ONE MIGHT say this has been Madonna’s motto, or at least the “taking chances” part of it. (Madonna doesn’t seem to ever relax enough to have fun!) Over the years of her long career, Madonna has rarely played it safe.
There’s always been this perverse push-pull between the star and her fans — watch me, I’m going to do something fabulous, now keep watching, because I’m going to make you all crazy. And maybe not in a good way. (The “Sex” book … the Letterman debacle … wearing those damn grills on her teeth!)
This tension notwithstanding, her career has spanned three super-successful decades, but it has often left her admirers scratching their heads. They want her to be more accessible, “nicer,” play ALL the hits and stop experimenting with her music. They want her to be Cher.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Madonna does exactly as she pleases, always has, always will, so this frustration seems pointless. Especially if you have followed her career since 1983, as I have. Or even since 1990, or 2000. She’s Madonna, these hoes should know!
NOW comes the star’s “Rebel Heart” tour, which hit Madison Square Garden like a glorious punch in the jaw last Wednesday night. Is she “”different?” Yes. Has she taken one bit of advice? Most unlikely. This concert — her best, I think, since “The Girlie Show” — is simply what she wanted to do in this moment. (Two years from now, she might get all dark and broody on us. With guns!)
MADONNA’S shows have always had extraordinary set pieces, thrilling sections, but too often she indulged her penchant for, well — doing exactly as she pleased, and alienating many in the audience. (Although this hasn’t stopped her tours from being mega-hits.) “Rebel Heart,” beautifully mixes songs from her current album with classics such as “True Blue” (people were crying to finally hear her sing this early hit) … “Burning Up” … “Deeper and Deeper” … “Who’s That Girl” … “Like a Virgin” … “Dress You Up, “Into The Groove, “Lucky Star” … “La Isla Bonita” … and ta-da! “Material Girl,” which she offers in high glamour — not the video version, a la Marilyn, but as a 1930s vamp, kicking those panting men down steep slides, as she belts out the famous lyrics. (“Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right.”) She gives these oldies respect, too. Not performing them exactly as she once did, but not rendering them unrecognizable.
The “Rebel Heart” songs are integrated with care, and the super-enthusiastic MSG crowd knew every lyric to “Devil Pray” … “Holy Water” … “Iconic” … “Unapologetic Bitch,” and “Heartbreak City” (which she mashed up brilliantly with another oldie “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.”)
SHE looked great, she sounded great, she moved wonderfully and without the effortful “athletics” that have (in my opinion) marred her dancing in recent years. She was fluid and graceful — even in high heels. If perhaps there was a little less dancing, that was all to the good, as she has rarely used her voice so well. There were no political statements, no pointless profanity, nothing especially sexual — I mean, it’s Madonna, her mere presence spells sex. But nothing made you roll your eyes, clutch your head and wonder, “Why, M, why?” And this audience stayed by its seats, standing for two hours.
There were very few annoying wanderers. She ended with a rousing “Holiday, wrapped in an American flag. And there was nothing ironic or disrespectful about it, either. Who is a greater all-American success story than Bay City Michigan’s Madonna?
And, much to my pleasure, Madonna did have her Dietrich moment, as I have always yearned for. She sat on stage, with a guitar, and performed a moving rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” She really can’t sing, say her critics. Bull. The woman can sing. (I don’t expect Madonna to wedge herself into a beaded gown and whisper out sultry ballads, but — she could if she wanted to!)
“REBEL Heart” is fun, just fun. Madonna seems joyous herself, full of energy and vitality — no strain, no pain. (No pain that’s obvious, anyway.) The costumes, sets and amazing dancers take second place to the positive vibrations Madonna sends out. If it’s acting, then she is a far, far better actress than she has ever been credited. The star seems to have recaptured the effervescence of her early days, when fame was was shiny and new, not yet a burden, and the world she declared she wanted to conquer, was waiting for her.
Madonna is a great showman, and a great artist. Period. Deal with it, bitches.
The two words critics love to use about Madonna — always have — are “desperate” and “over.” If what I saw last week is desperate and over, please, sir, may I have some more?
“Rebel Heart’s” next stop is Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, on the 24th.
P.S. Actress/comic Amy Schumer was Madonna’s opening act, and she was a profane riot. (Madonna also pulled her up onstage during the “Holiday” finale.) Since Madonna is less overt this time out, Schumer supplies the raunch. I don’t know how she’ll play in the middle of the country, but Amy is perfect for big cosmopolitan cities.