Previous Next 

Jan 29 2024
Madonna's CELEBRATION TOUR: All About Thy Mother Comments (0)
Madonna Matthew Rettenmund Do Not Copy Licensable from Splash News IMG_0192 copy(All images by and © Matthew Rettenmund)

Monday's third and final Celebration Tour appearance by Madonna at Madison Square Garden in NYC was a mood!

I wasn't going to go, then got the urge ... only to find it was almost totally sold out. Like, for real. I let a floor seat slip away due to the expense, saw some nice lower bowl but always like to be close and finally wound up lucking into buying my poor friend's ticket when he got sick.

Price madonna splash news do not copy stuart IMG_0012 copyStuart Price is among the show's openers in North America, and unlike the other DJs, he played Madonna jams!

It was fun hitting up the merch stand (I replaced my Who's That Girl? satin jacket with a better size for me, so if anyone wants that in size L, tell me and I'll sell it off-eBay) and chatting with fellow longtime fans, strategizing, reminiscing and anticipating.

Demi Moore Madonna by Matthew Rettenmund Do Not Copy Licensable from Splash.JPGDemi & Madonna were once attached to star in a female buddy cop movie, Leda & Swan. Now, Demi is on Feud: Capote vs. The Swans. Coincidence? Yes.

Madonna by matthew rettenmund do not copy splash licenses thisInside, Uma Thurman was in the Sound Factory pit, and the celebrity section at the end of the main catwalk boasted Demi Moore, Kelly Ripa & Mark Consuelos, Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Jessica Seinfeld, Madonna's first stylist Maripol with Joey Arias, Luigi & Iango and her famed backup singers Donna De Lory and Niki Haris.

There had been some question as to whether Donna and Niki might join Madonna onstage, but while it didn't happen, they were given some love by the fans, were front-row and could be seen singing along. (That some have turned this into a major diss and reason to feed negative stories to The New York Post is ... unhinged. Can't we have a world were Donna and Niki are great, it would've been sweet to see Madonna bring them onstage or to have said hello from the stage, but where Madonna isn't a bad person for not doing so? The drama.)

My seat was pretty perfect, with a great view of everything. I even had a decent side-view of her later spot at the mic at the end of the main catwalk, instead of getting her back, as I had at every other show.

The show is a miracle, and as Madonna would remind us in one of her speeches, so is the fact that Madonna is with us to perform it. She nearly died last year of a bacterial infection, and she choked back sobs as she called out a special guest — Maria, the nurse who came home with her after she regained consciousness following an induced coma. The Queen of Pop self-IDed as a crybaby, thanking Maria for her angelic good work, referring to her acting like a mother to her. Of course, Madonna's mom died when she was 5, and this speech was paired with a heartfelt performance of her American Life track “Mother & Father,” on which she duets with her 18-year-old son David.

She was on fire the whole show, I thought, and the crowd ate it up, from her ethereal “Nothing Really Matters” to her bonkers “Bitch I'm Madonna” conclusion, and all across her catalogue in-between.

Madonna's Celebration is not just a narcissistic celebration of Madonna's achievements (which double as life markers for many of us ... I remember where I was when “Like a Prayer” hit radio, I know who I was in love with when Ray of Light hit Tower Records), but a clarion call for all of us to celebrate life itself, the ridiculous and the profound.

Madonna celebration splash news license matthew rettenmund IMG_0190 2 copyBack in business

Nothing really matters in the end, so you might as well lead with love. And I loved this show. All six times I saw it.

I've been too busy to go into the tour in-depth and felt like it had been covered by everyone in Europe first, but now that I have so many shows under my belt, some more thoughts about last night and about the show in general:

Michael Jackson's music and Madonna's disembodied voice from “Deeper and Deeper” — “I'm gonna be there!” — herald her arrival, but not before MVP emcee Bob the Drag Queen wades through the sea of humanity in a replica of his boss's 1990 “Vogue” MTV Video Music Awards gown. Hype person Bob's banter and a segment in which he reminds us of Madonna's many triumphs whets our appetite further, and extends the promise that he'll reappear throughout the show.

