Appearing energized by her intimate surroundings, pop provocateur Madonna delivered a sassy and steamy show (literally) in front of a capacity crowd of nearly 2,500 fans on Saturday at the Fillmore Miami Beach.
Part of Madonna’s unusual tour of small theaters around the country in support of her new album, “Madame X,” the performance was the first in a seven-night residency at the Fillmore, which continues Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday and Dec. 21-22.
Saturday’s concert was a showcase of rousing music, mostly new jams sprinkled with just enough old favorites and deep tracks, presented in a series of theatrical set pieces populated by about 20 superb backup singers, dancers and musicians.
But it was the many personal moments of unscripted, ruthlessly candid banter (mostly aimed at her own issues) that elevated this evening with Madonna into something memorable. It was an altogether remarkable way to see a pop superstar.
There were three other distinctive elements that future audiences may want to keep in mind.
1. Saturday night’s concert started at just after 11 p.m. and took up every bit of the tour’s projection for a 2-hour, 20-minute show. That meant walking out of the Fillmore at 1:30 a.m. Sunday.
2. It was hot. The air-conditioning was turned off for the concert, apparently to maintain an atmosphere more agreeable to Madonna’s balky knee (an injury that prompted her to cancel all three shows in Boston recently). You’d think that a crowd that grew up sweating with Madonna’s hits might be understanding. Not so much.
Just after a particularly stimulating version of “Vogue” — with Madonna as alter-ego Madame X backed by eight dancers, all in matching blonde wigs and trench coats — came the first chant: “AC! AC! AC!” Madonna’s response was good natured but firm: “I’m cold. F— you. … Take your f—— clothes off!”
3. No phones are allowed in the venue. Madonna called it “a little intervention. We’re all addicted, myself included.” What it means is that as you enter you’ll be asked to slide your phone into a locking pouch provided by a company called Yondr. (Set your phone to vibrate if you need to be reachable.) The post-concert unlocking process takes a quick tap by staffers waiting in the lobby with their digital “keys” held aloft. There did not seem to be any issues Saturday night. And Madonna was right — there was something liberating about being unplugged and part of a group all watching the same thing.
Never shy about speaking truth to power, this Madonna concert was defined by provocation and confrontation, opening with text of James Baldwin’s motto that “Artists are here to disturb the peace.” The words were typed out to the sound of gunfire, a segue for her stirring gun-violence protest “God Control,” with a snippet of its controversial video that echoed the Pulse nightclub shooting. The song drew strong applause.
A brief foray into “Papa Don’t Preach” stopped hard on the lyric changed to “I’m not keeping my baby,” which introduced a discussion of abortion rights. “If a man could get pregnant, you could get an abortion at an ATM machine,” Madonna said.
A truncated version of “Express Yourself” allowed Madonna — standing onstage next to daughters Mercy James, Esther and Stella — to talk about raising girls “to believe in themselves.”
Eldest daughter Lourdes had one of the most visually stunning moments of the evening as a large black-and-white video of her graceful, pliable dance was layered over her mother, behind the translucent scrim, singing her under-appreciated single “Frozen,” from “Ray of Light.” Beautiful.
Another big moment came during a section of music inspired by Madonna’s life in Portugal — a time when she described herself as being lonely and, according to her son, overweight. She discovered fado music, which she shares in a beautiful interlude with the Portuguese guitarra of 16-year-old Gaspar Varela, great-grandson of the late fado singer Celeste Rodrigues.
Next came the powerful “Batuka.” from “Madame X,” with Madonna joined by the all-female Orquestra Batukadeiras, Batuque musicians from Cape Verde who entered by walking up the aisle through the audience to the stage.
“Medellin,” with Colombian singer Maluma in a video vocal, was an upbeat favorite of the night, along with the Swae Lee-enhanced come-on “Crave” and Madonna’s poppy Camila Cabello-style moment “Crazy,” all from the new album.
After more than two hours onstage, Madonna closed with a flourish, an unadorned version of “Like a Prayer,” with 14 black-robed gospel singers on tiers that formed a cross. Behind them played sections of Madonna’s iconic original video of the song. Not every performer would be brave enough to duet with a version of themselves 30 years younger.
The curtain dropped, but soon rose for the encore, “I Rise,” a pulsating song concerned with many forms of social justice. It opened with a video cut from the famed “We call BS” speech by Parkland gun-control advocate Emma González, which drew prolonged applause.
As González’s “We call BS” was seen onscreen again at the end of the song, Madonna and a group of dancers stepped down from the stage and walked up the aisle, fist-bumping and high-fiving as they went.