Madonna concert review: It's been 23 years but Rebel Heart tour was worth the wait
The Rebel Heart tour proves that there’s plenty of fire left in this rebellious rabble rouser. Review by Stephen A. Russell.
Madonna. What’s in a name? Brought up in a deeply Catholic household, the American megastar has made a career of slaughtering sacred cows, so it’s fitting that after a 20-plus year absence from Australia, the 57-year-old descended onto the stage in a gilded cage, marched out onto a phallic runway, cutting a swathe through the heart of her adoring fans, whilst leading a charge of holy warriors bearing enormous gold crosses.
Old bled into new as she kicked off her Australian dates at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena in the final few days of the Rebel Heart tour. A guitar-heavy take on classic hit ‘Burning Up’ was doused with the erotica of ‘Holy Water’, with the crosses given over as pole dancing props for fishnet-wearing nuns, one of whom Madonna literally rode atop in high heels as they span wildly around.
She has, after all, made a career out of shock value and subverting religious iconography with fetish imagery in her smartly sex pop rock hits. When the video for perhaps her greatest, ‘Like A Prayer’ – sadly not performed last night – was released, with its burning crucifixes and her kissing a black Jesus, furious protests from religious groups saw an associated ad for Pepsi-Cola pulled from the airwaves and allegedly got her ex-communicated by the then Pope too.
‘Vogue’ pushed things further as the scene of the Last Supper became a debauched orgy with Madonna prostrate on a golden altar, rubbing a bunch of grapes into the crotch of a topless female dancer whilst singing about ecstasy of a very different kind washed down with whisky, weed and acid during ‘Devil Pray’. Sinning is an art form for the superstar.
As always for the queen of an MTV generation, the spectacular video backdrops, stellar light show and sublimely talented multi-racial dancers, transgressing gender and sexuality norms, combined to create the sort of mind-boggling vision quest no other living artist comes close to replicating.
Flirting shamelessly with her posse, Madonna has never seemed so at ease, exuding a great deal of warmth even as she breaks the boundaries fans expect. “If you relax, it doesn't hurt so much,” she laughed, once again pushing while drawing in an audience wound up to feral-level with repeated chanting of, “Fuck, fuck, fuck yeah”.
Of her belated return, she seems contrite. “About bloody time,” she confessed, one of several segues into Aussies slang that peaked with a heartfelt tribute to Molly Meldrum, serenading him with ‘Take A Bow’ as her subjects for one moment forgot their queen, chanting, “Molly, Molly, Molly”. No matter, he grabbed her microphone to return favour, “I bloody love you”. Celebrated drag queen Courtney Act was similarly blown away when brought up on stage by an admiring Madonna.
VIDEO: Watch Madonna sing to Molly at Rebel Heart concert in Melbourne. Footage Cameron Adam/Twitter
VIDEO: Watch Courtney Act on stage with Madonna at the Rebel Heart concert in Melbourne. Footage Avery Leon/Facebook
The joy of ‘True Blue’ was amplified by Madonna strumming it on ukulele before oft-overlooked classic ‘Deeper and Deeper’ did exactly as promised and took things darker and dirtier. There was even a fragment of her sexiest song ‘Justify My Love’ before sliding into S.E.X. accompanied by another orgy of fluid sexuality.
In a quieter moment, ‘HeartBreakCity’ was performed atop a spiral staircase from which Madonna, playing the role of spurned lover, hurls a dancer over the edge to a communal gasp of shock echoing around the stadium.
A sultry, slower take on ‘Material Girl’ is performed against a vast shimmer of Art Deco gold, evoking the excess of The Great Gatsby as, once again, dancers are tossed one-by-one down a great slope of starbursts before Madonna performed a veiled wedding march. “Is this a church?” she asks before a bouquet is thrown. ‘Like a Virgin’ gets amped up too.
Always enamoured with Spanish culture, Madonna dons the sparkling bull fighter suit for a rousing rendition of ‘Living For Love’ complete with the dreaded cape (no wardrobe malfunctions this time) then ‘La Isla Bonita’ before a brief tricycle ride and peanut-throwing while swigging from a hip flask, a la her Tears of a Clown sideshow. At one stage wielding a pair of microphones, she jests, “I mean, two dicks are better than one, right?” to uproarious applause.
Title track ‘Rebel Heart’ plays out against a chameleon-like parade of all Madonna’s many looks, with her knack of appropriating and transformation part of her enduring appeal. By the time ‘Holiday’ rolled around, with the star draped in the Aussie flag, almost three hours had whizzed by with the queen reasserting her dominance, proving that there’s plenty of fire left in this rabble-rouser: “Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebel.”
Catch the Rebel Heart tour at Rod Laver Arena tonight, Brisbane’s Entertainment Centre March 16-17 or the final dates at Sydney’s Allphones Arena March 19-20. Details here