Madonna by Matthew Rettenmund Do Not Copy Licensable from SplashFlipping from metaphysical attraction to impish in NYC on 1/29

Madonna celebration splash *IMG_0276 copy

Madonna celebration tour philly boyculture splash news do not copy*IMG_0237 copyA visitation in Philly from 1/25/24

Then, Madonna emerges.

“Nothing Really Matters” is a surprising and perfect opener. Rather than something bombastic, it strikes the right chord with its mystical sense of wonder, cut with its dance-floor bona fides. It gives Madonna an entrance that is dazzling, casting her as both guru and shiny Liberty Head quarter as she whirls around slowly on a raised stage that echoes her 1984 MTV Video Music Awards cake-stage for “Like a Virgin.” I remember worrying this would be a lackluster opener, but it's majestic.

Madonna celebration splash news matthew rettenmund IMG_0179 copy

Madonna celebration matthew rettenmund splash IMG_0805Having a (disco) ball on night 2 at MSG

Next, looking like a kid, she gamely skips through her first hit of any kind, “Everybody,” and through arguably her best single, “Into the Groove,” two songs that 20 years ago might have seemed impossible dreams for a current Madonna set list. She has great verve with her dancing here, one of the few times during the night when she cuts loose — a clear concession to her recovery over the past year, and really since her hip-replacement surgery of several years ago.

Madonna-celebration matthew rettenmund contact splash news IMG_0762 copyI want your love, I want — you the right way ...

It's remarkable to see her fancy footwork, one of many testaments to her resilience in this show.

Madonna splash news license only no copying IMG_0313splash copyMadonna's latest stage family — she keeps it together.

For “Burning Up” (and “I Love New York,” for Brooklyn and New York shows), Madonna is rocking out on a guitar, conjuring CBGB grit and infusing it with Maripol glamour. During this part of the show, she give her first speech, sometimes about her gratitude, sometimes about never forgetting where you came from (she firmly feels she was first herself in NYC, even if she hails from Michigan) and sometimes going on at length about how badly she still hopes she is giving the best show possible. It's hard to believe it, but she told us again last night that she hasn't stopped experiencing butterflies, even though she's performed at MSG dozens of times, and has hit stages all over the globe.

Madonna do not copy Matthew Rettenmund licensable from splash IMG_0804 copyMadonna referenced “Little Star” by urging us to never forget where we come from. 

She also said she didn't know if it would be her last MSG performance, but promised to work as if it were her first — or her last.

She always swigs from a mock beer bottle (it's water) at this point, baptizes the faithful with it and then tosses it to a lucky pit dweller (it's plastic).

Celebration tour madonna by matthew rettenmund splash only IMG_0537 copyA copper?!

Next is a great segue into “Open Your Heart.” She's still Ginger Rogers to a chair's Fred Astaire all these years later, but her outstanding dancers are also actively involved, and a portable spotlight deserves a spot on the marquee for creating a makeshift glitzy aura.

“Holiday” is pure joy, filling the stage with her troupe and with a massive disco ball. I think it is by now widely accepted that a highlight of the show comes after this chirpy hit winds down and her dancers slow, dramatically falling to represent how AIDS swept through the clubs before it threatened to consume the city and the world. It is a genuinely distressing moment, and seems clear that Madonna is channeling the confusion, fear and sadness she felt in the early '80s, in real time.

Madonna martin burgoyne celebration boyculture licensable at splash newsIMG_1347 copyI wonder if, as he lay dying, Martin could have suspected he'd still be so fondly remembered.

With “Live to Tell,” executed with Madonna in a box that drones over the stage while gigantic projections of the faces of some of those lost to AIDS are rendered in stark portraiture all around, I think Madonna has crafted one of her all-time great set pieces. She sounds gorgeous on her best ballad, and to see that tiny figure reaching toward the visages of close friends like Keith Haring and Martin Burgoyne and Christopher Flynn is deeply moving. When she cries, there's no question the tears are real, any more than there is any question that your own tears are real. This is what an icon is, and why an icon is important; in these moments, Madonna is a vessel, our vessel, and gives herself over so that anyone viewing her performance — in person, on social media — will collectively remember those lost to AIDS.

Madonna by matthew rettenmund for splash news do not copy IMG_1516 copySometimes, it gets so hard to hide it well.

