Madonna let fans see her sweat when her “Rebel Heart” tour started its two nights at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. She belted “HeartBreakCity,” a bitter, accusatory breakup song, from a staircase as she battled the embraces of an acrobatic dancer. Then she tossed off a jacket to reveal a sweat-soaked blouse, and traded heartache for triumph with the first words — “I made it through the wilderness” — of “Like a Virgin.” She pranced and strutted through it with some moves from her 1980s videos and opened the blouse to reveal lingerie and cleavage. The lesson: Madonna the indomitable sexpot would prevail.
That’s undeniable. She mentioned, twice, that she first played Madison Square Garden 30 years ago, saying she felt nostalgic. But while much of her audience has grown up with her, Madonna, now 57, hasn’t allowed herself to become an oldies act. She filled the set with songs from “Rebel Heart,” released this year, and thoroughly rearranged her early hits.
Through the decades, Madonna’s tours have delivered spectacles that push hot buttons galore: sexuality, power, faith, rebellion and sheer willfulness. They were all part of the “Rebel Heart” show, too. But on this tour, Madonna isn’t confronting her audience as much as sharing her prerogatives with it. The dance numbers go hopscotching through history and geography, reaching up in the air and across the arena, simply because they can.
Madonna’s set opened with a recorded monologue about wanting to “start a revolution”; her voice warned about “too much creativity being crushed beneath the will of corporate branding and what’s trendy.” She made her entrance inside a medieval-looking cage that she would break out of as she sang “Iconic,” a pep talk on self-realization for everyone, and then “Bitch I’m Madonna,” a reminder — with thundering dubstep bass drops — that she stands apart. She commanded a troupe of dancers costumed like samurai warriors, defeating one in mock combat. Then, almost immediately, she was a rocker with a black Flying V guitar, playing “Burning Up” as something like a Joan Jett song.
She delivered the show’s blasphemy quota early, with “Holy Water,” calling for oral sex amid bump-and-grind pole dancers wearing nuns’ headgear, and segueing into “Vogue,” with the dancers recasting the Last Supper as a bacchanal. “Devil Pray” — about setting aside drugs for spirituality — had her both genuflecting before a priest figure and grinding her hips.
But then she set provocation aside. It was a friendlier Madonna who encouraged a singalong as she strummed a ukulele through “True Blue.” It was a frisky Madonna who danced through a simulated gas station, climbing on and off the mechanics, in “Body Shop.” It was a touristic Madonna who wore a long ruffled skirt and extended a flamenco version of “La Isla Bonita” into a Latin-flavored medley of early hits. An earnest Madonna exposed her voice in a solo rendition, with ukulele, of “La Vie en Rose.” And a suavely retro Madonna started “Music” as a chanteuse’s torch song before switching to its electronic beat and flaunting her skimpy rhinestone dress amid jitterbugging dancers.
Madonna’s ire was reserved for an ex: in “HeartBreakCity” and in a version of “Living for Love” that traded the upbeat gospel of the single version for a brutal bass stomp, as she played matador with men wearing horns. She closed the main set with another jibe, but a more celebratory one: “Unapologetic Bitch,” which brought back the night’s opener, the comedian Amy Schumer, to dance along and, with Madonna’s help, flash her underwear.
But Madonna took care not to end on that angry note. She was back, dressed in the American flag, for “Holiday,” sounding like the 1983 original with pumped-up bass, inviting the world to dance — a little nostalgic for once, but unstoppable.
New York Times