ceiling headshots of many who lost their lives to AIDS, something that clearly had an impact on Madge and so many in the crowd, but as she paused during this point in the show, she announced that there were nurses in the crowd whom she wanted to thank. This led to a poignant and tear-jerking monologue about living in NYC in the 80s as the AIDS crisis ravaged the city like a brushfire, taking the lives of so many brilliant, talented, and kind souls long before they deserved to die. Her voice cracked and it was clear that she was getting choked up too as she thought about all of those in her life that she's lost along the way as well. Tributes to Keith Haring and Basquiat were evident throughout the show as well. It was a touching and gut-wrenching moment that left me in tears as she sweetly went into an acoustic version of "Express Yourself" followed by "La Isla Bonita" and a brief clip of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" as she wore a Pride flag like a cape with the words "no fear" emblazoned on the video screens. Returning yet again, she climbed into a massive box that levitated over the crowd as she dished out a euphoric and mind-bending "Ray of Light," another massive hit that took over the crowd and had people losing their minds as they danced harder than any other point in the evening. There was a tribute to Michael Jackson and a mashup of "Billie Jean" and "Like a Virgin" that played, again highlighting her reign in the '80s when the two were as big as pop stars get and another humbling reminder of how she's outlasted all of her peers over time. There can be some unworthy hate spewed at Madonna these days and too many times to count of people saying she's too old and had too much done to her face, but when your legacy is this incredible, this outstanding, and this beyond anyone else in existence, there's nothing to be said other than esteemed praise. There's only one and there will never be another Madonna and this tour proves we're just lucky to be alive at the same time and witness her in all of her acclaimed glory.

Set list:

01 "Nothing Really Matters"
02 "Everybody"
03 "Into the Groove"
04 "Burning Up / I Love New York"
05 "Open Your Heart"
06 "Holiday"
07 "Live to Tell"
08 "Like a Prayer"
09 "Erotica"
10 "Justify My Love"
11 "Hung Up"
12 "Bad Girl"
13 "Vogue"
14 "Human Nature"
15 "Crazy for You"
16 "Die Another Day"
17 "Don't Tell Me"
18 "Mother and Father"
19 "Express Yourself" (acoustic)
20 "La Isla Bonita"
21 "Don't Cry for Me Argentina"
22 "Bedtime Story"
23 "Ray of Light"
24 "Rain"
25 "Bitch I'm Madonna"
26 "Celebration"

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