I cannot imagine what some of the people in the audience may have felt seeing their actual loved ones' faces used in the show. I know writer Brad Gooch, former partner of Madonna's Bloodhounds of Broadway director Howard Brookner, was there, and of course Maripol and Niki and Donna would have known Martin Burgoyne (the comprehensively researched show offers a snippet of “In This Life,” an Erotica track written about him), Keith Haring, Virgin Tour/Live Aid dancer Michael Perea and Blond Ambition dancer Gabriel Trupin.

Madonna celebration boyculture splash photos IMG_1107 copyA lot like a prayer

Celebration madonna splash IMG_1085 copyShe wants to take him there.

Madonna splash news celebration tour matthew rettenmund Screenshot 2024-01-30 at 8.28.04 PMBurning the devotional candle at both ends

Returned to the stage, a weeping Madonna is hooded, like a sketchily tamed bird of prey, and marches back around to her main stage, which has become a carousel of flesh. A blast of Sam Smith's “Unholy” precedes one of her greatest renditions of “Like a Prayer” (but — God? — there are so many from which to choose). She is singing her heart out, and I adore the choice to have her giving face, then walking against the carousel's path to give a little more, continuously having to keep up with the passage of time. This is also another spot where her dancers' beauty and agility is underrated; New Yorkers might be reminded of Broadway Bares and its mid-air antics.

An interstitial reminds us of Madonna's nonhit “Living for Love.” Its sentiment, mixed with a bit of “Let's Go Crazy” — featuring Madonna's 18-year-old son David Banda as the Purple One's stand-in on guitar — PrEPs us for what's to come.

Madonna by matthew rettenmund for splash news license only IMG_1934 copyOne of the only Hard Candy references — the boxing theme.

For “Erotica,” the stage is littered with boxing rings, their ropes ingeniously made of nothing but light. Madonna pops up in a black-and-white robe and sporting an Old Hollywood wig (remember her W Magazine shoot where she met Jesus Luz? She does!), looking like a boxing manager who takes her cut in flesh. The number is mostly a lot of swagger, but she stuns in it, embracing the period with her trademark gold tooth — Dita Parlo would approve.

Madonna matthew rettenmund splash news licensing onlyIMG_1862 copyTaking on all comers

A cheeky part of the show everyone has seen reveals Madonna — set to the strings from “Papa Don't Preach” — reviving her masturbatory pantomime from Blond Ambition, during which she originally sang “Like a Virgin.” Cleverly, in a motif repeated throughout the show, she is being guided through the motions by a doppelganger of her younger self.

Is it masturbation when your partner is you?

Madonna-boyculture-splash-news-*IMG_1718 copyHer baby's got a secret.

Madonna Tokischa do not copy licensable from splash IMG_0352 copyAfter a catnap, “Justify My Love” is a clothed orgy from which Madonna emerges only to discover someone is calling her on her flip phone. I think the choice of hardware refers to the era in which the next song was released, becoming an international hit — “Hung Up.” First, she scolds Tokischa for calling her during a show, and is then blindfolded by her female dancers for a little light kink and shimmying. At last night's MSG show, the flesh-and-blood Tokischa emerged, and let me tell ya — Madonna may flirt with Sapphic love, but Tokischa is ready to make good on it. They showed sizzling chemistry as “Hung Up on Tokischa” (I absolutely love that remix, but don't miss Sickick's “Frozen”) gave way to the O.G. “Hung Up.”

It's not the most elaborate part of the show, conceptually, but it's the part that makes me stop taking photos and jump up and down. My feet passed away last night. RIP.

Madonna matthew rettenmundIMG_0257 splash copyMercy has the keys.

After this comes one part of the show that I, as a fanboy, still can't believe happened, which is Madonna's raspy, world-weary crooning of the scandalously underappreciated “Bad Girl,” a song that might have been a no. 1 hit had it not come from her sexed-up Erotica album at a time when consumers were beginning to tell Madonna, “Not tonight, I have a headache.”

Madonna Matthew Rettenmund do not copy licensable from splashIMG_0764 copyMaterial curl

In one of her best live vocals, Madonna kills that song, begging the question of whether her past three or so years when she did not seem well or herself — a period that ended with a screech after she survived her coma — might be informing her choice to sing this now, and to sing it so passionately. As a bonus, her 18-year-old daughter Mercy James accompanies her, making “I can't bring myself to let you go” a totally different sentiment than its original romantic one. Exquisite.

