Madonna wrapped up her final Rebel Heart show in Sydney yesterday (March 20), filming the last performance on a tour which has garnered more publicity and controversy than her previous two.
Following a fairly lackluster reception from her 2012 MDNA tour, Madonna pulled out all the stops with Rebel Heart, and interest in the show was fuelled by relatively recent interest in social media, where she documented every step of the way.
The show's set list was a strong combination of the best tracks on Rebel Heart, including 'Living For Love', 'HeartBreakCity' and 'Holy Water' as well as classics she hasn't performed in years such as 'True Blue' and 'Who's That Girl'. She also included tracks like 'Music' and 'Holiday' so even those with only a vague knowledge of her catalogue would be entertained.
The show featured four segments. The first was a Joan of Arc/Samauri themed segment, in which Madonna entered the stage in a gold cage. The second was a Rockabilly meets Tokyo section, and third had a Latin/Gypsy theme. The finale saw Madonna dressed as a flapper, before expanding into a general party themed section.
The tour opened in September in Montreal, and traversed Canada for the rest of the month – even helping a gay couple get engaged – before moving on to the United States in October.
In November she moved to Europe, just as the devastating terror attacks took place in Paris. Speaking in Stockholm the following night, she said she felt torn about performing. "Why am I up here dancing and having fun when people are crying over the loss of their loved ones?" she said, before explaining that not performing would be giving in. "They want to silence us," she said, "but there is strength in unity."
In a relative first, she did toy with the set list, often at the end of the Latin/Gypsy third set, where one song slot would be filled with a different classic each night. Often it was 'Like A Prayer' but she also threw in 'Don't Tell Me' in Turin, her first live concert performance of 'Take A Bow' in Taipei, and 'Drowned World/Substitute For Love' in London.
In January 2016 she went back to the southern states in the US and some of Central America. At her Houston show on January 12, she performed 'Rebel Rebel' as a tribute to her hero David Bowie, whose death rocked the world that week. "I'm devastated," she said. "David Bowie changed the course of my life forever."
In February, she took the tour to Asia, visiting Thailand, Japan, China and Singapore, where the Catholic Church called for a boycott over "religiously sensitive content."
Madonna's personal life was rocked across the course of the tour, after her 15 year-old son Rocco refused to follow her when the show left London in December, instead staying with his father Guy Richie in London. An international custody battle ensued, and uncharacteristically, she began expressing her sadness over the issue on social media, and even live on stage during one emotional performance in New Zealand in March.
By the time she reached Australia in March – her first time down under in 23 years – the tour took was taking some colourful turns. She performed a surprise, intimate concert called 'Tears of a Clown' at The Forum in Melbourne, in which she appeared dressed as a clown, armed with a cocktail.
Much to the delight of fans she performed extremely rare ballads including 'X-Static Process', 'Nobody's Perfect' and 'Joan of Arc', which had been left off from the tour's set list. She also attempted stand up comedy, something she teased she might try during an appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2015.
She was subject to criticism in Australia after turning up late for shows. On March 16, she was over 2 and a half hours late for a performance, and fans allegedly took refunds. She then pulled down a 17 year old girl's corset live on stage, apologising immediately for the "sexual harassment". The girl later described the incident as "the greatest moment of my life."
The final show in Sydney was a triumph by all accounts, with the Queen of Pop even throwing in a cover of Kylie Minogue's 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head'. She also used to opportunity to hit back at media claims that she was having a meltdown over the Rocco situation, remarking: "Heaven forbid a mother should miss her son."
The final two shows were professionally filmed, set to be part of a forthcoming project, though it's unknown whether this means a traditional concert DVD release, or a documentary along the lines of 2005's I'm Going To Tell You A Secret.
After a 23 year wait, Madonna returned to Australia for the final leg of her Rebel Heart world tour, bringing with her the controversy that has surrounded much of her three decade-plus career.
Epic late starts, reports of drunken behaviour onstage, emotional break downs due to a custody battle and being accused of sexually assaulting a minor dominated the headlines during the Material Girl's almost two week stint Down Under.
After taking Melbourne and Brisbane by storm, the 57-year-old pop culture icon hit Sydney for the last two shows of her 82 date tour.
