Thirty-three years after her first hit, Madonna made her Nashville debut Monday night, as the pop icon’s “Rebel Heart” tour stopped at Bridgestone Arena.
“What the (expletive) took me so long?” she asked her audience.
She was referring to playing Music City for the first time, but it was an apt question in more ways than one. Some in the nearly packed house might have been wondering why a show advertised with an 8 p.m. start time didn’t have its performer hit the stage until 10:37 p.m. Recent reports suggest that’s par for the course on this tour.
Still, even with the late start, Madonna might have actually been anxious to return to the stage and prove herself on Monday.
The tour’s previous stop had been in Louisville, Ky. – and that show soon hit the tabloid rounds after some concertgoers speculated that the singer was drunk during her performance.
“This is me sober,” Madonna told her Nashville audience, speaking with her version of a Southern drawl. “I know there’s been reports that I’ve been falling down drunk on the stage. Y’all wish I could dance in six-inch heels and be drunk.”
And that’s a good point to raise. A Madonna concert in 2016 is a highly choreographed, 2 1/2-hour affair, one that constantly requires her to be in a precise place at a precise time. But she still managed to create a handful of moments that won’t be replicated anywhere else.
A surprise Jack White cameo: No one in the audience was expecting Nashville rocker Jack White to be a part of the show – and that included Jack White. Madonna made her way to the end of the stage catwalk, and was asking for crowd participation, when she suddenly honed in on White, who was standing in the crowd.
“Don’t be laid back, just cause you’re famous,” she told him. “I’m famous too, you know. And I get excited when I see people I like. But maybe you don’t like me?”
By then, White was being shown on the video screens. He blew Madonna a kiss.
“Thank you,” she said. “Some kind of acknowledgement.”
Other famous audience members who weren’t spotted by Madonna: Reba McEntire and Kix Brooks, who vented their frustration over the show’s late start time on social media.
A last-minute Johnny Cash cover: Towards the end of the night, Madonna tried out an impromptu, acappella cover of “Ring of Fire,” and only had to start it over once. “You guys have to help me sing it, O.K.? I’m from Michigan….You have to understand, I did not rehearse this. It just came into my head underneath the stage a couple of minutes ago.” Parts of this performance cannot be described here, but perhaps Cash would have enjoyed its seedier elements. Or perhaps not.
The crowd: Nearly a packed house, with a few empty rows here and there. Impressively, nearly everyone stuck it out until the end — on a Monday — though Madonna certainly tested them with a sleepy rendition of “La Vie En Rose” at 12:40 a.m.
The sound: Eyes ever fixed forward, Madonna piled on songs from her latest album, “Rebel Heart.” Sure, she also played “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl” and a bit of “Vogue,” but all were given modern makeovers. None of them were improvements. It’s an approach not unlike George Lucas’ special editions of “Star Wars” — the author might enjoy sprucing things up, but everyone else just wants to have the version they fell in love with. One plus worth noting: Madonna was never hailed for her vocal prowess, but there was no doubt she was singing live and unadorned on Monday night, sounding much like she did three decades ago.
The sets: No surprise for the “Like a Prayer” singer, but her latest stage show is packed with religious imagery, from pole-dancing nuns on “Vogue” to an homage to The Last Supper during “Holy Water.” Other motifs had nods to ancient Rome, rhinestone cowboys, flamenco dancers and samurais.
A marriage proposal (with a ring): We’re going on Madonna’s hearing ability with this, but supposedly this audience member’s name was “Everton.” He was ready to propose to the singer and brought a ring in a box. She brought him to the side of the stage.
“Is that real?” she asked.
“Of course it’s real,” he responded.
Apparently, Madonna had a few requirements for a future spouse. He confirmed that he had a driver’s license, and had a job as a “businessman.” She appeared to keep the ring, which may or may not have been what “Everton” wanted.
“I’ll have my friends that know about jewelry check it out later. But it’s the thought that counts,” she said.
A speech for Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I can’t get through this night without talking about Martin Luther King,” Madonna said. “Today is a very special day honoring an extraordinary human being… It seems like heroes like Martin Luther King are so few and far between, and we seem to be lacking in them in our lives these days. I pray that more and more people will have the courage to stand up and fight for what they believe in.”
The end: A festive (and faithful to the original) encore of 1983’s “Holiday,” which had Madonna waving goodbye to the audience just seconds before 1 a.m.
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