In the first of two Rebel Heart tour shows at the historic venue, the pop queen brings out Amy Schumer, Game of Thrones, transgender nuns, a ukulele … and her greatest hits
Madonna’s album Rebel Heart was bedevilled by leaks; she fell flat on her backside at the Brit awards; and her Instagram gaffes have made Jeremy Corbyn look like a Rupert Murdoch-style media mastermind. As she arrives in Madison Square Garden on the fourth date of her 10th tour – the last under her 10-year, $120m contract with Live Nation – she should be up against it. Yet Madonna is always at her best with her back to the wall, when the killer instinct that has sustained her through over 30 years in pop rears to the surface, a visceral refusal to be beaten.
Her choice of support act on this homecoming gig – since New York is the place she remade herself – is very Madonna, all wrong on paper but in practice, right on the money. Amy Schumer takes the stage in front of a massive backdrop of Madonna’s face staring at the heavens and clutching a sword to her breast, the massive machinery of pop music concealed behind it. Swigging from a bottle of champagne, and with nothing but a microphone and a stool, the comic of the moment says that she was asked: “‘Who better than you to open up for Madonna?’” “Uh,” she rhetorically answers. “Any band?”
Yet Schumer’s perfect reading of the audience, in which straight men are such a minority as to be non-existent, (“It’s like taking a warm bath in a ton of dick that doesn’t want you”) weapons-grade filth (“We’re here to rethink cum”) and description of the Kardashians as a family who “take the faces they were born with as a light suggestion” reduce the crowd to marshmallow before Madonna has even made an appearance.
Twenty-five years from her apotheosis, 1990’s Blond Ambition tour, Madonna’s vision of the pop concert – in which music is combined with dance, video and costume, in order to reconceptualise familiar hits into an overwhelming sensory bombardment – has now been copied by generations of pop stars. She’s also notorious for stuffing the setlist with new material, thwarting those who would love an oldies show. At first the signs aren’t promising: the show starts with film of Madonna writhing in a sequinned dress in a cage, while her voiceover chunters that creativity is being threatened by corporations (ironic, given that Madonna is a formidable corporation in her own right). read more →