The Australian press went into overdrive when Madonna turned up on stage in Brisbane for her first Queensland show of the tour at 11.18pm, almost two hours past her expected start time.
For her final show on Sunday night, the second of two nights at Sydney's Allphones Arena, Madonna once again took no notice of the backlash, finally appearing on stage at a very tardy 11.30pm – the latest of the entire world tour - before proceeding to begin an almost three hour set – the longest of the tour.
Expectation and anticipation went into overdrive for the Harbour City fans, who appeared to keep a calm albeit weary vigil as they awaited the pop diva to finally appear on stage.
A rousing reception after a video introduction featuring Mike Tyson heralded her long awaited arrival.
Madonna's 12th studio album Rebel Heart dominated the early proceedings before Burning Up, her first ever Australian hit in 1983, upped the ante with Madonna rocking out while playing a Flying V guitar.
The show's spectacular highlight came early on when Madonna performed Holy Water, her Kanye West produced ode to oral sex, mashed up with Vogue while pole dancing alongside scantily clad dancers dressed as nuns, one of which she sensationally body surfed on much to the crowd's jaw-dropping glee.
Somewhat apathetically, Madonna apologised for her late start explaining that she was filming the Sydney show for a future DVD release and that she wanted everything to be perfect.
She then pulled out the almost forgotten 1980s hit True Blue, which was remixed into a sweet acoustic love song performed while she strummed on the ukulele.
The momentum continued as Madonna worked her way through a string of exceptional pop performances, proving why she is still at the top of her game in a live arena after so long and with so much detrition.
Deeper and Deeper, from 1992's Erotica, was in its high energy original form, HeartBreakCity leading into Love Don't Live Here Anymore showcased her vocal prowess and an electro dance version of Like a Virgin brought the house down as she danced without abandon, solo on the cross shaped catwalk like it was the 1984 MTV Music Video Awards all over again.
It might have been the last show of a gruelling world tour, but there was no signs of exhaustion as Madonna worked her way through the mammoth 160 minute show that peaked at the end of its third act with the 1989 monster hit Like a Prayer that saw the packed arena almost shake to its core.
The well-publicised potty mouth was evident throughout, with Detroit-raised entertainer teaching the crowd to use her favoured catchcry ("f... f... f... yeah") whenever she addressed them.
But there was no emotional breakdown, no mention of her "missing" 15-year-old son Rocco, no drunken slurring and no falling off tricycles.
For the final show, she gave a heartfelt thank you to her loyal dancers, crew and band before allowing them to spank her (all 19 of them) while playfully making light of the scandal where she exposed a 17-year-old fan's breast onstage last week in Brisbane.
"I am 18. I am old enough to know better and young enough to want to anyway," she joked while being bent over as her crew waited their turn to spank her behind.
The "sexual assault scandal", as it has been referred to in the press internationally, was again referenced when said teenager Josephine Georgiou and her mum Toni were in the crowd in VIP seats and were singled out by Madonna when she did her nightly bridal bouquet toss into the crowd.
A master media manipulator, Madonna used the moment to ask Josephine to marry her before deciding it wouldn't work because they both can't cook and the Gold Coast model is a vegan.
As the clock hit 2am, an exhausted and satisfied crowd put their hands collectively in the air as Madonna finished her show, and tour, with a faithful, upbeat performance of Holiday before she strapped on a harness and disappeared behind the video screens.
She said she would be back, but Australians have heard that many times over the years.
It might have been 23 years, but Madonna did not disappoint or make her presence in Australia unnoticed, and for a 57-year-old woman to still create such a buzz – for good or bad – against the social media pop starlets of the modern world that is no easy task.
MADONNA was on time and on-point for her first Sydney concert in 23 long years — but she still found time in her expertly-choreographed 2.5 hour show to address the controversies that have plagued her Australian tour.
If you'd believe the bad press, Madonna's been a drunken, unstable trainwreck on this tour. In truth, the only issue we can really hold against her is her less-than-stellar timekeeping — which reached its zenith at her first Brisbane show, kicking off hours after the advertised start time.
Her first of two AllPhones Arena Sydney shows began a mere 15 minutes past the promised 10pm start — no doubt Madge was hurried along by the fact that the evening was being filmed for the inevitable tour DVD.
