At BC Place on Thursday, October 30
Jumped-up sweet baby Jesus—how appropriate that the most rapturously received moment of Madonna’s first-ever Vancouver visit would end up being “Like a Prayer”.
Radically retooled as a spirit-of-’98 rave anthem, the 1989 chart-buster was rolled out an hour-and-a-half into a spectacle that mixed beloved classics with plenty of surprises. The 60,000-strong capacity audience could have been forgiven for planting their asses in the football stadium’s hard plastic seats and passively drinking it all in. After all, as was the case the rest of the night, it’s not like there was a shortage of mouth-watering eye candy. “Like a Prayer” put Madonna square in the middle of a multimedia hurricane. With the crack band making a convincing case that ecstasy is its drug of choice, multiple video megascreens bombarded the audience with blizzards of written text (the ultimate message being that we are all God’s children, regardless of whether we do our worshipping in a mosque, a church, or, for that matter, BC Place). For added visual stimulation, the blond-tressed singer was backed by a platoon of dancers dressed like modified versions of Pulp Fiction’s The Gimp.
What was ultimately amazing about “Like a Prayer”, however, was the way it transformed the most unforgiving venue in Vancouver into something that looked like Sunday-morning services in East Harlem. From the high-rollers who blew a mortgage payment to be near the stage, to the unfortunate souls stranded in the nosebleeds, every person in the beyond-sold-out football stadium was on his or her feet, singing, dancing, clapping as one, and generally losing it like Christians at the resurrection. If you weren’t lucky enough to be there, you can officially start wondering why God continues to forsake you.
“Like a Prayer” wasn’t the only mind-blowing moment of a show that proved well worth the 20-year wait it took for Madonna to finally play Vancouver. The first bit of unadulterated magic struck when the one-time Boy Toy rolled out on a platform accompanied by a ragtag crew of backing musicians who looked—and sounded—a little like the Gipsy Kings possessed by Gogol Bordello. If Madonna started out all flash—including rolling out a white ’20s-vintage roadster Liberace would have died for during “Beat Goes On”—she found her groove during this unofficial world-music portion of the evening. “Spanish Lesson” and “Miles Away” would prove sun-splashed warm-ups for a transporting, Calypso-tinted “La Isla Bonita”.
Major surprises on a night that saw more than one cougar clad in period-appropriate attire (standouts included a pink-satin “Material Girl” dress and a Who’s That Girl polka-dot number) included the fact that Madonna knows how to rock. Wielding a black Gibson Les Paul, she turned the disco-thumper “Hung Up” into a guitar-banger grungier than Seattle circa ’92. Likewise, “Borderline” ended up with a metallic crunch entirely absent from the recorded version, and “You Must Love Me” proved the singer does Andrew Lloyd Webber–brand weepers every bit as effectively as sticky-sweet club pop.
Those who judge a mega-event by the number of costume changes didn’t go home disappointed. Hitting the stage on a throne and looking like she’d just escaped from the set of All That Jazz, Ms. Ciccone would gear down into a ’70s–issue gym-strip ensemble, go Road Warrior–chic with sequined shoulder pads, and embrace her inner Tibetan with a folk-embroidered mini-dress offset by layers of hot-pink beads.
Despite what Guy Ritchie would have us believe (not to mention that fuckstick from The Vancouverite), Madonna was radiantly hot, and not just in an okay-for-50 kind of way. And she also proved surprisingly political, with the rapid-fire video montage during a “Get Stupid” interlude starting off with images of John McCain and Adolf Hitler, and Rolodexing through celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates to end up at John Lennon and Barack Obama.
Disappointments? Well, start with the fact that BC Place is so huge, you either watched the show on a video screen or focused on what looked like elaborately attired on-stage ants. And then there was the long list of hits absent from the show, starting with “Lucky Star”, “Material Girl”, “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Don’t Tell Me”. But compensating for that was the segment in which Madonna asked the faithful what they wanted to hear, and when the overwhelming response seemed to be “Like a Virgin”, launched into an all-hands-on-deck call-and-response number. As 60,000 fans screamed along in one glorious, harmonious show of solidarity, it wasn’t just magical, it was a religious experience. If you arrived at the Madonna concert hoping for something rapturous, your prayers were indeed answered.