Truth or dare?
Truth: Madonna’s performance at TD Garden on Saturday night was a crowning achievement in a year that has unjustly denied her such moments.
Let me put it this way. The narrative surrounding Madonna in 2015 has not exactly been kind to the 57-year-old pop icon. You would think by now she has earned the right, and the public’s trust, to be whomever she wants. And yet the older she gets, the more she has to counter sexist questions of why she’s not acting her age (“I am,” she has said) and what is left for her to do.
Those critiques faded inside the Garden as Madonna reasserted a longstanding hallmark of her career: She is at her best and fights her hardest the minute you count her out.
“Tell me I’m no good/ And I’ll be great,” she sang on the opening “Iconic,” a battle cry from this year’s “Rebel Heart,” a very good pop album that deserved to sell more than it did.
The accompanying Rebel Heart Tour reveals a softer, more reflective Madonna who’s celebrating her legacy while forging her future in the genre. There is no blueprint for her trajectory, so, critics be damned, she’s blazing her own.
And she’s obviously having so much fun right alongside her fans. This new tour is a window into Madonna as both deity and human being. It was heavy on spectacle brought to life by a band, her many elastic dancers, glitzy costumes, and streamlined set pieces that kept the production stylish and fluid.
The show also allowed Madonna to appear exposed. Three songs in, she stalked the runway extension of the stage alone with an electric guitar as she sang “Burning Up,” an early club classic. My jaw dropped when she dug into “Like a Virgin,” once again by herself on the catwalk, simply dancing and singing and making eye contact with the audience. It was poignant to see an established artist revisiting her roots and engaging with them all over again.
She also found fresh ways to enliven hits that are now decades old while connecting the dots to more recent work. A matador theme set the tone for “Living for Love,” her latest hit, which segued into the flamenco beat of “La Isla Bonita.” It was a seamless setup for a Mexican-tinged revamping of “Dress You Up” that mashed in snippets of “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star.”
Fans will forever quibble with the set list, but this tour gets the balance right, from the thumping groove of “Deeper and Deeper” to the closing euphoria of “Holiday.” Madonna opened the vaults, dusting off favorites she hasn’t performed on tour since the mid-’80s. On acoustic guitar, she reclaimed “Who’s That Girl” as an introspective ballad, and with Madonna strumming ukulele, “True Blue” featured her most stirring vocal of the evening.
She delivered “La vie en rose,” the Edith Piaf classic, in its original French, leading you to wonder why she hasn’t reinvented herself as a supper-club chanteuse. She dedicated the song to her son David, who turned 10 on Saturday, and then brought him out to dance for the audience. It was a sweet mother-son moment that was suddenly comical when you realized the song she was singing: “Unapologetic Bitch.” (See? Some things never change.)
With the pope visiting the US, it was prime time for Madonna to stir the pot with some blasphemy. On “Holy Water,” a reference to what a certain part of her body tastes like, her female dancers donned nun’s habits and twerked on stripper poles shaped like crosses.
Having seen her live a handful of times over the past decade, I admit I’m guilty of wondering how much longer Madonna can pull off such a demanding and youthful pageantry.
Truth: She can — and will — do it as damn well long as she wants.