DETROIT — “Motor City — the home town girl is back!” Madonna declared near the start of her Rebel Heart Tour stop Thursday night, Oct. 1, at Joe Louis Arena.
And it was a proud home town girl at that.
The Bay City-born pop icon, who graduated from Rochester Adams High School, may have ruffled feathers earlier this year when she referred to the area as “provincial” on Howard Stern’s satellite radio show, but she was in Detroit booster overdrive during the two-hour and 10-minute spectacle. Acknowledging the city’s financial problems and bankruptcy she told the exuberant (though not sold out) Joe Louis crowd that, “You’ve got a lot of great things going on in Detroit right now,” noting her own involvement with entrepreneur and philanthropist Dan Gilbert in women’s empowerment and youth boxing programs as well as “some new schools we’re building.”
“Detroit is making a comeback people, so watch out,” Madonna said. “We got heart, baby. We’re in the heart of America. With all of its heart and all of this love we are gonna build this city back up. Believe that!” She also noted that “Detroit made me who I am today” — and so did her father, Silvio “Tony” Ciccone, now a winemaker in Traverse City — who was in the crowd on Thursday. Madonna thanked him “for making me so strong and instilling this drive in me to survive,” dedicating her performance of “Rebel Heart” to him.
She also gave a shout-out to her daughter Lourdes — referring to her as Lola — who’s in her second year at the University of Michigan and was also at Thursday’s show. “She’s the first person to teach me how to love,” Madonna told the crowd, and also credited her for inspiring Madonna to play the ukulele — which she did on “True Blue” and Edith Piaf’s “La vie en rose,” which Madonna also sang in French.
So it was a happy homecoming, and Madonna certainly pleased her fans with her usual dazzling blend of intricate group dance routines and provocative physical and video imagery — from scantily clad nuns and a carnal Last Supper scene during a medley of “Holy Water” and “Vogue” to plenty of sexually suggestive choreography and motifs set in an auto repair garage, a 1920s-style jazz cabaret, a bullfight and carnivale, and a Geisha-flavored routine during “Bitch I’m Madonna.” During “Heartbreak City,” which included a bit of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” she and one of her dancers created an arresting physical dialogue on a spiral staircase at the end of the ramp that stretched deep into the arena floor, while “Material Girl” was performed with a line of tuxedoed suitors who Madonna summarily dismissed, pushing them one down a sloped platform.
You’d hardly call anything Madonna does modest, but the Rebel Heart Tour show was certainly one of her most relaxed productions, less focused on an overarching theme or story arc and more about delivering a bunch of intriguing and, often, boundary-pushing performances. The night’s energy was front-loaded, with the latter third of the show more chatty and ebb-and-flow — and, at times, dragging — but thumping versions of “Music,” “Candy Shop” and the buoyant encore “Holiday” came along in time to regain any momentum that was lost.
And while recent Madonna tours have gone relatively light on familiar material in favor of the then-new albums, Thursday’s show had a more fan-pleasing balance. A generous 10-song sampling from this year’s “Rebel Heart” certainly provided the framework, but Madonna nodded frequently to the past, albeit with new, often spare arrangements of favorites such as “Like a Virgin,” “Deeper and Deeper,” a medley of “Dress You Up,” “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star,” and a hard-rocking treatment of “Burning Up” that featured Madonna on electric guitar. She performed “Who’s That Girl” acoustically and tossed in an unplugged version of “Frozen” especially for Thursday’s show.
After waving the Detroit flag for much of the night Madonna finished with an American flag as she was hoisted into the rafters at the end of “Holiday.” “My home town,” she said, “It’s so good to be home.” And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone at Joe Louis whose feelings weren’t mutual.