Madame X Tour
Chicago Theatre
October 16, 2019

“Artists are here to disturb the peace.”

One has to wonder if Madonna Louise Ciccone has accepted this James Baldwin quote as her life’s mantra. Let’s face it; the native Michigander has always had a reputation as a rabble-rouser. So, when it was announced that she would embark on an intimate, multi-city tour playing multiple dates at each locale, well, the surprising move probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

This past week saw her kick off the first of seven shows at Chicago’s intimate (as far as an arena-filling Madonna is concerned) and acoustically superb Chicago Theatre. Dubbed the “Madame X” tour, in support of her 14th album of the same name, it quickly became apparent why these shows wouldn’t play at the local Enormodome. The show had more in common with a Broadway musical or an art performance than to a big stadium spectacle. Loosely divided into five acts, the evening mostly ignored Madge’s vast cavalcade of hits, and instead focused on her most recent release. And when the chestnuts made appearances, they didn’t resemble their former selves. The disco-pop of “Express Yourself” was transformed into an acapella singalong, and “Papa Don’t Preach” became a revolutionary anthem for the #metoo movement. Still, a small sacrifice to pay for the equivalent of seeing an icon in what felt like a living room setting.

Flanked by a dozen or so backup dancers, the 61-year-old Madonna left most of the heavy lifting in her routines for them to execute throughout the night. At times, she still seemed hampered by a recent knee injury that didn’t allow her movements to be as fluid as one might expect. Fortunately, it felt like addition by subtraction. It freed her up to focus on her singing, something that usually gets lost amongst the pageantry and window dressing that accompanied so many previous tours. Not to imply that this was Madonna unplugged. Her complex set pieces helped drive home her raging against abortion rights (the aforementioned “Papa Don’t Preach”), gun violence (“Dark Ballet”), and oppression of women (a group of Cape Verde Batuque singers helped make “Batuka” an evening highlight).

Photo by Andy Argyrakis

Of course, with ambition, sometimes failure trails close behind. And this evening had those as well. In an effort to make the performances feel more intimate, Madge took moments between songs to engage with the audience. While it certainly brought a human element to the performance, some of the exchanges played out for too long, zapping the evening of some desperately need pacing and momentum. “Get out of your comfort zone!” she exclaimed at one point, completely owning her shortcomings with the same enthusiasm with which she owned her victories.

The overreaching arch was about the artist pushing the boundaries of what they know and expanding it outward to discover how much further you can reach. “Not everyone is coming to the future because not everyone is learning from the past,” she sang during “Future.” She was pushing her audience as well. Buy the ticket. Take the ride. Fall flat on your face in the hopes of flying past the sun. No hits meant that she also wanted YOU to work to get there because that’s where she’s heading. But again, this is Madonna. She’s here to disrupt, and if you’re not with her, you can damn well expect to be left behind.

– Curt Baran

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