It was an eclectic setlist, mixing an ample selection of songs from her latest album, the mammoth hotchpotch Rebel Heart, with golden oldies largely taken from her earliest years.
Like A Virgin, Burning Up, Like A Prayer, Deeper and Deeper and Music were all present and accounted for. No such luck for Ray Of Light, Frozen, Hung Up or Express Yourself — and world-conquering hits like Into The Groove and Vogue were offered up only in blink-and-you'll-miss-it-form.
While the tightly choreographed concert went off without a hitch, all eyes were on Madonna during the more off-the-cuff moments, when she took the opportunity to reference the fuss she's caused during her last week-and-a-half in Australia.
Bending one of her female dancers over her knee, Madonna joked: "How old are you? 15 or 16?"
"14," came the reply.
"Good. I'm doin' good with minors these days," said Madonna, before she and the rest of her dancers delivered a few spanks.
The quip, of course, was in reference to just the latest controversy to befall Madonna's tour, after she invited a female audience member up on stage an proceeded to pull down her top. Problematic enough, and made even moreso when it was revealed the girl in question was underage (she's gone on record describing it as the incident as the "best moment of her life," so make of that what you will).
"Here's the thing: I don't even drink. But because I've been accused of being an alcoholic so many times, I'm gonna start drinking. So f**k you!" she announced during another unscripted moment.
"I just get myself into trouble when I say things! I should just learn to be quiet like my dad taught me."
Later in the show, she made reference to her ongoing custody battle over 15-year-old son Rocco, who is living in London with his father Guy Ritchie.
"I don't wannna be accused of having a meltdown... God forbid a mother should miss her son," she said.
"I'm glad you all have a sense of humour, because if I didn't have one I wouldn't survive."
Outside of these pointed references to the controversies that have chased her in Australia, Madonna's was an expertly polished, spectacular production: an at-times overwhelming display.
Pole-dancing nuns! A flapper speakeasy! The Last Supper reimagined as a pansexual orgy! It was all there — and, just when we thought we couldn't get any more, the very tall and thoroughly up-for-it Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie, who was the night's Unapologetic Bitch, took to the stage to dirty dance with the Queen of Pop.
Madonna has one last show left of her Rebel Heart Tour. Like tonight's show, it's being filmed for a future DVD release, so expect her to bring the goods (and start on time). She's been vocal these past few days about wanting Kylie Minogue to join her on stage — whether or not that will happen remains to be seen. One thing's for sure: She's going to go out with a bang.
They say better late than never -- and how true that was for the thousands who packed into Auckland's Vector Arena last night for Madonna's first-ever New Zealand concert.
It was a brilliantly colourful crowd and largely middle-aged, made up of people who remember firsthand the lace, hair ribbons and bangles of the early 80s, the ones who struck a pose in the 90s and those who embraced the yoga-loving spiritual days of 'Ray of Light'.
The singer has sparked angry headlines on this Rebel Heart Tour because of her late appearances on stage. But having already kept Kiwi fans waiting for 30-something years, the several hours we waited beyond the opening of the doors felt like nothing.
Fists fitted in lace fingerless gloves pumped the air and wine in plastic cups flowed far, far too easily as the sold-out crowd kept themselves entertained until the lights dimmed, dancers appeared seemingly from nowhere on a crucifix shaped stage that stretched two thirds of the way across the main floor and a cage carrying the mighty Queen of Pop descended from the ceiling.
She opened with songs unfamiliar to the heathens like me who haven't closely studied her recent album, Rebel Heart.
It didn't take long, however, before she started rolling out the big guns.
First up was 'Burning Up', her very first single. And the hits followed, dotted throughout the two-and-a-half-hour show – 'Vogue', 'True Blue', 'La Isla Bonita', 'Like A Virgin', 'Into The Groove', 'Dress You Up', 'Material Girl' and 'Holiday'. Some were mixed with other songs, some stood on their own. But they turned the sold-out arena into a heaving dance floor.
And when it wasn't a pumping nightclub, it was a crazy, magical circus of epic proportions that saw the star and her dancers rolling about on a car bonnet in a 1950s mechanics garage and writhing on crucifix-stripper poles in a reenactment of the Last Supper and so much raunchy, sexualised religious symbolism, it's no wonder the Catholic Church has been critical of this tour.
