Bad luck has struck Madonna with each and every step of her Rebel Heart campaign, from the album leaking in demo form before even being announced to the backward yank-and-thud down the stairs heard ’round the world at the 2015 BRIT Awards.
As the lights dropped and a massive screen lit up center stage at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Wednesday night, several panels in the middle of the projection stayed off, providing an unintentional black hole in the middle of Madge’s face for the duration of the show’s otherwise epic — err, Iconic — opening sequence. Fitting, really.
But as the Queen of Pop would later sing that night: She’s gonna carry on.
The Rebel Heart Tour is Madonna’s first outing since 2012′s MDNA Tour and, as with every Madonna production, the concert is a massive all-out explosion of song, dance and depravity with vague social commentary, proving for the umpteenth time that Madonna is, was and truly always will be the Queen.
Admittedly, Rebel Heart Tour is also not her most innovative show. At least, not if you’re already deeply invested in her legacy.
Whereas previous tours have loosely held to an artsy concept of some kind — Confessions with its disco futuristic sheen, Re-Invention‘s militant, avant-garde boldness and the dark-to-light redemption story of MDNA — the Rebel Heart Tour feels more like a greatest hits run than anything, offering a joyous, colorful and, of course, deeply #unapologetic celebration of Madonna’s best musicl moments and concert feats. (Rebel Heart itself is a deeply self-referential record, so the staging makes perfect sense.)
For the diehard Madonna fan, one who may have hypothetically trekked from America to Canada to see her on opening night, there are few new stage thrills in the production, which borrows extensively from past concepts: A guitar-led version of Burning Up? If you loved it on the Re-Invention, you’ll love it again here. A Holiday encore? Yes, indeed! A #SocialJustice video montage with world leaders and global events? It’s in that Illuminati interlude. A gypsy section with some chanting and strumming and such? Plenty of that, too — with maracas. Olé!
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Madonna concert if there wasn’t a healthy heaping of religious irreverence. Have cross? Will blaspheme.
Appropriately, the Rebel Heart Tour has some of her most holy indiscretions — as if the nun habits with “BITCH” scrawled across the front hanging at the merch stand weren’t enough of a clue.
The sacrilege shined brightest during the show’s jaw-dropping centerpiece, Rebel Heart‘s Holy Water, as Madonna gleefully dragged and dry-humped her sexy, stripping servants of the Lord around the stage before displaying her impossibly super-human strength by twirling on a metal cross — on top of another dancer, no less — in a free-for-all of sex and sin. And while she was busy twirling, her dancers gathered together on stage for a spot-on recreation of the Last Supper, where she writhed her way back across the catwalk on her knees to meet them.
Following some dinner table shenanigans, Madge moaned a final “Yeezus loves my pussy best” as a dancer opened her legs and went down on his knees in between her — and not to pray. Eating out while dining in: What could be better?
Her latest album’s major singles — barring HeartbreakCity, which was conspicuously absent live but present in at least a few of the video backdrops — were thrown into the show early, with Bitch I’m Madonna getting an Asian-themed treatment (fan choreography galore) and Living For Love playing out exactly like her relentless string of promotional performances alongside Japanese dancers, Aya Sato and Bambi — Vogue breakdown and all.
To witness that performance in person is incredible, regardless of how many times she’s done it on TV.
In true Madonna form, she marched to the stage with what was arguably an even longer cape, making her way up a set of stairs before thrusting it off in one major, Madge-like middle finger to her live fumble. Redemption is sweet.
Rebel Heart‘s folky oddity Body Shop was given generous attention, as M twirled on a car hood as a faux-mechanic before getting into some cheeky gasoline nozzle fun with her dancers — a fun shout out to The Motor City from which she hails, no doubt. After a quick ride on a stack of tires to the center of the stage, she sat down to perform none other than…True Blue, the first time she’s performed the song in concert since 1987′s Who’s That Girl Tour.
