When an artist embarks on the tenth concert of a career that spans over 30 years, one may think that it would be nothing new or innovative. One may think that she'd be up to the same old tricks, sing (or lip sync in the case of some) the same mega-hits the way they sound on her greatest hits compilation and simply go through the motions to cash in on all that concert cash. One does not know Madonna.
Madonna stopped for the first of two nights at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, on the third leg of her Rebel Heart Tour which has been traveling the world since last September (and continues until March). This trek felt pretty different than a lot of Madonna's past tours--yes, the intricate choreography and intense precision were there, but there was a warmth to Madonna this time around that hasn't been present as much on stage before. She broke character, one might say, having moments with audience members, cracking jokes and spanking her dancer as punishment for not catching a maraca. She seemed to be genuinely having fun.
That's not to say Madonna wasn't Madonna. After so many years of performing, she still managed to find new ways to shock, inspire and make a statement: she had pole dancing nuns followed by a recreation of The Last Supper, she "played" La Cucaracha on her crotch ("It's a rare talent to be able to play your pussy like that," she said) and dressed her dancers in religious garb for her song "Devil Pray." She also gave a touching speech on what it's like being different and not fitting in before playing the title track of the tour. Nevertheless, the show had just as many (if not more) lighter moments as well that included some line dancing, some bull fighting (well, minotaur fighting) and a patriotic finale that found Madonna soaring high above the stage.
While no one really goes to a Madonna concert just for the vocals, her voice was strong and nothing was lip synced (although a handful of songs had a very loud backing track). The Material Girl's strong and crisp vocals were especially apparent during her many acoustic songs (on which she played the guitar herself), including a ukulele renditions of "True Blue" and a cover of "La Vie En Rose." Miami fans got an extra special treat with an acoustic version of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," which was the first time she's played it on The Rebel Heart Tour (Madonna mentioned that Miami was the perfect city for it too).
Another unique experience for Miami attendees was during "Unapologetic Bitch," when Madonna brings an audience member on stage. Miami's audience member was none other than Madonna's own daughter Mercy whose birthday it was (instead of the usual "gift" Madonna gives the 'unapologetic bitch,' which is a banana, Madonna gave Mercy a cupcake and sang happy birthday to her). It's noteworthy that while other celebrities boast about their famous "squads," Madonna chose to bring her daughter on stage rather than any of the countless A-List celebrities in the audience (which included Naomi Campbell, Gloria Estefan, Sam Smith and Madonna's long time pal Rosie O'Donnell).
As far as the set list, about half were songs off of "Rebel Heart" (the tour is called The Rebel Heart Tour, after all) and half were some of Madonna's biggest hits (mostly those from the early and mid-80s). Some of the oldies stayed pretty true to their original compositions, such as "La Isla Bonita," "Deeper and Deeper" and the closer, "Holiday," while others were reinvented, including a flamenco-themed medley of "Dress You Up," "Into The Groove" and "Lucky Star."
Perhaps the most stunning reinvention was for "Like A Virgin." Madonna modernized the song and gave it a brand new, incredibly catchy beat, as she danced her butt off all by herself, sans dancers, all over the stage, including rolling around on the floor in what was possibly a nod to her original "Like A Virgin" performance from the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards (although this time, 32 years later, she did it in a suit instead of a wedding dress).
Perhaps the only songs missing were some of her many hits from the 90s and 2000s. Sure, she performed an over two hour concert and there isn't time for her to do every hit in her vast library, but with so many songs from the 80s and her most recent album in the set list, the years in between seemed a bit underrepresented. In fact, the only songs performed that were post-1990 and pre-2015 were "Deeper and Deeper" (1992), "Music" (2000) and "Candy Shop" (2008). Songs such as "Ray of Light," "Hung Up" or "Take A Bow" may have been good additions/replacements, if for no other reason than to demonstrate how consistently Madonna has cranked out the hits over her 30 plus years.
One of the highlights of the show came while Madonna was off stage changing--her dancers, standing high atop poles, swung back and fourth Cirque du Soleil/"Mad Max" style right above the audience's heads, grabbing other dancers from the stage below in the process. It was an incredible sight that just goes to show how incredible a Madonna concert is--it really isn't just a concert at all, as she goes all out to bring the most state of the art and stunning visuals to entertain her fans.
I hesitated to bring up her age (so many other writers do that it's become taboo at this point), but I thought it important to stress that at 57 years old, Madonna is still able to put on a two and a half hour show that found her pole dancing, vogueing and of course dancing her butt off all while singing live. Ever since her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990 when she essentially turned arena pop concerts into theatrical events with costumes, dancers, choreography and sets, younger pop stars have tried to use her formula for their own shows. Yet, at 57, Madonna still does it best (and that is the only reason I felt the need to mention her age). Madonna is a seasoned pro who shows no signs of slowing down, despite joking that her next tour will be all ballads and stand-up comedy (called The Tears of A Clown Tour she said). And if that ever does come to fruition, I'd still be first in line for tickets. Why? Because Bitch, she's Madonna. There's simply no one else like her.
Madonna has been the standard-bearer among female pop artists for three decades, and any time a new star emerges the comparison is always made. The verdict is usually that Madonna did it first, and better, but it's gotten to the point of cliché, to where you aren't sure if you can trust the narrator.
And then you go see Madonna in concert and all doubt is swept away. She really is the blueprint for pretty much any modern pop star, from Taylor Swift to Rihanna, and she proved it Saturday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
Just like recent tours by Swift, Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, Madonna's "The Rebel Heart Tour" is filled with spectacle: a host of dancers, set pieces, elaborate stage design and full-tilt diva behavior. But there's a subtle, and important, difference.
Where spectacle has become the primary point of tours by the post-Madonna crowd, with a raft of distracting special effects and gimmicks, the queen herself largely goes for practical magic. Art and athleticism are Madonna's go-to moves, and she uses them to reflect and enhance the music, not cover up its shortcomings.
Despite the almost exhausting scope of Madonna's show - it features four themed sets clocking in at around 30 minutes each - it rarely lags. The show opened with "Joan of Arc/Samurai," followed by "/Rockabilly Meets Tokyo," "Latin/Gypsy," and "Party/Flapper," and each was defined equally by the music, costuming and choreography.
The music reached all the way back to 1983's "Holiday" but, in true Madonna fashion, she refused to cater to nostalgists and leaned heavily on her most recent album, "Rebel Heart." Even her older songs were reinvented in entertaining ways, especially sacred cows such as 'Like A Virgin," "Material Girl" and "Dress You Up," each of which was wedged into a different themed set.
"Like A Virgin," for example, was recast as Japanese pop meets electronic dance music on a codeine drip; "Dress You Up" was given a flamenco twist; and "Like A Prayer" and "True Blue" were both stripped down to their basics, the former performed on a ukelele.
While there's certainly value in straight-up recreation, it was a lot more interesting to hear how Madonna keeps herself engaged in decades-old material. It was also intriguing how she very firmly ensured that it was a pop show at heart, especially given the wide range of albums from which she drew. There may be more contenders for her crown than ever before, but the Queen of Pop still has a strong left hook.
If Madonna wanted to make a splash with her first performance in Oklahoma, she certainly did that.
The Queen of Pop put on a highly energetic, fun, shocking, musically impressive show Thursday night at the BOK Center. If your jaw wasn't on the floor, you were grinning as much as she was.
Though with a setlist heavy on her newest album, it left me wanting more. With a start time at 10:30 p.m., I don't know if I could have handled it.
Nine songs of the 22-song setlist were from "Rebel Heart," Madonna's 13th studio album released last year to critical praise and commercial success. Many of the fans near me sang along to several of those new songs, which dominated the setlist early on.
Songs like "Iconic," "Bitch, I'm Madonna" and "Holy Water," which were three of the four opening songs, all from her latest album. Seeing her perform the songs live made me like them more than listening to the album version. Her voice was sometimes muddled early on, but it was strong and steady. She even strapped on a guitar for the last song in that opening set, "Burning Up," the second single she ever released.
That early group also showed some of the diversity in her style over her career. With the new songs, she shows that she's at least keeping up with trends in music, with heavy electronic music. But "Burning Up" showed us a hard-rocking, rock-yelling Madonna with a Flying V guitar, not playing face-melting solos, but playing, which is more than most pop stars will do.
Later, more of her well-known hits were played, but Madonna altered them so that they felt new, despite some being more than 30 years old. "True Blue" was performed acoustic with Madonna playing the ukulele. "Like a Virgin" was broken down into a minimalist, bass heavy song with the lyrics and tone intimately familiar with every person in the nearly-full room. "Music" started off jazzy in a '20s speakeasy style. "Material Girl" could have come straight out of Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby."
Her most musically impressive song of the night — the moment when fans got to really experience her untouched talent — was a cover of "La vie en rose," just her singing and playing a ukulele. Her vocal prowess was in the spotlight, hitting and sustaining higher notes in her range. And it being the next to last song before the encore and considering she had been singing and dancing and changing clothes all night, it was that much more impressive.
Whether you liked the music, Madonna put on an impressive and sometimes shocking stage show that was thrilling.
Nearly two dozen dancers were dazzling with impressive choreography that bordered sometimes on Cirque du Soleil-level acrobatics. Strapped to flexible poles about 20 feet long, they would sway back and forth almost enough to touch the crowd. Three dancers strapped to a vertical video board sprung and danced all over the stage. It was dazzling, but it didn't take the focus away from Madonna.
Then you have nuns in lingerie pole dancing, a re-creation of da Vinci's "The Last Supper," sometimes people wearing less than a thread. There were shocking, clutch-the-pearls moments, but it's exactly what you would expect from Madonna.
Stages changed with the costumes four times, each sticking to a different theme, each with its own story. It was put together with thought, which again seems like an effort many pop stars don't make today.
