Today in Madonna History: October 9, 2021

On October 9, 2021, Variety published the following recap of Madonna’s surprise performance at Red Rooster in Harlem, New York (performed the night before):

On Friday night in New York City, Madonna, joined by Jon Batiste, his band and a small group of fans, gave an intimate cabaret performance in the basement of Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant Red Rooster, before spilling out into the Harlem streets for a 2 a.m. parade set to “Like a Prayer.”

The midnight cabaret turned New Orleans-style street party rang in Friday’s release of “Madame X,” a documentary concert film of Madonna’s 2019 tour, released by Paramount Plus.

“Obviously, Madame X has been born,” Madonna said to the basement crowd, dressed in a black cocktail dress, lace gloves and long blonde wig. “She was always here. She’s always been by your side, encouraging you, pushing you, inspiring you, I hope.”

Taking the stage in the dimly lit supper club just after 1:40 a.m., Madonna, who laid on top of Batiste’s piano like Marilyn Monroe and climbed up the basements’ columns to grind up and down the wall, sang lounge renditions of “Dark Ballet,” “La Isla Bonita” and the Portuguese “Saudade.”

“Do you feel like something is missing from your life?” she asked the crowd, softly into the microphone while Batiste played beneath her. “So, what’s our job? What’s our destiny? To go out and find it,” she said. “I was talking to Jon on the way here, and we said to each other: Here’s the big question: How bad do you want it?”

The evening was almost impossibly intimate, attended by a crowd that looked to be about 100-200 friends, family and fans, who sank into the club’s plush banquets awaiting her arrival.

During the performance, after falling to her knees in a contemplative adaptation of “Like a Prayer,” Madonna grabbed a nearby megaphone, gestured to the musicians to pick up their instruments, and told the crowd to take to the streets. Obliging blindly, the partygoers climbed up the basement stairs — propelled by the rhythm of Batiste’s band and the sheer thrill of unpredictability — and filed onto 126th street. 

Tambourine in hand, Madonna led Batiste and a modest group of the party’s attendees through the early-morning streets of Harlem, joining together as the group sang an anthemic “Like a Prayer” into the night sky.

Traveling a few blocks down the street, the congregation ended outside a nearby church, where Madonna, framed by the ecclesiastical doors behind her, offered an invocation. “The Lord is with all of us,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to say a prayer.”

At Red Rooster, where most partygoers returned after Madonna’s streetside sermon ended, the room grooved far into the morning, voguing down the dance floor as the open vodka bar continued to flow.  Nearby, joined by queer icons like Aquaria, the Queen of Pop sank into the same plush banquets and watched from afar as the room danced, high and carried away.

Today in Madonna History: October 8, 2021

On October 8 2021, Madonna released Madame X: Music from the Theatre Xperience to digital platforms for streaming (audio) and Madame X the live film to Paramount +.

The concept film captures Madonna’s theater show performed in front of sold-out audiences worldwide in 2019 & 2020. Filmed in Lisbon & Paris, Madonna is joined onstage by 50 global performers including her children, & the all-female Orquestra Batukadeiras.

The live streaming track listing includes the following songs:

  1. Intro
  2. God Control
  3. Dark Ballet
  4. Human Nature
  5. Vogue
  6. I Don’t Search I Find
  7. American Life
  8. Batuka
  9. Fado Pechincha (feat. Gaspar Varela)
  10. Killers Who Are Partying
  11. Crazy
  12. Welcome To My Fado Club
  13. Medellin
  14. Extreme Occident
  15. Breathwork
  16. Frozen
  17. Come Alive
  18. Future
  19. Like A Prayer
  20. I Rise

Today in Madonna History: January 30, 2020

On January 30 2020, glowing reviews of Madonna’s first Madame X show in London were published:

Music critic Neil McCormick (The Telegraph) had this to say: Anarchic and experimental – her best show ever? 5 STARS (out of 5)

I’m not sure who was having more fun at the opening of Madonna’s London residency, the audience or the star. She sang, she danced, she joked and she beamed with almost childlike glee at the crowd’s adoring response.

“How happy I am to have made it this far,” she declared, calling London “my second home”.

Madonna first played the city in 1983 to 1,500 early adopters at the Camden Palace. Her next London gig was Wembley Stadium. She was clearly delighted to be back in a venue where she could not just reach out and touch the audience, she could descend from the stage and sit in their laps. “It’s so intimate. It’s gorgeous and a thrill for me to be able to see all your faces.”

David Smyth of the Evening Standard gave the show 4 STARS (out of 5): Madame X is tireless, imaginative and powerfully intimate.

Such drama before Madonna could even take to the stage for her first theatre tour since 1985! Would she arrive drastically late? Would she cancel at the last minute? Tenterhooks all round.

Monday was supposed to be the first of a planned 15 nights at the Palladium, cancelled on doctor’s orders. It was the 10th dropped concert of the Madame X Tour, which began in New York in September and gathered complaints for its late start times.

But tonight at 8.45pm, there she was, dressed as a bloodstained, eyepatch-wearing revolutionary soldier. She was also a spy, a protest marcher and a Portuguese fado singer in the course of a tireless, imaginative show that was far from shrunken arena pop. Thanks especially to an extraordinary troupe of dancers, it was a spectacle that felt more powerful up close.

Like Bruce Springsteen, who showed a different side of himself in his recent Broadway run, and Kate Bush, whose live comeback was more theatre than concert, the 61-year-old has unearthed something new late in her career. The Madame X album may have plummeted out of the charts in an instant, but here its songs dominated and found their purpose.

Batuka, tuneless on record, was euphoric when performed with a mass of smiling, rump-shaking Batuque drummers from Cape Verde. I Rise was far more powerful when backed by footage of anti-gun protests and gay pride marches.

Alexis Petridis of The Guardian, also gave the show 4 STARS (out of 5) and noted: London residency short on hits but big on British banter.

She sings the bare minimum of big hits – Vogue, Like a Prayer, Human Nature – with Express Yourself and La Isla Bonita reduced to interstitial roles (the former performed as a sweet, but brief a cappella duet with her daughter Mercy), and American Life performed in full.

Still, it occasionally serves to remind you that some of Madame X is better than its relatively muted commercial response might suggest – Medellín sounds like the hit single it wasn’t, as does the gorgeous album track Crazy. This is presumably part of the point – the other part being a certain screw-you intransigence designed to underline that we are in the presence of an artiste, not a pop star.

And the BBC had a few fun notes to add in their review:

The audience were required to store mobile phones in sealed pouches as “an intervention for us all”. However, Madonna admitted that even she was getting anxious without a phone nearby.

“I’m having little panic attacks,” she joked. “I’m like, ‘Why is no-one taking my picture?'”

But the gambit worked: Freed from distractions, the audience gave the concert their undiluted attention; while Madonna seemed to relax and have fun without a phalanx of tiny cameras recording her every move.

At one point, she slipped into a British accent and recalled how she’d been ridiculed for developing similarly plummy vowels during her marriage to Guy Ritchie.

“I didn’t know what anyone was talking about until I heard old interviews of myself,” she said. “And then I was horrified and flabbergasted. Why did you let me do that to myself? I’m from Michigan!”

“It’s all Guy Ritchie’s fault,” she decided. “He made me to it.”

Today in Madonna History: December 17, 2019

On December 17 2019, Cyndi Lauper posted this message on Facebook about Tracy Young’s Grammy nomination for her remix of Madonna’s I Rise:

I’m so excited to hear that Tracy Young has been nominated for a Grammy! This is a BIG deal. Not only did she do a killer remix of “Shine” for me in 2002, but she has been breaking ground for women for years. I can’t wait to vote for her and I urge all Recording Academy / GRAMMYs voting members to join me.

Tracy’s nomination is for her remix of Madonna’s I Rise – a great song with a really powerful message. One of my faves off the Madame X album. Tracy’s nomination marks the FIRST time a female Producer/Remixer has EVER been nominated in the Best Remixed Recording category since its inception in 1998, despite Tracy being eligible in previous years. Tracy has had over 60 #1 Billboard Club Chart Hits. She also worked with Michelle Obama on her This is for my Girls song. Tracy is a true pioneer and I hope this inspires future generations of female Producers/Remixers. We NEED more of ya! #SheIsTheMusic

Today in Madonna History: November 29, 2019

On November 29 2019, Madonna’s I Rise from Madame X was released as a limited edition 12″ single as part of Black Friday Record Store Day.

The remixes included:

  • Tracy Young Pride Extended Remix
  • Kue Drops the Funk Remix
  • Daybreakers Remix
  • Thomas Gold Remix
  • DJLW Remix
  • Offer Nissim Remix

The IGA/UMB label release was limited to 4,000 copies, but some countries reported delays in receiving the I Rise 12″ vinyl release.

Today in Madonna History: October 25, 2019

On October 25 2019, Madonna’s Crave Remixes EP Part 1 was released to digital platforms.