Madonna by Matthew Rettenmund Do Not Copy Licensable from SplashIMG_0792 copyThese have always brought me luck.

Next up — following an astonishing appearance by “Up Down Suite” (I texted my friend that I wanted to be dead, in a good way, when I heard it!) — is the bombardment that is “Vogue,” in which Madonna sports a sawed-off shotgun of a corset, a glittering Gaultier creation with hollow-point bullet boobs. Lethal! Loved seeing her stalk the stage like a lioness, even if the construction of the garment leaves her less able to move freely. Those careful little leg raises and the moment when she does the powder-my-perfect-face gesture are heaven.

The face card may have been declined at the Grammys, but everyone's card is declined at some point and it's always just a mix-up — a quick call to the bank and that credit line has been restored.

The ballroom sequence that follows always finds Madonna ensconced on a chair judging the vogueing of her own dancers, but almost always with a special guest.

Madonna jose xtravaganza celebration splash news do not copy IMG_1822 copyTell me again how Madonna ignores ballroom culture and figures from her past. José Xtravaganza joined her onstage on the first night of her MSG shows.

Madonna kevin jz prodigy boyculture splash news only *IMG_0819 copyRandy times with Kevin JZ Prodigy on 1/25/24

The guest has been everyone from Julia Garner to Kevin JZ Prodigy to a particularly heartwarming match-up with Blond Ambition dancer/Pose star/legit ballroom legend José Xtravaganza, and last night's draftee Kelly Ripa, who understood the assignment.

Matthew Rettenmund Kelly Ripa Madonna splash is where you license this do not copy IMG_0933 copyA tens moment

With mock hauteur, she scrutinized the hopefuls while eyeballing Madonna's cleavage — for trying to be discreet about it, I award Kelly the honor of Breast Actress.

Madonna Matthew Rettenmund Kelly Ripa Do Not Copy Licensable from Splash

But Kelly also had to spread her legs — wide — and endure some grinding from Madonna's dancers, camping it up. You could see her thinking about what she would say on her show today.

A blast.

Madonna celebration splash news IMG_1696 copyMother mothering

The show's just half over, and you've already heard a lot of fucking hits.

Facing arrest from stage cops, Madonna pushes through “Human Nature” before learning to love herself on “Crazy for You.” This part of the show is a strange jump, but perhaps it's also a bit of a palate cleanser if you are not a fan of hypersexuality. It's also another opportunity for her to sing her heart out on a no. 1 hit nobody really expected her to sing ever again.

For “The Beast Within,” the projections are Steven Klein originals from her X-STaTIC PRo=CeSS exhibition, and her dancers are center stage in a number that feels like it could apply to the Palestinian conflict. (On some stops, Madonna has said she is against the killing of children, and wants peace. For way too many overnight activists, that means she is a bloodthirsty Zionist, and I think that speaks to how superficial the conversation is about Israel and Palestine, thanks to Hamas.)

“Die Another Day” is a great example of how to sell a dance song without dancing — a handsy Madonna and dancers, clad in Hex Barn frocks, used mostly their hands to channel the nervous energy of the Bond theme. One wag suggested it was like watching car dealership air dancers, but I think the song kills and the choreo is — hands-up — the greatest.

The roar that comes up when Madonna is revealed to be wearing cowpoke duds under her robes and those first strains of “Don't Tell Me” sound is always deafening. That song, and its message, hit different — or just more intensely the same — with each passing year. A rollicking rendition devolves into a comedy gunfight with Bob the Drag Queen, who, by the way, brings a lot of humor to the show while still working their ass off.

Madonna David Banda by Matthew Rettenmund no copying license via SplashIMG_1161 copyShe's with the Banda.

“Mother & Father” is the only deep cut of the show, and while I'm sure casual fans wouldn't choose it as a favorite performance, I think she more than compensates for its obscurity by tying it to her love for her mother, and her duet partner David's love for his.

Madonna splash news matthew rettenmundIMG_0304 SPLASH copyMother issues

Who can't relate to loving your mom? Mom and son work so well together, and one of the tour's best take-away images is teensy Madonna looking up at a massive screen with her late mom's face.

