Rebel Heart Tour St. Paul 8 October 2015

Rebel Heart Tour St. Paul
8 October 2015

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Madonna dedicated “La Vie en Rose” to Prince last night and then attended his private concert at Paisley Park.
A review by Andrea Swenson

Thirty-three civilians showed up to Paisley Park late last night.

I had shown up to Paisley Park around 11:30 p.m., having been summoned there only hours earlier with the promise that something “extra-special” might go down. As the 33 of us who were gathered there did our best to stay upright, sway to DJ KISS’s mix of Prince and ’80s pop tunes, and keep our wits about us, and as the clock crept past 1:30 a.m., I was just about to start counting the crowd again and contemplating the strength of that word might when a flurry of security guards with walkie-talkies started buzzing around and a door next to the stage swung open.

A steady stream of people started filing into the venue, and it took me a couple of blinks to realize that the first woman and the head of the pack was Madonna. She is a petite little powerhouse of a figure, and was dressed in a sharp navy trench coat-style cape with her hair neatly woven into a braid that fell down her right shoulder, like a pop star’s rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. Her bright lipstick and dark eyeliner appeared flawless, and as she scanned the strange scene—33 civilians dancing haphazardly, undoubtedly looking tired from all the waiting and the late hour, and her own hits blasting over the sound system—she looked so calm and coiffed that you would have never guessed that she had just finished performing a two-hour show in front of a sold-out crowd at the Xcel Energy Center.

It turns out that injecting Madonna’s entire professional dance troupe into a party is a surefire way to liven it up, and as more and more of the pop icon’s touring crew filtered in, a fully choreographed dance party soon broke out in the middle of the room. It was incredibly surreal standing on the sidelines attempting to groove to the music while what looked like a professional music video shoot sprawled out before us, but all of a sudden the energy in the place had been cranked to 11 and it was all we could do to try to soak up the crew’s ecstatic vibe.

Madonna was ushered into a roped-off section of the room and then disappeared, undoubtedly to have a few private moments with Prince while her team blew off a little steam on the dance floor. By 2:15 a.m. she had returned to the scene and was followed in short order by Prince, who stood near the back of the dance floor draped in a floor-length hooded sweater and smirked at the energetic dancers who were frolicking around the room.

As soon as Prince appeared the small crowd started pressing toward the stage, and even after Madonna’s tour buses had all been unloaded into Paisley Park there were still only roughly 60 people there to take in the impending show. Most of the people in attendance were standing within a couple yards of the band, and Prince seemed a little uncomfortable playing to such an intimate audience.

“You better keep dancing,” he instructed us, sitting at an organ and leading a new configuration of his band through a swampy, funky new song. 3RDEYEGIRL guitarist Donna Grantis was joined by a drummer Kirk Johnson and bassist Dwayne MonoNeon Thomas, Jr., who had more jazz and funk sensibilities than Grantis’s more hard-driving 3RDEYEGIRL bandmates Ida Neilsen and Hannah Ford Welton (who was dancing in the audience with her husband, Josh). The change in musicianship allowed Prince to deconstruct his songs into more complex, moody arrangements, tracing back to his roots in late ’70s jazz and funk.

As if to show off the band’s newly discovered chemistry, Prince followed up a rip-roaring rendition of “Guitar” with a lengthy, solo-filled jam to the Bill Withers song “Use Me Up.” After giving Grantis and his new bassist a turn at soloing, Prince slowed the song down and morphed it into a spacey, dreamy interlude, then tore through an impressive and complex piano solo that sounded like it was inspired in equal measure by Thelonious Monk and Jimi Hendrix.

When Prince launched into the next song, “Ain’t About to Stop,” off his latest album HITNRUN Phase One, I decided to try to discretely scan the room to see where Madonna was taking in the show. I had expected her to hang back a bit, or maybe sitting in her roped-off area, but once I stepped a little closer to the stage I realized that she was not only in the front row, but had perched on the edge of the stage at Prince’s feet, looking up at him adoringly as he sang.

There is a face that people make when they are watching Prince play guitar; it’s a gleeful expression that combines the joy of going down a roller coaster with the realization that you are witnessing a moment that might never be recreated by another being that lives on this beautiful Earth. It turns out Madonna also makes that face when she is watching Prince play. As the band stretched out into another jam and Prince ripped into a soul-levitating guitar solo, her mouth relaxed into an awestruck gape, revealing a shiny gold grill underneath her perfect red lipstick.

Prince, too, seemed a little awestruck by Madge, appearing nervous as he flitted around the stage to different instruments and taking great care to get the lighting, sound, and chord changes just right. It completely shifted the energy at the Park, which usually pulls like a magnet toward Prince’s spot in the room, and it was a rare chance to see two megastars share an intimate moment and a series of knowing smiles.

After the sixth song of the set, Prince leaned down and whispered something back and forth with Madonna, and then hopped back up to his keyboards and simply said, “Cool.” With that, Madonna made her way out of the building and Prince was left alone with his band and small group of adoring fans, and he delivered simmering renditions of “1000 X’s and O’s” and “X’s Face” before hopping off stage and handing things back to the DJ.

Sensing that we were well past 3 a.m. at that point, I started to make my way toward the door, but my friend and #1 Prince fan Heidi Vader later informed me that Prince returned to play two more short sets and even invited some of his fans up on stage to sing and dance along. Or did any of that really happen? On nights like these, it’s hard to tell.





It was easy to get caught up in the excitement the last time Madonna was in town, for a two-night stand in November 2012, thanks to the herculean effort she puts into her live shows as well as the fact that it had been 25 years since the Material Girl last played Minnesota.

