TORONTO – Madonna is a rebel at heart and always will be.
No matter she’s now a middle-aged, twice-divorced single mother of four.
The 57-year-old Material Girl, promoting her 2015 Rebel Heart album with yet another big production touring show of the same name, proved she still has the power to provoke, mingling sexuality and religion – as has long been her way – when she arrived at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night for the first of two back-to-back shows.
Would you believe white lace panty-wearing nuns on stripper poles for the song, Holy Water, which eventually morphed into her old dance hit, Vogue, featuring the rest of her dancers acting out a Last Supper scene?
Madonna followed that up by straddling a priest during Devil Pray.
And that was just the first half-hour of a two-hour-and-10-minute show that featured a surprise appearance by a short-haired Nelly Furtado towards the end of the night on Unapologetic Bitch before the encore number Holiday.
Performing in front of a sold out crowd of 13,500, Madge’s eye-popping stage included an enormous red lit catwalk in the shape of a cross, arrow and heart that took over almost the entire arena floor.
The show began with striking visuals on a huge video screen – Mike Tyson naked inside a cage while Madonna writhed around in a white sequined dress evoking the Material Girl of old.
Then the real Madge descended in a cage decked out in Asian-inspired glorious red and black flowing robes while as many as 20 dancers marched around carrying crosses and danced alongside her for the show opening number Iconic.
“Hello Toronto! Are you with me?’” yelled Madonna, who was backed by a seven piece band.
The answer appeared to be a full-throated yes.
Another Rebel Heart song, Bitch I’m Madonna – featuring Nicki Minaj rapping on the video screen – followed before she broke out her first oldie but goodie, Burning Up, while playing electric guitar, sometimes on her knees on that catwalk.
“Come on Toronto,” she said, seeming a little bit impatient. “Let’s start to heat things up. Are you shy?”
She and her dancers certainly were not as they dug right into the S&M inspired Body Shop whose background of cars, tires and chains, evoked an auto shop-meets-dungeon.
“Goodness gracious! Have you ever seen so many gorgeous people in your life?” said Madonna.
In a word, no.
Madge sure can pickup ‘em when it comes to dancers as the tall, thin and graceful Flamenco dudes more than proved during the Spanish-flavoured standout segment of Living For Love, La Isla Bonita, Dress You Up/Get Into The Groove/Lucky Star while she wore both a bullfighters outfit and a beautiful dress with black shawl and black hat.
There was also a cool-looking spiral staircase that appeared at the end of the catwalk for Heartbreak City but I really liked how she playfully danced around to Like A Virgin afterwards.
This Madonna is a smiling, more laid back version of her former perfectionist self and it really suits her.
“I love my job,” she said at one point.
And when she played acoustic guitar for Who’s That Girl she said afterward: “I’m still not sure.”
Also good was the title track for Rebel Heart, and the final segment set in a ‘20s Parisian jazz club consisting of Music (which ended with her walking down the catwalk in a bridal veil and carrying a white bouquet which she eventually threw into the crowd at a male couple), Candy Shop, and Material Girl, before going acoustic one last time and singing La vie en rose while playing a ukulele.
You couldn’t have told me that would have happened at a Madonna concert 20 years ago.
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