Music Park: Madonna @ Verizon Center — 9/12/15

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Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour

“The problem with being married is that when you’re married — your husband think you only belong to him!” Madonna exclaimed from the stage at Verizon Center Saturday night. “But I belong to all of you. I’m married to all of you!”

The rapturous applause following Madonna’s proclamations made the not-quite-sold-out show at Verizon Center sound larger than life. Madonna certainly had the crowd eating out of her hand as she delivered a show that was part Cirque du Soleil-style spectacle and part acoustic concert.

Moving from staged set to stage set, Madonna traveled through four different configurations for her concert, kicking off with a string of songs drawn heavily from her latest album, Rebel Heart, which she is touring worldwide through March 2016. DC was her second stop after launching the tour last week in Toronto, Canada.

The show began with a bang to the heavily choreographed Iconic, which introduced a scene where backup dancers masqueraded as a sort of Egyptian-styled religious cult with video that made effective use of guest spoken-word contributor Mike Tyson. This quasi-religious theme would run through a number of songs and fuel a kinetic display that included acrobatics and dancing nuns on stripper poles (as Madonna herself put it, nothing too “provocative,” eh?)

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Madonna’s dancers register their complaints about long hours? (Photo courtesy Verizon Center)

But Madonna spent a bit of time thanking those of us who have been with her for the past 30 years — and long-time fans received a big payoff in a number of unexpected song selections that Madonna often delivered intimately, dropping the showy trappings and leaving only the singularly talented woman underneath.

Such a moment came early in the show when Madonna strode out to the center of a catwalk-styled stage and performed “Burning Up” from her debut album with an understated but versatile band backing her from the main stage. Later in the show, she delighted the audience in a similar fashion with acoustic performances of “True Blue” from main stage and “Who’s That Girl” from the point of a heart-shaped front stage, providing a slice of the floor audience with as intimate an experience one could possibly get at the Verizon Center.

I enjoyed these quieter moments more than the razzle-dazzle of the big show, myself, although the entire thing was undeniably slick.

Watch Madonna perform “Living for Love” on the 57th Annual Grammy Awards in a show that echoes many elements of her Rebel Heart Tour set:

My favorite part of the show came in the latter half and with the last staged set, where Madonna and more than a dozen dancers emulated an art deco night club from the ’30s.

The set changed during a video interlude of her new song “Illuminati,” a device she deployed during stage changes to buy her company and crew time to make extravagant costume and set changes.

But from there, Madonna dove headfirst into a stunning rendition of “Music,” retooled for the early-century jazz chanteuse. She looked and sounded amazing, delivering a familiar song in a new way — something in which she always has excelled, making her concert albums a must-buy for diehard fans.

After a rollickin’ version of “Candy Shop” from her 2008 album Hard Candy, Madonna makes strong use of a dozen male dancers already decked out in fancy tuxedos to sing the classic “Material Girl” in show-stopping fashion, on an elevated platform that looks like it was inspired by Cirque’s “Kà” show in Las Vegas. From said platform, she kicked would-be “suitors” off the edge as she rejected them one by one, and the skilled dancers tumbled to the bottom of the incline with comic aplomb.

Madonna takes one of several breaks to talk to her audience, feeding that bond between us, to express her mock disappointment that President Barack Obama is not in the audience despite being invited. To show there are no hard feelings, she dedicates a delightful cover of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” to him. She delivers it beautifully, although I chuckle internally at the thought of her shouting, “Je suis le chef!” to her audience in the 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour video, highlighting perhaps that the fluidity of her French has improved quite a bit in 25 years’ time.

The iconic musician wraps up her main set with “Unapologetic Bitch” from Rebel Heart, and in so doing presents a female member of the audience with an opportunity of a lifetime. Madonna’s people have snuck into the audience to pick out a woman to dance on stage with Madonna and company! The “unapologetic bitch” (so-called by Madonna) in this case is a lovely lady named Heather, who actually came decked out in what appeared to be a leotard fit for a backup dancer for Ziggy Stardust.

Our Heather is game for being part of the act, and she represents DC well as she sashays through the performance of “Unapologetic Bitch.” Watch a fan-made video of the performance on YouTube:

All in all, our Madonna show gave us everything we could have wanted, ranging from the brassy big numbers to the smaller, more intimate numbers — while Madonna the entire time called upon all her wiles and savvy to make a show that remarkably connected with her audience of roughly 18,000 in the cavernous Verizon Center.

It is well worth your time to see her on the Rebel Heart Tour, which next hits New York City on Wednesday, Sept. 16. She tours across the United States throughout the remainder of September and October, and you’ll find it very rewarding in particular if you’re a “True Blue” fan looking for a career-spanning set.

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