In retrospect, that tour has lost some of its shine, due to its dark tone, the pointless interlude where Madge brandished a gun and her brattish decision to start the show after 10:30 p.m. All of which made Madonna’s Thursday night return to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center a relief.

Now 57 and at the end of her 10-year contract with Live Nation, Madonna stands at a crossroads in her career. She’s likely to be 60 the next time she tours, that is if she can find another deal as sweet as her current one.

Her new album “Rebel Heart” earned warm reviews but the worst sales of her career. Still, if such weighty thoughts are bogging her down, Madonna didn’t show it Thursday night, when she took the stage at 9:45 p.m. in front of about 13,000 fans. The 2015 version of Madonna is unafraid to enjoy herself on stage.

For all the millions her outings have raked in over the years, Madonna has approached live performing with a certain teeth-gritting grimness. She works harder than most in the entertainment business and has never been afraid to remind her audience of that fact. But now, she’s not only seemingly happy, she’s almost playful.

To be sure, Madonna still thrives on controversy, even if it’s difficult for her to truly shock in this era when “Fifty Shades of Grey” made S&M mainstream, network TV shows feature explicit (straight and gay) sex scenes and there’s a Cool Pope who is totally down with “Like a Prayer” (possibly).

She opened the show with a sequence of songs that culminated in scantily clad nuns pole dancing on crosses and an orgy-inspired re-enactment of the Last Supper.

But she did it all with an obvious sense of humor, barking out her goofy new song “Bitch I’m Madonna” and strapping on an electric guitar for a reworked “Burning Up.”

Later, she conjured the spirit of the musical “Grease” for a sexed-up take on “Body Shop,” pulled out a ukulele for a tender “True Blue” (and returned to the instrument later for a cover of Edith Piaf’s signature tune “La Vie en Rose,” dedicated to her “good friend” Prince), adopted a Spanish bullfighter look for “La Isla Bonita” and wrapped things up with an ebullient “Holiday.”

As was the case in previous tours, Madonna did lean heavily on her new album, “Rebel Heart,” and not all of it worked, particularly the harsh remix of “Living for Love,” which otherwise stands as her finest single in a decade.

During “HeartBreakCity,” she included a bit of “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” from her second album. The latter took on a new poignancy when delivered by an AARP-eligible, twice-divorced mother of four.

The pop diva had plenty of spice but was easier to like than in her 2012 Xcel tour stop.

It’s easy to admire Madonna and not necessarily easy to like her.

Respect her as an inspirational visionary, a hard-driven original, a tough-as-nails survivor, a single mother (of four) and a singular artist. Dislike her because she’s a demanding, narcissistic, self-aware, self-absorbed, perfectionist diva. There’s good reason that she titled a song “Unapologetic Bitch” on her latest album.

It was a lot easier to like Madonna on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center than it was in 2012 there. Her MDNA Tour was disturbingly dark and violent. This year’s Rebel Heart Tour found a kinder, gentler and happier Madonna.

The takeaway from her 130-minute show was that she was more playful than provocative, with more heart than hedonism and more smiles than scowls. At first, though, it didn’t quite seem that way. The 57-year-old godmother of pop seemed short on energy, hoarse of voice and wanting more from her 13,000 fans.

“Did the cat get your tongue, St. Paul?” she asked a half-hour into the show. “Or have you had too many beers? Or not enough beers?”

Ah, Madonna still knows how to push buttons. In other words, it was Madonna being Madonna.

Apparently the crowd didn’t get riled up when she co-mingled religion and sex on “Holy Water” (which spilled into a bit of her 1990 classic “Vogue”), in which dancers dressed as nuns pole-danced with Madonna, and “Devil Pray,” which urges to ditch drugs and find spirituality by, um, having an orgy on a Last Supper-like table.

Of course, Madonna didn’t need religious settings to make her points. Set in a 1950s garage, the double entendre “Body Shop” was both auto and erotic. But, as she has proved throughout her 30-some-year career, Madonna can change faster than a chameleon. She seamlessly sat atop a pile of tires in the body shop and offered a doo-wop treatment of 1986’s “True Blue,” accompanied by ukuleles.

Like Bruce Springsteen and U2, Madonna doesn’t want to be an oldies act in concert, so she offered nine tunes from her “Rebel Heart” album. Of course, she dressed them up, first with Asian costumes (think Samurai warriors), then Spanish outfits (matadors aplenty) and finally something with French flair (welcome to the cabaret, 1920s style).

Those outfits — or variations thereof — also worked for mixing in oldies re-imagined. “Dress You Up” became a Mexican street scene, mashed up in the middle seamlessly by the Latin-tinged electronica of “Lucky Star.”

“It’s hot under here,” she said, removing her bolero hat after the dance-happy medley. “I’ve never worn so many clothes. Whose idea was it? Not yours.”

There were 450 outfits for the 20 dancers, two backup singers, four musicians and the one and only Madonna. When she exited to change costumes, her dancers took over the stage with some of the most thrilling and imaginative filler in arena concert history — including prancing atop cross-shaped bendable poles.

Although Madonna gained energy throughout the evening, she explained that she woke up with a fever Thursday morning. And that prompted her to break into an a cappella version of the classic “Fever.” Yes, Madonna can be in the moment and she can sing live (though she was lip syncing during dance numbers). She dedicated the Edith Piaf signature “La Vie En Rose” to Prince. And she crooned her 1987 hit “Who’s That Girl?”

She’d spent most of the night trying to explain that. Actually, she’s still evolving — and that’s why we keep paying attention.

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