As though to further fire up the already flailing fans, she immediately transitioned into Erotica‘s euphoric “Deeper & Deeper,” as she and her dancers exploded with the same joyous energy of the club delight of the song’s video — plus a bit of a modern dance breakdown thrown in for good measure. A bass-heavy Like A Virgin came immediately afterward, as M loosened up her buttons and aggressively thrust her way (and sucked her thumb!) across the catwalk, smiling and slapping hands with fans along the way.
The Rebel Heart Tour set list, as opposed to some of the more recent tours, is solid, and what the show might have lacked in revolutionary concepts or fresh visuals (“Erotica” and HeartbreakCity were repurposed as backdrops, the first decision genius, the latter less so), it made up for in multiple fan favorites from the catalog, including an incredible, super dramatic revisiting of her deeply underappreciated Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, which she performed on a massive spiral staircase at the end of the catwalk.
The hits came fast and furious once Madonna broke out her best Señora Ciccone look two-thirds of the way through, cycling through several of her classics — including Dress You Up, Lucky Star and Everybody — with a flamenco flare (a meh way to cover them all in one go, admittedly), followed by another fan fave Who’s That Girl? and the evening’s namesake Rebel Heart, performed at her trusty guitar. During the performance, she instructed the crowd to look at the images behind her of fan art submissions of her face — thrilling for the artists involved no doubt, but for the concertgoers who paid a pretty penny to watch Madge twerk with nuns, no one really wanted to be forced to watch the Powerpoint slideshow of #RebelArt.
Later on, she’d do her best Cabaret/Blond Ambition impression in a shimmering flapper outfit and black bowler hat, crooning a sultry slowed-down version of Music before launching into the album edit, followed by Hard Candy‘s Candy Shop, which has been needlessly strung along for three tours in a row now. Later, Material Girl was effectively turned into a human Whack-A-Mole game, as Madge flung her dancer-turned-suitors, one by one, down a platform before walking down the catwalk in a wedding veil.
She’d later share her doubts about the “whole marriage thing” with a heavy air of sarcasm. “I’ve had my heart broken a few times,” she reminded the crowd, as if half of them couldn’t name the exact date of her wedding(s).
Ever the endless romantic, she returned to her guitar once again — albeit a tinier one — for a lovely acoustic ode to love in the form of a cover of La Vie En Rose. (Whether that particularly song was a Montreal special or the tour staple remains to be seen.)
But the girl can’t stay all swoon-y and sensitive for long: As the reggaeton vibes of Unapologetic Bitch filled the arena, M and her male dancers began provocatively, flamboyantly thrusting their way through the fierce self-empowerment anthem. And, for possibly the first time, Madge invited a fan on stage to dance with her throughout the song — only, the fan just happened to be a super famous producer.
Special guest Diplo, who opened the night with a DJ set, proved to be a good sport about the whole thing, doing the whip and the nae nae onstage while getting dragged around to each corner of the stage by a gleefully mischievous Madonna. Once the performance ended, the icon gifted him with a banana, instructing him to have his way with it after the show. “We’ll have an ambulance waiting for you once you’re done with it,” she deadpanned. She’s got jokes, that one!
For a moment, the two of them looked like two friends who just happened to wander onto a massive stage in the middle of an arena. And, apart from a few fiery moments of drama, that’s how the entire tour felt: Light-hearted and deeply familiar.
Almost every moment of this tour feels like a nod to something she’s already done — which is not a criticism. (Well, not entirely.) If anything, it’s a testament to the sheer amount of ground she’s covered in her iconic 30+ year career. Catholic stripper poles and twerking for Satan be damned: At 57 years old, her continued resilience as a brilliant, spectacular force in pop music alone is rebellious and revolutionary enough as it is.
As Madonna and crew joyously twirled with a Canadian flag in front of a colorful backdrop celebrating each country to the sound of Holiday, it became clear that the Rebel Heart Tour isn’t about art (well, except for that fan art) or the #SecretProjectRevolution social activism thing (Kim Davis and her supporters surely won’t be pleased with the dude-on-dude gyrations during that S.E.X. interlude, though). This is a celebration of the legacy of Madonna, the entertainer.
And she’s still giving us something to remember.