The acoustic portion of the evening is either “I Will Survive” — which she did last night in honor of her post-coma caregiver Maria — or “Express Yourself.” I vastly prefer the latter, a song that never should have been skipped to begin with, and which has never sounded better. That said, Madonna's cover of “I Will Survive” is superior to some of her other cover choices in the past.

Madonna rettenmundIMG_1688 splash copyMadonna is just somethin' that we do.

That gives way to “La Isla Bonita,” arguably her most popular catalogue hit. The song has been performed on most of her tours and is beloved far beyond its initial chart position (it wasn't no. 1). She looks like she's having a blast as she gaily runs through that one, and the audience is apoplectic for it.

A big surprise in this show is that she offers a snippet of “Don't Cry for Me Argentina,” considering the constant strain on her vocals and her constant movement. It was never going to be her most powerful rendition, but she sounds good and it dissolves into a chant of “no fear!” as diverse images (Marlon Brando, Sinéad O'Connor, Eva Perón) flash behind her. She also dons the Progress Pride Flag, as if we needed reminding of where her sympathies lie.

When she returns for “Bedtime Story,” she's in a kooky mirrored jumpsuit and a fab pink wig that harkens back to her Brits performance of the song as well as to a wig she wore in an early Maripol portrait, a hair color with which she also once graced Solid Gold. Sinking from view, we see her writhing on a sort of 3-D NFT as she does the song, her live vocal on-point. 

Madonna do not copy splash news celebration matthew rettenmundIMG_1486 copyWhen she comes out, she makes a big show of taking oxygen, a possible reference to having been in a coma (bedtime) ahead of rocking out on “Ray of Light.” Though Madonna was dragged on social media for this one because she was seen holding onto a bar, I think it fair to point out she is holding on because she's in sunglasses in a tiny box suspended in mid-air. Yes, she's attached, as if umbilically, but the argument that she can barely stand is wishful thinking on the part of people with 9 followers and an IQ of 8.

Along with “Hung Up,” “Ray of Light” was the moment of the show that found me forgetting myself and dancing.

With a simple addition of a black cape (offered by the Grim Reaper — I really think this coma storyline of mine is valid), she launches into “Rain,” continuing to spoil her Erotica-album fans. It's a beautiful, simple rendition, and the last downbeat part of a sprawling show that has taken us from laughter to tears while wading through cum and attempting to stay on the sunny side of the street.

Madonna splash news no copies rettenmundI'm bad at mise-en-scène, but loved this view.

Probably the only part of the show I could live without is the “Like a Virgin”/“Billie Jean” mashup, which occurs as two silhouettes — wannabe-era Madonna and wanna-be-startin'-somethin' era Michael Jackson — dance together. I like that she salutes her biggest pop-artistic inspiration, overlooking his negative remarks about her as all in the past, and I like that she is acknowledging that without “Billie Jean,” there would be no “Like a Virgin.” However, the silhouette does not dance or move like Madonna, more like a bad impersonator, and listening to piped-in music for so long feels unnecessary. That said, a friend pointed out that it's the part of the show fans hate and casual fans love, and when I was in Philly, I asked two women their favorite part and one immediately singled this out. So, I guess Madonna knows what she's doing after all!

Madonna celebration matthew rettenmund splash licensesIMG_1793 copyYou can talk all the shit about her you want — she's not going away.

Two of Madonna's best latter-years tunes close the show, not counting elements of “Give Me All Your Luvin'” — the absolutely electrifying “Bitch I'm Madonna” and “Celebration.” Madonna emerges in one of her greatest stage lewks, a Grey Gardens-themed headdress (yes, it's intentionally referencing Little Edie, down to the march) and blue corset and long gloves that all have a liquid femininity and lend her the air of a genderfuck Bugs Bunny.

Madonna by Matthew Rettenmund Do Not Copy Licensable from Splash.JPG IMG_0258 copyLast, a kiss

“I just wanna have fun tonight” always reminds me of the moment in Truth or Dare where Madonna insists she's desperate for some fun, and, “It's a celebration / 'Cause [just] anybody just won't do” is a reminder that nobody did it — or does it — like Madonna.

Madonna celebration tour splash news IMG_0705 copyMadonna wins again!

She's been through it, and so have you — and we all need a guiltless pleasure like this peerless performance.