‘Hometown girl is back,’ Madonna tells The Joe
Madonna returned home to Detroit on Thursday, bringing with her a joyous celebration of love, her hometown and her very favorite subject, herself.
The Material Girl’s Rebel Heart tour stop at Joe Louis Arena was a pure wowser of a show, an extravagant pop showcase only Madonna can pull off. While drawing heavily from this year’s “Rebel Heart” album, it pulled liberally from all corners of her career, and found Madonna dusting off hits and second-tier gems from her more than 30-year catalog.
There’s a reason legacy artists such as U2 and Madonna are still must-see concert acts, and part of it is the vast catalogs they have in their back pockets. They’ve put in decades of work and have a deep well of material, made up not only of those career-making global smashes everyone knows but those lesser known hits that are ripe for revisiting.
One of the great pleasures of U2’s 360 Tour was when the band pulled out the “Achtung Baby” album track “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” during the encore, and Madonna had several of those moments Thursday. Some of her biggest hits were ignored – no “Like a Prayer,” no “Express Yourself,” no “Ray of Light” – while underappreciated fan favorites such as “True Blue” (reinvented as a campfire-style singalong), “Burning Up,” “Deeper and Deeper,” “Who’s That Girl,” “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” “Candy Shop” and “Frozen” were all given center stage. It was a night designed for and tailored to superfans, but it played to the masses. No one was left out of this dance party, and Madonna was a gracious host.
She shouted out Detroit early and often, announcing, “Motor City, are you ready to party? The hometown girl is back!” after opening the show with the highly-charged “Iconic.” Her father and daughter were in the audience and both got name checked, as did Dan Gilbert, whom she said she’s been proud to partner with in Detroit’s revitalization efforts. (Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym and the Empowerment Plan were also given props.) “Detroit is making a comeback, so watch out!” she said late in the show, rousing the crowd. “I said watch out, get excited! Come on!”
There was plenty to get excited about. Madonna’s team of dancers – the best in the business, hands down – were never less than thrilling, especially in one sequence where they bobbed up and down on flexible stilts like the swinging polecats in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
As always, Madonna toyed with and tweaked themes of sexuality and religion, combining them in ways designed to provoke and push buttons. During “Holy Water,” dancers dressed in modified religious habits danced on stripper poles that doubled as crosses, and the performance built to a recreation of the Last Supper with Madonna sprawled out on the table as the main course. (A bit of “Vogue” was mixed into the song, with religious iconography flashing on the video screens during the song’s roll call of Old Hollywood stars.) That led to “Devil Pray,” where Madonna’s arms were bound in red rope as she begged for forgiveness from a priest-type figure.
As if sensing things were getting a bit heavy, next up was “Body Shop,” which unfolded in a playful recreation of a mechanic’s garage. “If anyone can understand the trials and tribulations of working at a body shop, it’s the Motor City,” Madonna said.
Where Madonna’s last tour, the MDNA outing, was a heavy and often violent affair, there was a lighthearted tone in the air on Thursday. And Madonna seemed as loose and freewheeling as ever, cracking jokes with the crowd and going off script several times.
Meanwhile, the 130-minute show was a pure delight to watch unfold. It was a masterful production, tightly choreographed and precise, a study in exactitude. Anytime your eyes fixed on one thing on stage, something else was happening or getting ready to happen at the other end. A long catwalk stretched nearly the length of the arena and lit up the venue, bathing it in pink while Madonna sang “La Vie En Rose” (in French! While playing the ukulele!) late in the night. (She dedicated the song to her daughter.)
“Like a Virgin,” which has been given numerous stylistic overhauls over the years, was reinvented Thursday as a mid-00s hip-hop jam -- think Ciara’s “1, 2 Step” – and it worked amazingly well. The show’s undisputed highlight was the gypsy-style, Cuban flavored “Dress You Up,” which segued into “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star.” “Pretty good for a small town girl from Detroit,” Madonna said, boasting the city “made me what I am today.” (She worked overtime to distance herself from the negative comments she made about her Michigan upbringing earlier this year, at one point even calling Michigan the “heart of America.”)
It was another heart on display the rest of the night. During the intro to “Rebel Heart,” Madonna proudly categorized herself as one, saying rebel hearts are “not always popular, but we will survive.”
Madonna’s been a survivor her entire career, and Thursday’s concert showed her rebel heart is still tick, tick, ticking away.