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by Cal Vid:
by Brian James:
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by Lyndsey Parker:
1. Katy Perry put in an appearance near the end of the concert when Madonna brought her onstage during “Unapologetic Bitch.” After spanking the younger singer (who pretended to tear up at the attention), Madonna presented Perry with a banana-shaped flask and invited her to have a sip of whatever was inside it. “I love you, Mom!” Perry said.
2. The set list pulled deeply from this year’s “Rebel Heart” album, opening with “Iconic” and moving through eight more of Madonna’s new tunes, including “HeartBreakCity,” which she performed on a spiral staircase, and “Living for Love,” presented here in a thumping trance remix.
3. The focus on fresh material meant that Madonna skipped some of her biggest hits, such as “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Express Yourself.” (And no “Ray of Light”? Madness.) But the singer did find time for lovely renditions of “True Blue” and the French standard “La Vie en Rose,” both of which had her accompanying herself on ukulele.
4. Can we talk about Madonna’s dancers? With more than a dozen of them, the show had plenty of elaborate choreography to go along with the sparkly costumes and flashy video elements. Most impressive was a routine during “Illuminati” that had a group of dancers spinning atop long, flexible poles.
5. As always with Madonna, no culture was safe from her appropriation, be it the samurai warriors she battled in “Iconic,” the flamenco moves she tried during “La Isla Bonita” or the Jazz Age flapper dress she donned for a supper-club makeover of “Music.” Watch and learn, Katy.
First, let’s talk about Madonna being casually late for another concert. Starting a show at 10:20 p.m. is just rude, no matter what way you put it. To Madonna’s credit, there were power problems at the venue, which caused her to do a later-than-usual and incomplete soundcheck — at least according to two security people at the venue. Still, for some reason, the crowd had to be punished by DJ Michael Diamond. It wasn’t that he was that bad; the crowd just wanted to see Madonna, and there was no reason he needed to be on stage for 90 minutes — unless the purpose was to help soften Madonna’s delay.
Once the lights went down and the song “Iconic” started, the crowd began to forgive Madonna. The first part of her show didn’t seem to thrill the audience as much as the rest of the show. Perhaps that was the purpose — to warm people up. After “Iconic,” Madonna surged into her latest hit, “B***h I’m Mdonna,” which was followed by “Burning Up,” a much-loved hit from her first album.
Madonna made sure to fill the blasphemy quota for the night when she joined stripper nuns and sang a song called “Holy Water.” Though some may call this desperate, it felt more like self-deprecating comedy or, perhaps, just plain self-parody. The audience seemed to find it funny, but the performance didn’t get them out of their seats. By the time Madonna performed her 1986 hit “True Blue,” she had the tough audience in her hands.
One doesn’t often think of Madonna as a powerhouse vocalist, but she proved those people wrong on Monday night. Her voice during a performance of her early-1996 single “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” was full of power, confidence, and vulnerability. One could see Madonna take air from her diaphragm when belting out long notes. Madonna not only sang well, but she danced with grace and fluidity in numbers such as “Living for Love” and “La Isla Bonita.”
Besides being a singer and dancer, Madonna has also been a cultural sponge and performed the songs “Dress You Up,” “Into the Groove,” and “Lucky Star” in conga mode with “Day of the Dead” inspired Mexican outfits. The younger generation would consider this cultural appropriation. But Madonna became obsessed with Latino culture long before it became cool to do so. It’s obvious, at least from the history of all her performances, that she has an appreciation of it. She’s not somebody who is appropriating or misusing the culture.
The evening’s big surprise came when Madonna broke out into “Like a Prayer,” the first time she has performed the song on this tour. The performance brought the whole crowd to its feat with some in the audience actually crying from excitement. Her vocals in the performance were spot on, even though Madonna claimed it was never rehearsed. She performed some more hits, such as “Music” and “Material Girl,” before bringing Katy Perry onstage for a performance of “Unapologetic B***h.”
The night ended with a rousing version of “Holiday” before Madonna thanked the audience for being so great. Madonna’s fans walked out exhausted after the concert ended at about 12:30 p.m. Even if her fans crawl into work with only a couple hours of sleep, Madonna gave them a night to remember.
Madonna’s gratitude should have been difficult to muster given the turmoil she endured for the release of this year’s Rebel Heart. This included two separate leaks of both demos and finished tracks off the album, all stemming from a hack on her personal computer that ended with a 14-month sentence in an Israeli prison for the culprit. Because of the hacker’s actions, however, her entire release plans were stripped away all at once, and the art that she worked so hard to create was brought into the world without any of the deserved control.
But the Rebel Heart tour wasn’t about that unfortunate period and left the album’s dark cloud in the past. Instead, taking a cue from the night’s big finish “Holiday”, the performance was pure celebration, with the opening images featuring a caged Madonna breaking free of the bars that hold her in order to entertain the crowd. And in a clever use of her audience’s early undivided attention, the first handful of songs were almost exclusively from her recent release, allowing her to showcase her newest material while her fans were caught up in the giant spectacle.
And much of the show was larger than life. From the interludes that showcased Rebel Heart tracks while her dancers put on acrobatic displays, to stage features that would ascend and recede as the concert demanded, the production did not skimp, right down to the cross-shaped stage extension.
But it was the evening’s moments of intimacy that really shined. Early on it was a ukulele sing-along of “True Blue”, which under the circumstances became even sweeter and more playful than the giddy original recording. Later, she would reveal it was her daughter that got her playing the uke as she sang one of her child’s favorite covers, “La vie en rose”. And an acoustic run through “Secret” found fans singing along to one of Madonna’s less heralded singles, with the pop star finishing at the end of catwalk, voicing her love for that part of the show because it wasn’t reliant on specific timing and she could go off script.
And then she did just that, offering up something special for “the City of Angels,” an unrefined and joyous rendition of “Like a Prayer” performed for the first time on the tour. There wasn’t a dance routine to support the song, just Madonna getting the audience caught up on the strength of the classic. Sure, the presentation of a pop experience is what people expect when they come to these sorts of performances, but Madonna’s music is so much more than that. Her songs are cultural touchstones, distinct musical memories, and can often completely stand on their own without the frills of lights, dancers, and choreography.
During a medley that saw “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star” bisecting the beginning and end of “Dress You Up”, fans erupted at the first hints of the Madonna classics, thankful that she still found ways to include songs within songs, giving the audience more than a typical setlist could offer. If felt like a generous nod from an artist that no longer needs to be generous. But that comes back to the prevailing tone of the show, how it felt more like a humble thank you note than a album-slanging promotional event. With fans like Katy Perry (brought on stage for a spanking during “Unapologetic Bitch”), Beyonce, and Jay Z all in attendance, the Rebel Heart tour could serve as a model of how their career can look in 20 years if they play their cards right. It’s decent work, if you can get it.
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