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by Stacey Brotzel:
More than 14,000 fans got into the groove, vogued, and expressed themselves during Our Lady of Pop’s inaugural visit to Edmonton.
Sunday’s dancetastic celebration of love, nakedness and religion was the first of two at Rexall Place — and the only two Alberta dates on her Rebel Heart tour, which has already grossed $20 million US from just 10 concerts.
(P.S. Tickets are still available to Monday’s show.)
Highlights: Uh, her mere presence? Madonna released her very first album in 1983 — and we’ve had to wait 32 years for the controversial dance-pop diva to find the E-spot.
She’s not nearly as shocking as she was in the ’80s or ’90s, but the 57-year-old mother of four still proved to be a rebel at Sunday’s show.
She pole-danced with strippers “dressed” as nuns as she sang Holy Water — a throbbing number from her 13th and latest album, Rebel Heart — which ended with a bunch of her dancers re-enacting the Last Supper.
She strummed a ukulele, while sitting on a pile of tires, as she sang True Blue. She pushed one of her male dancers from the top of a spiral staircase during HeartBreakCity, a maudlin love-gone-wrong number, also from Rebel Heart.
Low note: Her opening felt a bit lacklustre, especially for an icon of her stature. At 9:45 p.m. the lights went out in Rexall. Then her Rebel Heart curtain fell to the stage, with nary a musical, pyro or lighting cue to accompany it.
In fact, there were a few seconds of awkward silence as fans waited for her dancers, dressed as ancient Chinese soldiers, and a video of Iconic, featuring Mike Tyson and Chance the Rapper, to start the proceedings.
In the crowd: Mostly fortysomething (and older) women and men who grew up during the Walkman era of the ’80s.
(Surprisingly, very few brought their offspring — there was a noticeable lack of fans younger than 20 years old, perhaps due to Madonna’s steep ticket prices.)
Hundreds of women wore Madge-inspired outfits, from Like A Virgin wedding dresses to tutus to bullfighter’s suits.
Strike a pose: As strong and supple as her voice was — ranging from girlish (Like A Virgin) to deep and dangerous (Burning Up, HeartBreakCity) — Madonna’s dance moves were just as stunning.
She twirled around a stripper’s pole. She palled around with the rest of her male and female dancers during Deeper and Deeper. She strutted across the catwalk during Holiday, the last song of her 135-minute set.
Quip of the night: “As the evening goes on, you’ll be required to undress,” she said before her seventh song, True Blue.
True to her word, she intermittently singled out fans in the crowd and demanded they take off their tops. “Edmonton is going to be naked!” she gushed, as she collected one man’s “Italians Do It Better” T-shirt.
Later on, she pulled one woman on stage and made her wear a novelty hat with a turkey protruding from the top of it. “I’ve had a penis on my head, too,” Madonna joked.
Material girl: Her costumes ranged from ornate Chinese robes to ‘50s greaser to revealing dresses with fishnet stockings.
Unapologetic bitch: It’s the title of one of her songs from Rebel Heart, and it suits her to perfection. She didn’t bother tailoring her set list to appease long-suffering Edmonton fans — they got the same songs as every other city on her current tour. Which meant 13 (of the 19) tracks from the deluxe version of Rebel Heart, which is far from her best effort.
While she performed a handful of her older hits, including Like A Virgin, Holiday, La Isla Bonita, Material Girl and Music, other classics only made cameos. She sang a snippet of Vogue, for example, during Holy Water, and a teasing morsel of Love Don’t Live Here Anymore during HeartBreakCity.
Perhaps even more sacrilegious, Madonna completely ignored Like A Prayer, Live To Tell, Hung Up and her entire 1998 album, Ray of Light. Do we have to wait another 32 years before she performs those in Edmonton? Or maybe she’ll do a few of them during her second show on Monday night?
Do people make fun of him for acting like a stud on stage? OK, bad example. Point is, if it’s OK for the aging male rock stars, why shouldn’t Madonna try as hard as she can to remain relevant, hip, sexy, shocking, whatever she wants? It’s inspiring to see a 57-year-old woman up there twerking on top of pole-dancing nuns in their underwear … and where were we?
Yes, Madonna is the hardest working woman in show business, praise that shouldn’t be thrown around lightly.
For the first of two shows at Rexall Place Sunday night – and what rude American scheduled this on Thanksgiving weekend – the queen of pop led a dazzling Cirque du Broadway sexy song and dance spectacle that put most others to shame. Fans who shelled out huge dough for this thing expected no less than the best. This is what pop concerts look like these days, and Madonna pulled out all the stops (an old pipe organ reference) to make sure this Rebel Heart tour was the biggest, flashiest, most grandiose Cirque du Broadway sexy song and dance spectacle available.
Not surprisingly, the music was for the most part less interesting than the production that went with it. Representing all phases in a career dedicated to remaining relevant, hip, sexy shocking, etc., each song was no mere “song” to be “performed.” No, each piece of the Madonna story was presented as choreographed high drama. A squad of hard-working dancers playing parts ranging from Holy Roman Warriors to gas jockeys to street dancers out of a modern version of West Side Story. Later came bulls and bullfighters in a lively Spanish number, setting the stage with a steamy dance number with matadors in La Isla Bonita. Latin was just one of the flavours in a musical travelogue that also made stops to Africa and the Middle East.
The underwear-clad nuns weren’t the only Catholic-shocking imagery deployed, a schtick she’s used to good effect for decades.
Opening with a song Iconic saw the 57-year-old singer lowered to the stage in a cage, which she promptly broke out of to sing about what it’s like to be a pop star, an “icon.” Soldiers brandishing crosses were replaced by geisha girls in a song called Bitch, I’m Madonna – in case anyone was confused who they were seeing. Much later came a new song called Unapologetic Bitch, if you’re sensing a theme.
A warm and relaxed host despite the obvious demands of the show, she addressed the crowd after her old-school-style pop song True Blue. “I get to do what I love – I’m a lucky girl!” she said, adding, “You’re lucky, too!”
Through each of what appeared to be four separate “acts,” successive layers of clothing were shed as she worked her way up to more danceable material. Early on came Deeper and Deeper before a more sensitive moment in Heartbreak City – performed atop a floating spiral staircase. And then, with the words “Nobody f—ks with the queen!” she launched into a quirky, wacky version of Like a Virgin. Soon came S.E.X., more dance music and more stripped down (metaphorically) version of her hits. Who’s That Girl was also rendered acoustically. Dress You Up was recast as a samba.
As for her voice, it’s been joked that Madonna makes a good case in favour of lip-syncing, but while there seemed to be a ton of processing and doubling on the lead vocals, there were lots of moments where she appeared to actually be singing. Imagine. But who comes to a Madonna concert to hear Madonna sing? Of course not. We come for the twerking nuns.