MADONNA: REBEL HEART ★★★★1/2 Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, March 12
You don’t have to be a lapsed Catholic to appreciate the glorious spectacle of Madonna’s Rebel Heart World Tour. But it does help.
Madonna on stage at Rod Laver Arena on March 12. Photo: Getty Images
When Madonna was little, she watched her mother pray while kneeling on uncooked rice. She saw her sleep on wire coat hangers. When her aunts visited, wearing jeans with zippers on the front, her mother draped sheets over the holy statues.
On Saturday night at Rod Laver Arena, we saw the world’s most famous pop star ride and spank a half-naked nun while singing Holy Water, her hymn to oral sex.
In Devil Pray, she genuflects before a priest, then grinds against him before striding off and pleading, “Mother Mary, can’t you help me?”
Most arrestingly, she re-imagines the Last Supper as a bacchanal, the feast culminating in an orgy. In the very spot where da Vinci has Jesus addressing his stricken disciples, we find Madonna, back arched and legs apart. You’ve never seen Vogue (normally a slick dance number) performed with such darkness.
Catholic iconography is woven throughout the show, part of her first Australian tour in 23 years. Even when religion is not explicit, you just feel it. From start to finish, it’s is a deeply Catholic affair. There’s repression transmuted into kink, for instance. (Such as Madonna hinting at an erotic relationship with Jesus.) The melding of sex, power and rituals. (She walks down the stage, with minions carrying her bridal train as she moans orgasmically, then stops to ask: “Is this a church?”)
Most tellingly, there’s the rigorous discipline and occasional self-flagellation. At one point, she chides herself for some mistake, even though it’s imperceptible to us.
In 1990, Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour set the template for a new generation of pop stars: blending music, elaborate dance, costume, giant sets and video into a sensory bombardment. And boy, did they use that template.
On Saturday, it felt like the queen had re-asserted herself. Her dancers were better, her sets more impressive, her re-interpretation of classics more creative. Everything was polished to within an inch of its life – which is what made it so magnificent.
To wonder why she still mixes religion and sex is to miss the point. This is not some phase; this is in her DNA. And she does it better than anyone, as she proved yet again.
Rebel Heart, her best album in years, provided nine songs: Iconic, Bitch I’m Madonna, Holy Water, HeartbreakCity, Devil Pray, Living For Love, Body Shop, Rebel Heart and Unapologetic Bitch.
She sang HeartbreakCity, her bitter anthem, atop a spiral staircase as she pushed away a paramour. Then she ripped off her jacket to reveal a sparkly ’80s number. “I made it through the wilderness,” she began. Everyone lost it, then joined in with Like A Virgin.
This is where Madonna started having fun; smiling, sometimes laughing, clearly enjoying re-working her older material. Gratifyingly, her oft-neglected hits got a look-in.
Deeper And Deeper, from her most under-rated album Erotica, was closest to its original form: a thumping disco-tinged anthem. Her ukulele-led singalong of True Blue was perhaps the most joyous moment of the evening. (Why does she keep leaving it off her greatest hits collections?) Another highlight: her guitar-shredding rendition of Burning Up. La Isla Bonita is perhaps the best known of the lot, though it was transformed into a stomping, dramatic opener to the evening’s Spanish portion.
Noticeably absent was her greatest song Like A Prayer, which she treated her Los Angeles audience to recently. It’s a shame we didn’t get it, given she was last here five prime ministers ago.
Holiday – which she performed draped in the Australian flag – was a wise closing number. But the most Aussie moment of the evening came when she spotted Molly Meldrum in the crowd, thanking him for his decades of support. “Molly! Molly! Molly!” everyone chanted.
At this point, Meldrum grabbed her microphone and screamed, “I love you!” The place erupted. The consensus seemed to be: come back, soon.
The Rebel Heart Tour continues at Rod Laver Arena on March 13, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, March 16 and 17 and Sydney’s Allphones Arena on March 19 and March 20.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald