Madonna Reinvents the Pop Concert with Madame X Tour Kickoff

When Madonna announced the Madame X Tour there was a wave of intrigue that hit fans as we have been accustomed to experiencing the greatness of a live Madonna show in rather large gatherings like stadiums and arenas, but a theater with a 2,109 person capacity? This is unheard of for a star of her caliber.

Tickets went fast with more shows and cities being added to the tour as the weeks went on, the Madame X Tour is set to visit Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and Miami before it finishes its North American run on December 22. I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to cover Madonna's Madame X Tour kickoff in New York at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House on September 17 and I'm here to tell you all about it! And I have to tell you about it because there are no photos or video from the concert to show you as cell phones or recording devices of any kind were not allowed for use inside the theater.

Once you get in line at the venue, a YONDR representative comes around and hands you a ticket and fills it out with your seating location after you show him your mobile ticket. As you head in, you're handed a YONDR case/pouch where you place your phone and seal it locked, and that's where your phone stays for the remainder of the show unless you enter a cell use area, there are several of these areas located in the venue. There's merch aplenty here, so much cool stuff to see including drinking bottles, eyepatches, a tour book, shirts and even a jacket!

We were requested to arrive by 8:30PM as the show was scheduled to begin at 9:30PM but in keeping with tradition, Madge kept us waiting, the superstar icon didn't hit the stage until 10:45PM and in all honesty, it was absolutely worth the wait. The show began with two performers, one being a woman who was typing away on that Madame X typewriter, you know which one I'm talking about. The line "Art is here to prove that all safety is an illusion" kept repeating on the screen, it was followed by giant gunshots taking aim at the stage before we enter with the tour opener, "God Control." The politically charged song featured Madonna serving up a patriotic look in a sort of military meets victorian costume that gave me "Vogue" live at the 1990 MTV Awards vibes while some of the dancers yielded police shields. The stage featured giant white staircases and walls behind the stairs that were able to transform with the projectors and lighting, it was a simple yet very effective setup that was able to transform and evolve throughout the show in many ways. A ton of backup singers are displayed as they belt out that gorgeous chorus "we lost control...," it's a great opener!

The second song on the setlist was "Dark Ballet," it opens with Madonna sitting on the stairs, legs spread open in a masculine pose with the lyric "I can dress like a boy" and then reaching for her crotch as she sings "I can dress like a girl." A couple of performers come out featuring gas masks that are dressed with flowers just like we saw during her Eurovision performance, it's quite creepy but it's well done and suits the show perfectly.

A circular shaped hole built into the wall of one of the stage props is revealed and we see Madonna enter it as she performs the third song on the setlist, "Human Nature," and just like that the crowd goes wild! Giant hand shadows fill up the screen and cover the stage props, dancing around Madonna as she performs in the circular space. While inside this space, Madge gives us a headstand that generates some serious applause. At one point during "Human Nature" a drummer brings out two congas with Madonna helming one as the words "I'm not sorry" fill out the screens. As the giant see-through screen comes down Madonna makes the Madame X Tour a family affair as she dances along and brings out a posse of performers including her twin daughters Estere and Stelle, this is the first of several times we see the young kids take the stage with their mama and it is an absolute delight to witness! After her performance of "Human Nature," we then hear Madonna tell the crowd "that's right, have I made myself clear?" as we bow down to the Queen. We then get "Express Yourself" in acapella form and while it's not the full song, it's a nice touch to hear the hit performed this way with Madonna's vocals sounding better than ever!

Next up, we hear the opening strings of "Papa Don't Preach" play as a vanity is lugged out onstage and Madonna takes a seat with two fellow performers helping her for the next costume change. Madonna continues to entertain the crowd with her brand of wit and humor, this is something that takes place between pretty much every song, at one point Madge exclaims "I've never had this before, never in my entire career" in regards to giving such an intimate and small show. Surprisingly, she doesn't go back to "Papa Don't Preach" and instead delivers "Vogue" as the next song on the setlist.

"I've never had this before, never in my entire career" - Madonna on the intimateness of the Madame X Tour

"Vogue" was a show highlight in my opinion, multiple performers storming the stage dressed in the same blonde wigs and black trench coats with sunglasses. Up and down the stairs, across the stage, the imposters were everywhere and then boom, the real Madonna appears and "Vogue" goes down as one of the most iconic performances of the night. I certainly hope she's releasing this tour on DVD/Blu-Ray/digital streaming platforms because I need to relive this performance! Moving along Madge goes into "I Don't Search I Find" and in this time we also get another great audience exchange as the singer uses a polaroid instant camera to snap a selfie and then offers it up to one lucky fan for a price. Sitting in front row, Rosie O'Donnell took the bait and paid a pricey $1,000 for the photo in which Madonna revealed her reasoning for needing to make those extra coins, "I'm not making a dime on this show and that's the fucking truth" the singer exclaimed hilariously. And you'll believe it when you see the large number of various performers take stage and witness how much technology is involved with the Madame X Tour, it's a theatrical spectacle and likely a damn pricey one.

"I'm not making a dime on this show and that's the fucking truth" - Madonna on the cost of the tour

Back to the music, "Papa Don't Preach" is introduced again and we get the first verse and chorus performed for us. After the chorus when she hits the final "I'm gonna keep my baby" Madonna breaks song and opens up about women's rights, staying the course of the politically charged show. Following "Papa Don't Preach" is the controversial 2003 single "American Life" and wow has that song aged well, it truly serves as a reminder that Madonna has always been ahead of the curve.

As we move into an interlude, we see performers dressed in military uniforms carrying a casket with the American flag draped over it before two of the soldiers break into a fight. The giant screen onstage displays a map with places like Medellín and Madrid written across the screen before the curtains go up and we see the stage props and pieces once again rearranged, this time it's just two staircases with a lamppost on the left one, in the middle of the staircases we get 15 performers singing and dancing as we enter the first live debut of the night with a performance of "Batuka" that is so much fun to watch. If you're not crazy about the Madame X album, I'm happy to say that Madonna truly makes the album come to life on this tour, I think fans who were lukewarm on the album might be pleasantly surprised.

At one point, Madonna opens up about moving to Lisbon and the inspiration she received from the journey but not without a sharp joke in hand as she says "Madame X is a soccer mom." Madge lands all of her comical efforts with such ease and without watering down the serious nature of the show.

The large screen goes down and Madonna begins to talk to the audience about Celeste Rodrigues, a legend in Fado music which is a genre from Lisbon, Portugal that can be traced back to the 1820s. Sadly Celeste passed away last August but Madonna brought out her grandson Gasper Varela who came with a guitar and a beer in tow. As Madonna joked that he was too young to be drinking but not too young to hand her a drink she also praised his musical talents before performing a fado song titled "Fado Pechincha" and believe me when I tell you she sounded amazing.

The screen lifts back up and the stage is a massive setup much like her performance at the Billboard Music Awards earlier this year where there was a Spanish-styled building front. Here the live debuts keep coming with "Killers Who Are Partying" and the shoulda-been-a-hit-single "Crazy" playing back to back. In "Crazy" when she sings "I bend my knees for you like a prayer" it's followed by a brief dramatic pause as she grabs a performers leg on her knees, it was a small moment but the pause was impactful before she kicked back into the song. Next we received a performance of a song maybe titled "Welcome To My Fado Club" which featured Madonna with a guitar in hand before mixing right into "La Isla Bonita," though it's not the full version of "La Isla Bonita" it's enough to satisfy the senses. Madonna proceeds to talk with the audience, apologizing for being late, saying it was not her intention and exclaiming "it will never happen again" all the while giving us that signature iconic wink of hers. There was also a cover of Cesaria Evora's "Sodade" but I lost track of when exactly it was performed as I was unfamiliar with the song.

