NEW YORK — A floor-length, traditional Latin dress blanketed Madonna’s slender frame.
With her hair woven into a french braid, the singer strummed an acoustic guitar and sang to the crowd as a collage of her fans’ artwork played behind her on a video screen.
In this moment, at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, it was hard to believe the 57-year-old mother of four had ever thrusted her way through her “Erotica” phase.
But, it would have been more difficult to imagine if a half-hour earlier, the sultry icon had not flung herself onto crucifix-adorned stripper poles, among a team of scantily clad dancers in nun costumes.
Pop’s most culturally influential female has always seem to follow a pattern of unpredictability like this — a romantic gesture in her music may just as easily be followed by shock or obscenity on stage.
And in that vein, the chameleonic performer showed formidable range and allure on her new Rebel Heart world tour, as she morphed from 21st Century dance-vixen, to nostalgic ’80s pop conjurer, to an ostensibly earnest singer-songwriter.
The two-hour set blasted the sold-out crowd mostly with the thump of her upbeat tracks — particularly the new songs off March’s “Rebel Heart” — and revamped many of her greatest hits amid a bevy of dazzling stage sets. Though the fresh takes on her classics varied in their successes.
Throughout the night Madonna was gracious, good-humored and sharp enough on her vocals and intense choreography to arrest the “does she still have it?” skeptics. She most certainly does.
The epic hit-maker’s 76-date roadshow, which kicked off last week in Montreal (Wednesday’s show was No. 4), hits Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City Oct. 3, and runs through March 2016.
– Eight songs off “Rebel Heart” peppered the set and reminded that after three decades in the game, the singer can still act as a contemporary force. The set’s second number “Bitch, I’m Madonna” — performed in full-on Japanese samurai garb — felt like a jab to any fans who questioned the pairing of Madonna’s sensual performance style with her age.
But the most memorable of her latest crop was inarguably the sacrilegious live version of “Holy Water,” which not only featured the stripper poles and nuns, but recreated a Last Supper table and quickly covered it with dancers pantomiming sexual acts over its surface.
While church-goers might find the choreography and setting somewhat disturbing, Madonna has said before that in her eyes, religion and music are intertwined. In the sea of vapid stage scenes, it was refreshing to see an artist so vehemently represent their work and push the envelope in a grand, shocking format.
– Amid all the tack-sharp choreography and production value were a few more organic, acoustic numbers. Perhaps the strongest was the night’s lone cover, of Edith Piaf’s classic “La Vie En Rose.” Madonna sat center stage and strummed a ukulele as she worked a slow, smooth vibrato over background accordion.
“I still am a romantic at heart,” she said before the song — her level of earnestness is always up for grabs — and during the French tune’s “la la la” section, she called “everyone sing along!” But she seemed to say it mockingly. A cynic at heart, or just a rebel heart, felt closer to her true psyche.
– Madonna’s second costume change, into a matador costume to battle her bull-horn-headed dancers during “Living For Love” launched the night’s most questionable section. The singer continued to wear the getup for “La Isla Bonita,” and then left to again switch clothes. She emerged wearing the aforementioned Latin gown, and launched into a sluggish, Latin-infused medley of old pop hits. The addition of congas to “Dress You Up” was tolerable, but the medley version of “Into The Groove” completely deflated the song.
To read the full review and view pictures by NJ.com click HERE