Since Madonna first burst onto the scene more than 30 years ago, many of the biggest female pop stars on the planet have come through to perform for crowds of thousands in Kentucky. And yet, Madonna — the one who basically blazed the trail and created the template for all those divas — had not graced the Bluegrass State with her presence, until Saturday.
The queen of pop finally came to Kentucky to perform at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Despite a few shortcomings and missed opportunities, the impressive and ambitious spectacle, energy and attitude showed she has no intentions of giving up her title.
The anxious and eclectic crowd would have to wait until close to 10:30 p.m. before Madonna literally descended from above to the stage. It would foreshadow a show where the star was intent on doing a show whenever and however she wanted for a crowd that was just overjoyed to see one of its idols in the flesh.
She appropriately opened with Iconic off her newest album Rebel Heart and then offered a further sampling of her latest work with Bitch I’m Madonna. By the time the show concluded, she played more than eight songs off Rebel Heart (nearly one-third of the set list), further punctuating her refusal to resign her relevance or sell-out arenas as a purely nostalgia act.
What made those songs and the diverse sampling of hits come to life in her more than two-hour show were the hallmarks of her legendary stage shows. With giant set-pieces, an LED wall of visual eye candy, the effortless athleticism and acrobatics of her troupe of dancers and aesthetically-themed sections with wardrobe and choreography to match (in this case: Samurai, ’50s Auto Shop, Latin and ’20s Flapper Girl), 57-year-old Madonna kept pace and voice the entire performance and the show never lost steam. Parts within these sections were sometimes bawdy, like the appearance of a frequently topless female dancer and nuns gyrating on cross-shaped stripper poles. Other times, they were theatrical, like when a staircase lowered onto to the thrust stage for a dramatic back-and-forth with one of her male dancers. It featured elements recent Yum! Center visitors like Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry have utilized in their shows, but the authority and precision of Madonna’s performance shows they still need to step it up to beat Madonna at her own game.
Another element that kept the audience on their toes was Madonna’s own interactions with the crowd. Sounding a bit drunk and occasionally donning an exaggerated Southern accent, she threw out a few mean-spirited comments to fans on the floor that took the audience aback. She mistakenly addressed the crowd from “Tulsa, Oklahoma” (a prior tour stop). At one point, she even encouraged fans in the upper rafters to come down and occupy roped-off sections of empty seats in the lower level (that didn’t go well). Plus, with help of her keyboardist, she played the Call to Post on her self-described “nether regions” (that one got a laugh).
Her unapologetic attitude extended to her performance of some of her biggest hits, which were often tweaked, twisted or re-imagined in ways that only faintly resembled the originals. True Blue was a finger-snapping sing-along with Madonna on ukulele. Like A Virgin was updated with more modern production that wouldn’t be out-of-place on her newest album. Burning Up, from her 1983 self-titled debut, featured guitar-wielding Madonna playing power chords herself. A rush of Spanish-style guitar transformed Dress You Up, which also featured snippets of Into The Groove and Lucky Star. Songs that were a bit closer to the original versions like Deeper And Deeper, a stripped down Like A Prayer and the encore Holiday took the crowd to another level and hinted at what the show could have been if Madonna had acquiesced a bit to the desires of her many loyal subjects.