The digital EP includes the following remixes:

  • Crave (Tracy Young Dangerous Remix) 4:48
  • Crave (Tracy Young Dangerous Radio Edit) 3:24
  • Crave (Benny Benassi & BB Team Extended Remix) 4:52
  • Crave (Benny Benassi & BB Team Radio Edit) 3:19
  • Crave (RNG Club Remix) 6:39
  • Crave (Otto Benson Remix) 4:23
  • Crave (Twisted Dee & Diego Fernandez Remix) 7:17
  • Crave (Dan De Leon & Anthony Griego Remix) 7:12

Today in Madonna History: October 17, 2019

On October 17 2019, The Chicago Tribune published Britt Julious’ review of Madonna’s first Madame X Tour show at the Chicago Theatre (the first of seven shows):

Madonna fears no one at the Chicago Theatre in a late-night, cellphone-free clash between old and new
Madonna does what she wants, when she wants, for whatever reason she wants. In fact, the Madonna of today may be more stubborn. Yes, she has amassed a trove of hits from each decade of her career. But the hits matter less to the artist than the intention behind her music.

Known as something of a chameleon, Madonna made a case for the interconnectedness of her total body of work during the first night of the Chicago leg of her intimate, cellphone-free Madame X tour. A small number of older songs were carefully intertwined with a heavy selection of tracks off her latest album, “Madame X,” to tell the story of this new character. And who is Madame X?

A freedom fighter, for one. Dance is politics. Music is politics. Madonna laid plain the intentions of each “Madame X” show from the start. On stage was very little in the beginning, just a silhouette of a woman at a typewriter, a large black screen, and a fit young dancer jerking his limbs to the rhythm of each keystroke. Behind him, a 1961 quote by James Baldwin splashed across the screen: “Artists are here to disturb the peace.” Get the picture? This is not a moment of nostalgia for Madonna. But if you’re interested in “waking up,” in getting uncomfortable, then stick around.

The first half of the set blended a mix of old and new tunes, starting with “Dark Ballet” from “Madame X.” Dancers clad in white gowns and riot gear clashed on stage. Behind a brutalist pyramid staircase were projected images of marches for gun control. Clashing — of old and new, of right and wrong, of fun and seriousness — became a theme throughout the set.

During a slowed-down rendition of “Human Nature,” her twin daughters, Estere and Stella, joined the singer and her backup dancers on stage. She asked each girl to make a statement, with one saying “Hashtag time’s up!” in reference to the social movement. Moments later, Madonna fittingly transitioned into an a-cappella sing-a-long to her smash ’90s hit “Express Yourself,” before asking the audience, “This revolution is bloody. Is there a doctor in the house?” Sometimes the fight to be heard can be jarring, just as it was on stage.

For Madge, art is the medium by which she fights for the freedom of others. It is the medium delivering the message, whether audiences understand or like it at all. “Are you good with me not keeping my baby?” she asked the audience halfway through her set after a spirited rendition of “Papa Don’t Preach.” An audience member in the front row expressed his displeasure and she was not afraid to confront him about reproductive rights. “It is my choice. It’s everybody’s choice,” she uttered. The room erupted in applause. She fears no one. The easy choice would be to next play something light, but Madonna chose “American Life,” an oft-forgotten yet underrated single from the aughts. Back then, it was an awkward song, but here, its mashup of genres and conflicted lyrics make sense. It was perfect.

The latter half of the show was packed with guest artists from across the globe as she performed Latin-inspired selections — including “Medellin” and “Come Alive” — from the new album. A group of Cape Verde batuque singers walked through the aisles and joined Madonna on stage for the “Madame X” cut “Batuka.” During her numerous chat breaks, Madge talked about her move to Lisbon to “become a soccer mom,” and the depression and loneliness that soon set in. It was not until she began frequenting fado clubs that she found herself again. It made sense then that the stage was transformed into a colorful recreation of a fado club. “Get out of your comfort zone!” she cried to the audience. Most people were on board.

The “Madame X” show is not a concert as much as it is performance art and dance theater. This explains some of 10:30 p.m. start time, to the surprise and consternation of some fans worried about a late night (the show ended around 1:30 a.m.). This was also a cellphone-free show, where attendees had to secure their phones. The entry process was smooth, but expect a post-show bottleneck.

Storytelling framed the evening. Madge is a shifting and growing human urging her audience to do the same, but she’s not afraid to get playful, like when she took a Polaroid selfie of herself and auctioned it off to the audience. The winning bid was $3600, to a man who said he was a writer. “Writer? Bull—- artist is more like it,” Madonna said, in reference to him having that much cash.

“Not everyone is coming to the future because not everyone is learning from the past,” she said before playing the “Madame X” single “Future.” It was a coded message. Casual fans looking for an intimate dance party should stay away. Madonna chose small theater settings for a reason — she is interested in touching and seeing and communicating her message with her audience. Theater breeds emotional risks; the fire of each moment is palpable. Madonna knows this. An arena won’t start revolutions, but a musical confrontation a half-foot away will.

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