Over 30 years into her career, Madonna is still acting like a virgin. “I’ve never performed in Brooklyn before,” she coyly told a sold-out crowd at the Barclays Center in Prospect Heights Saturday night. The Rebel Heart Tour, which kicked off in Montreal two weeks ago and landed in the borough for one night after two performances across the river at Madison Square Garden, is the singer’s 10th stage show. While she’s finally warmed up to her ’80s hits after years of ignoring all but a handful, she still insists on challenging her fans, who, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to see, are still dressing up like her. Only now it’s the men. Here are 10 other things I learned at the show.
1. Yes, Madonna can sing.
As her shows have increasingly required her to be hoisted, flung, and swung around in the air for close to two hours every night, Madonna has in recent years relied, perhaps too heavily, on lip-synching. But she can carry a tune far better than she’s typically given credit for. Despite a mouthful of those pesky gold-and-diamond-encrusted grillz, she flawlessly serenaded old pal Debi Mazar, who stood in the audience singing along, with “True Blue,” and delivered an impassioned rendition of the blistering Rebel Heart ballad “HeartBreakCity.” Perched on the edge of a stage platform, playfully swinging her leg, she even belted out “La Vie En Rose” with relative ease.
2. Fifty-seven is the new 27.
At one point, Madonna dabbed her forehead with a towel and joked that sitting down to strum a ukulele was her favorite part of the show, but she barely missed a beat or broke a sweat throughout the 21-song setlist. With her dirty-blond extensions cascading around her shoulders, dark roots exposed, fingerless gloves, and jewel-encrusted blazer and ankle boots, she was the spitting image of the title character from Desperately Seeking Susan, in which she made her big-screen debut an astonishing three decades ago.
3. “Deeper and Deeper” belongs among Madonna’s classics.
With a catalogue as deep and wide as Madonna’s, it would be easy for gems like Erotica’s “Deeper and Deeper” to get lost to pop history. So it was a pleasant surprise to spot this one on the setlist and, aside from some amped-up EDM beats and a simplified flamenco guitar solo, hear it performed so faithfully.
4. Being Madonna (and working for her) is dangerous business.
As they say in Texas, everything is bigger on a Madonna tour…including the liability and personal injury insurance policy. Coverage must include, but isn’t limited to, performers being thrown off spiral staircases and tossed down giant LED screens, scaling and hanging precariously from poles, swinging back and forth from 10-foot stilts, and wearing capes with a recent history of violently yanking superstars to the ground from behind in front of an audience of millions.
5. Madonna really likes “Candy Shop.”
Though the Hard Candy opener was never released as a single, Madonna has a peculiar fondness for the track, having performed it during all of her last three tours. The singer’s tenacity and obvious enthusiasm for the song has practically willed it into becoming a staple, fitting inconspicuously between her signature hits “Music” and “Material Girl.”
6. Madonna really hates “Take a Bow.”
Madge dusted off her ’80s hits “True Blue” and “Who’s That Girl” for the first time in 28 years. But some of her biggest ’90s ballads, from “This Used to Be My Playground” to “I’ll Remember” to “Take a Bow” (her longest running #1 hit ever), have still, to this day, never been performed on tour. Sure, they don’t fit obviously into the pop star’s latter-day dance-floor-driven output, but if the queen of reinvention isn’t willing to find a way to put a new spin on these old chestnuts, there must be a good reason. With songs as timeless as these, it’s just hard to imagine what that could possibly be.
7. You’re never too old to take a “Holiday.”
The only song to be performed during all or part of every Madonna tour aside from one, “Holiday” reclaimed its rightful place as the closing number during the Rebel Heart Tour. Over the years, Madonna’s first bona fide smash has been reimagined as everything from a disco bauble to an ironic military march to an EDM banger, but while a Latin-style medley of “Dress You Up,” “Into the Groove,” and “Lucky Star” proves she isn’t exactly becoming a purist, she refreshingly played it straight for her perennial call for a little celebration.
8. Madonna is more comfortable on stage than ever.
Madonna is a self-proclaimed showgirl, but despite a show clearly choreographed down to each flick of a wrist, she’s never seemed more unscripted. From the call-and-response exchanges with the audience during an acoustic version of “Who’s That Girl” to the addition of a new song to the setlist (a stirring, if pitchy, rendition of shoulda-been-a-sleeper-hit “Ghosttown,” which brought seemingly genuine tears to her eyes, a development that seemed to surprise even her), the Queen of Pop never looked so unguarded and at ease.
9. Madonna might be running out of ideas.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Madonna had already staged a show with scantily clad nuns twerking on cross-shaped stripper poles. From that perhaps too on-the-nose provocation to the multimedia prologue and guitar-wielding riot-grrrl shtick, Madonna seems to be recycling themes and concepts in ways that, while her contemporaries remained dogged in their adherence to formula, she managed to successfully avoid for the first few decades of her career.
10. …But she’s still the greatest performer of our time.
“It’s lonely at the top, but it ain’t crowded,” Madonna quipped, tongue in cheek, during a jazz-infused version of “Music.” As far back as 1990’s iconic, game-changing Blond Ambition Tour, her shows have always been theatrical, blending traditional rock-concert tropes with narrative storytelling; Rebel Heart, though, takes it to another level, equal parts Cirque du Soleil, Broadway musical, and burlesque—an immersive experience that redefines the meaning of maximalism.
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