For most of the fans who have waited 30 years to see the pop icon in their hometown, it was worth the wait. Hopefully Thursday night's warm reception will ensure that Oklahoma will see her again.
Madonna is still very much aware of her powers. And her Rebel Heart Tour is a showcase fit for a queen.
Tuesday's stop at Toyota Center was masterful and majestic. The diverse crowd -- soccer moms and couples, gaggles of girls, gay men and millennials -- waited until 10:30 p.m. for her to appear. Few seemed to mind.
"Born to be a superstar/That's exactly what you are," she declared during opener "Iconic." It set the tone for the spectacle, which ran until almost 1 a.m. She moved freely and fluidly amid an army of dancers and was framed by striking video imagery.
The energy was loose and lively. She promised to marry a fan who caught a prop bouquet. Brought another onstage during "Unapologetic Bitch," rewarding her with a banana and a few slaps to the rear. She led the crowd through two verses of "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and a lovely version of Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose."
Madonna truly seemed to be having fun. Few, if any, current pop stars can match her might as a live performer.
She paid tribute to another icon, David Bowie, with a searing rendition of his "Rebel Rebel." She called him an inspiration, a champion for transgender people and "the first rebel heart I laid eyes on." Bowie died Sunday of cancer, and she dedicated her own "Rebel Heart" to his memory.
Despite her frequent resistance to go retro, the setlist was a perfect balance blend of old and new. Recent single "Bitch I'm Madonna" was a blast of neon energy. New song "Holy Water" gave way to a bit of "Vogue" as she writhed on poles with female dancers (half) dressed as nuns. "Devil Pray" played like a continuation of "Like a Prayer." (Catholicism remains a frequent theme.)
The solemn "Heartbreak City" ended with a bit of classic ballad "Love Don't Live Here Anymore." "Body Shop" was a kitschy '50s housewife fantasy, a prim Madonna commanding a pack of sweaty mechanics. And she turned "Like a Virgin" into a solo tour de force, dancing atop a raised platform.
She zipped through several costumes in deep reds and black. Her blond hair cascaded down her shoulders. The sets changed frequently, from a spiraling staircase to a quartet of beds.
Every classic tune, from "Material Girl" to "Holiday," was reworked into something new. "Burning Up," one of her first singles, was an early highlight and featured her on guitar. She strummed a ukulele during "True Blue" and went full-on disco during "Deeper and Deeper."
"La Isla Bonita" got the full flamenco treatment, a perfect complement to the pulsing house groove of recent single "Living for Love." And she reconfigured "Dress You Up," "Into the Groove" and "Lucky Star" as a cumbia and salsa-fueled fiesta.
Nobody fucks with the queen," she declared. That she's fully aware of her power makes it all the more captivating.
Madonna's rebel heart burned brightly until the wee hours Sunday at the AT&T Center at her first-ever San Antonio concert appearance.
More than 15,000 fans, some of them dressed like the Material Girl circa 1984, waited patiently through an overly long DJ set for Madonna to finally hit the stage at 10:30 p.m. (about an hour later than expected) and stayed until the very end which was a few minutes before 1 a.m.
The imaginative two-and-a-half hour show was 21 songs of pure Madonna with lots of help from a supporting cast of acrobatic dancers whose choreographed stunts, at times, upstaged the star.
Madonna's entrance was spectacular with the artist descending onto the massive Rebel Heart Tour stage and runway in a gothic cage right into a horde of dancers dressed as Samurai warriors to sing "Iconic."
She is incredibly fit, and showed it with gyrating dance moves with her feet on the ground and other times singing while hanging upside down on props or riding on her dancers' shoulders.
The San Antonio set list and costume changes diverged little from other tour dates, though Madonna seemed especially playful and loose – and provocative.
During "Holy Water," Madonna danced and pole danced on a crucifix-style pole with scantily-clad female dancers wearing nuns' religious habits.
Various sections of the show were separated by video interludes and dance troupe routines.
Some of the simpler moments were best. For example, "True Blue" performed on ukulele and delivered in garb inspired by the '50s.
None of Madonna's early hits were delivered with original instrumentation or arrangements. She opted to give them a Latin flavor or modern electronics. For example, "Dress You Up" came dressed with the same driving acoustic guitar feel as "La Isla Bonita."
Madonna toyed with fans at the foot of the runway, even throwing a small bouquet of flowers. She was in good humor throughout.
The most rocked up, satisfying arrangement came with "Music," which added a jolt of energy. A "Deep in the Heart of Texas" moment fell a little flat, but Madonna added a sexual edge. "Material Girl" lumbered with a heavy, if somewhat lethargic beat.
The highlight of the night: Madonna's throwback, steeped-in-irony dancing during "Like a Virgin," which when paired with the heavier beat, looked almost cathartic.
At 57, Madonna remains a goddess of pop for the ages – talented, intelligent, imaginative and determined not to stagnate.
The rebel heart beats strong.↑ Back to top of page