Moving along, the typewriter appears onstage and Madame X walks over to type up some more words of wisdom. This time the typewriter sounds turn into a beat, a familiar beat, it's "Medellín" and at this point I'm losing my mind with how hot this performance/production is coming along. While there was no Maluma in the flesh here he did record tour visuals and appeared in the windows of the stage before flashing across to the bigger back screen and back to the windows. Soon after Madonna steps to the front of the stage and the large screen goes down as Madge makes her way to the floor and gets the crowd whipped up into a frenzy as she dances with them, it's a brief moment before she treks back up the stage with a train of dancers behind her as the music video for "Medellín" plays on the large screen.

During another fun exchange with the audience, Madge takes a seat next to a fan, even taking a drink from his cup. The fan then praised the star and her fanbase to which Madge responded that she loved that her fanbase is also a community/family. Before Madonna wraps up this act of the show however, she hits the stage again and the large screen is lifted to reveal a new series of stage props including two smaller sets of stairs and blocks of sort, this time the props actually moved around the stage on their own, it was like a carousel dancing around, whisking Madonna in circles. This was the live debut of "Extreme Occident."

With the large screen down, the next interlude that played featured a dark long haired woman in black and white but you couldn't see her face. As the visual continues we begin to hear the opening to "Frozen" and the fans start to lose it! Then it's revealed that the woman on the large screen is her daughter Lourdes and let me tell you, I had goosebumps. The large screen stayed down for this performance as Madonna performed "Frozen" behind it, lit by a single light you could see her through the screen as edits of Lourdes moving about graced the large front screen. "Frozen" was one of my favorite moments of the evening, I can't even explain to you just how special it was, especially considering motherhood inspired the entire Ray of Light era.

Another live debut enters as "Come Alive" followed "Frozen" and it was a bright moment in contrast to the mainly black and white visual of "Frozen." Madge dawned a jeweled gold/purple/white robe and got the crowd singing along with their hands in the air, that song just kinda brings it out of you doesn't it? Then we're given more engagement with Madonna as she talks about how she's a freedom fighter, exclaiming "I'm not here to be popular, I'm here to be free motherfucker." Madonna performs "Future" on a piano with no Quavo in sight though he did appear on the screens behind her. At this point I begin to wonder if she'll bring out any special guests during the course of this tour run, not that it's needed.

"I'm not here to be popular, I'm here to be free, motherfucker." - Madonna before going into her song "Future"

Madonna mixes it up with the next song as video of city buildings plays across the large screen before it lifts up and she breaks out a giant disco ball and funky futuristic fashionistas for the Tracey Young remix of "Crave," we once again see her twin daughters take the stage as they serve in costumes with choreography and all. Madonna and company really go to town with the choreography here, this performance turned the party way up!

Finally, we're hit with "Like A Prayer" to close out the setlist, at least that's what she wanted us to believe. Sporting an eyepatch with an x on it and a black robe with a giant sequined x on the chest part and crosses all over the robe, this is the sing-along of the evening! The stage setup allowed for the backup singers to form an x as they positioned themselves up and down the stairs. And then the curtains close and people begin to leave, it's about 12:50AM at this point and I can't help but think these people who are leaving are about to miss out on something and sure enough, I was right.

Enter encore, Madonna chooses "I Rise" to close out the show for real as she wear a black military jacket while the rest of the performers dress in white shirts and black/blue pants like a kind of uniformed student. The back screen begins to raise and a massive rainbow flag the size of the entire stage is lifted with Madonna and company finishing up in front of it. Then it happens, Madonna walks off the stage and makes her way down the center aisle with the other performers trailing behind her. As you can imagine, the fans flocked towards the end of the rows to try and get a better look while a bunch of lucky fans were able to fist bump her or give her a high five, it was a fairly appropriate final moment for the evening as it truly displayed just how intimate and special the Madame X Tour is.

It's political, it's controversial, it's hilarious, it's emotional, it's entertaining, it's the Madame X Tour and I'm happy to report the Queen of Reinvention has done it again, redefining exactly how one can experience a pop show – bottom line, it's brilliant!

See the setlist in all of its glory below!

Madonna - Madame X Tour - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House - Brooklyn, New York - 9.17.2019 - setlist

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Last updated: 20 Jun 2024, 09:08 Etc/UTC