Madonna is currently 39 dates into her Rebel Heart World Tour, with another 41 shows stretching out ahead of her. But tonight she breaks with her trusted setlist to mark World Aids Day: after an emotional speech, she bursts into a surprise rendition of Like A Prayer.
If it seems unlikely Madonna would embark on a world tour without that signature hit in each night’s armoury, bear in mind that she could have played a 20-song show consisting of nothing but Top 5 hits after only six years of fame. That was before she’d even released Vogue. Another 50 singles later, Madonna’s is a career that has spanned the shift from tours being used to sell albums in the 80s, to the current state of play where albums operate as loss-leaders for lucrative tours. Throughout that shift, she’s largely avoided greatest-hits tours, firm in the belief that her new Music deserves at least one whizz around the globe.
The Rebel Heart album campaign has not been without calamity – it leaked before it had even been announced, and when Madonna visited tonight’s venue for this year’s Brits she was yanked backwards off a stage by cape that failed to unfasten – but it delivered artistically. While some of its better songs are sidestepped tonight, spluttering trap-style belter Iconic is the perfect opening number. Naturally, when Madonna’s cape flies off unhindered in Living For Love, it prompts one of the biggest cheers of the night.
It’s hard to avoid the fact that most of the show’s action takes place on a runway resembling a tumescent, neon-trimmed penis. Madonna acknowledges the likeness when she reaches its tip (“usually when I get down to the head of the penis, things get pretty heated”). “I work hard!” she declares at another point in the show. “Hard is the key word. Hard. Hard? Yeah.” After another new song, Unapologetic Bitch, guest dancer Graham Norton is presented with a banana and seems initially surprised, then slightly weary, at Madonna’s protracted usage suggestions.
It’s fair to say that when even Graham Norton is tiring of single-entendre knob gags, it’s time to put them behind you. But Madonna is relaxed and comfortable on stage tonight, and there are several flashes of crowdpleasing, campy humour. Taking a breather before a better-than-you’d-expect ukulele version of True Blue, she smirks: “Even I have to admit, I outdo myself.” When she bursts into Love Don’t Live Here Any More, with its dramatic opening line “You abandoned me”, it’s just after having shoved a male dancer off the top of a spiral staircase into a hole in the stage 20ft below.
Most signature hits appear in an updated style – Music is given a crunchy modern rework, Material Girl sounds like it’s been given a once-over by Nero, and a reimagining of Like A Virgin suggests the Art of Noise homaging The Macarena – but when Madonna delivers a refreshingly faithful version of Deeper And Deeper, it’s the night’s highlight.
“I never get tired of looking out into the audience and seeing so many beautiful, happy, smiling faces,” Madonna announces near the end of the show. The doubter might say: well, you probably don’t, considering decent tickets were going for £175. But cynicism evaporates when she adds, in rare recognition of her audience growing older with her: “We survived! And amen to fucking that.”
Having initially appeared in a cage lowered from the ceiling, Madonna finally leaves the stage backwards on a trapeze. If this were the only Madonna show you’d ever see, you might gripe about the lack of hits, but few among tonight’s audience are seeing her for the first time. Nor, to her credit and presumed reassurance, will tonight’s time with the queen of pop be this audience’s last.
Source: The Guardian