It was all that I expected, and wanted, from a queen who has reigned across four decades. It was huge and it was fun. The dancers were simply amazing. Would I have preferred to have seen her in the 80s, 90s or early 2000s? Yes, I would have. But was it still worth the wait? Absolutely!
Madonna was warm and friendly with the crowd, thanking them for their patience. She mastered the pronunciation of kia ora and aroha like a pro. But there were a few too many bizarre crowd interactions, none more so than when she shared a banana and a kiss with a random woman from the audience. Tears shed for her son Rocco, who she's currently embroiled in a custody battle over, also left some squirming in their seats.
But it held its ground against some of the big theatrical spectacles we've seen from the likes of Taylor Swift, Kylie, Beyonce and Lady Gaga. After all, it's her they've learnt their craft from.
If anyone thought it was about time she hung up those dancing shoes, they weren't there last night. Madonna's a survivor. She's the Queen of Pop. She'll say when it's time go.
Well, that was strange.
One minute, Madonna was crying over her son, to whom she had just dedicated an acoustic version of La Vie en Rose.
Next minute, she's performing a sex act on a banana and pashing a Kiwi girl called Shaki ("...like Shakira without the 'a'..."). Before promptly falling over.
She also ordered a security guard (called Shane) on stage for reasons that remain unclear, other than to ask him if he was aroused by her and Shaki's banana antics.
The final 10 minutes of Madonna's first-ever New Zealand performance were some of the most bizarre ever to grace Vector Arena's stage.
Honestly, I'm still not sure what I witnessed. But it could well have been Her Madgesty at her bonkers best.
Earlier in the night, Madonna had seemed somewhat checked out as she worked her way through her opening set. It was a slow start, with the crowd left waiting until past 10pm before Madge finally appeared, opening the night with Iconic.
Descending from the rafters in a steel cage, she marched alongside an army of Samurai dancers before asking: "Auckland, are you with me?"
It was rote and mechanical. Tension bristled through the crowd - is this as good as it gets?
The first taste of her past hits came in the form of a Vogue remix, accompanied by pole dancing nuns.
Later, she teased fans with a dub-step remix of Like a Virgin. It was just recognisable enough for them to realise what they were missing.
Over the course of two hours, she mixed old with new, went through multiple costume changes and presented one of the most sophisticated stage shows Vector Arena has ever housed.
It was fascinating and theatrical. Her dance crew could legitimately double as acrobats for Cirque du Soleil. But nothing could shake the feeling that Madonna herself wasn't quite present. At least, until the final quarter.
It was during this set that she broke down in tears, speaking of her son Rocco and saying: "I hope he sees this somewhere and he knows how much I miss him."
It was a moment of genuine emotion, before another of utter absurdity. And then, before you could ask, "What was that!?" she'd moved on again.
The night ended to the upbeat pop of Holiday, before Her Madgesty swung her way back up to the rafters, leaving fans bewildered but happy by their first royal encounter.
Madonna does not disappoint.
After waiting two hours for the pop queen to appear, a rowdy Vector Crowd was getting impatient, but she took the stage at full power and literally never stopped.
It kicked off with iconic Madge descending over the stage in a metal cage surrounded by religious iconography.
f you think this is why the religious groups are upset, this isn't even the half of it.
Madge moved into Bitch I'm Madonna, riling up the younger crowd members and then stripped off shouting "let's make it hot in here let's take off all our clothes" before donning a guitar and shredding through Burning Up.
Holy Water was where Madonna's controversial tour really shines through - half naked nuns, pole dancing, grinding, lingerie, priests, last-supper imagery. The whole nine yards.
She's legit at having a go at every religion there is, but the thing is at a certain point it all just becomes just like Miley Cyrus sticking her tongue out and twerking on Robin Thicke. The pole dancing was provocative and sexy, the rest was just unnecessary.
But then immediately after there's a low key low lit dance performance to Messiah with the pop star nowhere in sight.
It was the first show I've been to where I literally didn't know what to expect next.
Even the audience banter is unpredictable at best, but she has this fan base wrapped around her little finger.
And ultimately, hit or miss, the seasoned star is still unfailingly on point, and stoked to be in New Zealand for the first time ever.
The original Material Girl sure lit up Auckland's Vector Arena.↑ Back to top of page