It has been 23 years between visits but Saturday night’s packed concert at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena only proved the old adage that perhaps distance does make the heart grow fonder.
When Madonna was last in Australia she had just released her infamous book, Sex, and was riding on the back of her latest album, Erotica.
In the years since Madonna has become a mother-of-four and has seen countless imitators come and go.
But as she proved during her Melbourne Rebel Heart’s show: “You don’t mess with the Queen.”
From the opening number, Iconic, Madonna commanded the stage. Even after all these years in the spotlight her sheer force and determination astounds.
What was most refreshing about Saturday night’s tour de force is that the years have not tamed her desire to shock.
The opening sequence was a fantastic mixture of Catholic imagery and samurai-inspired costuming, culminating in an erotically charged depiction of The Last Supper.
This section featured what can only be described as scantily clad pole-dancing nuns. It was a sight to behold as Madonna, now 57, straddled one of the near-naked nuns whilst spinning at the top of a pole singing a song, an ode to oral sex titled Holy Water.
Madonna shows us she has the self-assured courage to challenge what seems “appropriate” for a woman of her age.
In recent years there have been comments that she needs to tone it down, or that she is too old to be overtly sexual. I think this goes hand in hand with the general sentiment that a woman of a certain age needs to relinquish her desire, and age gracefully.
But this is Madonna we are talking about — the woman who became a worldwide superstar rolling around the stage in an erotic fervour singing Like A Virgin.
Sex has always been her game and she is one of the best at it — and if anyone has the guts to not follow the boring notion of ageing gracefully, it is Madonna.
Madonna has survived a career spanning over 30 years in the often fickle world of pop music, and this concert is a testament to her skill as a performer, as well as an “I’ll show you” to ageism.
Show a mix of new work and back catalogue classics
The show epitomises physical endurance, with Madonna singing and dancing for more than two hours.
The attention-grabbing opening sequence gives way to a series of other set pieces, each elaborately staged. From a 1950s car workshop, to a bedazzled matador extravaganza — her stagecraft is magnificent.
She mixed a raft of songs from her Rebel Heart album with classics from her significant back catalogue.
You could almost feel the crowd’s hearts melt when she pulled out a ukulele to sing True Blue and the nostalgic goosebump-inducing rendition of Like A Virgin, which she sang alone on stage.
It was a beautiful moment for a crowd who had grown up with her voice.
Her powerful rendition of Living for Love showcased her strong dancers, and it was great opportunity to focus on the female dancers who are amazing artists in their own right.
Another highlight of the show was the incredible artistry of the Melbourne-based company, Strange Fruit.
Their circus poles were used to stage a daring and hair-raising sequence with male dancers flipping and bending high above the crowd, balanced precariously on the ends of elastic looking poles.
The show slowed down slightly in its final third, with a moving tribute to Molly Meldrum. Madonna singled him out in the audience and dedicated the song Take a Bow to, in her words, “the first Australian man to fall in love with me”.
Meldrum responded as Madonna gave him a kiss by saying, “I f**cking love you”.
Madonna smiled as the crowd chanted “Molly, Molly, Molly!” Many would remember their first encounter with the superstar more than 30 years ago on ABC’s Countdown.
Bawdy sense of humour and profanity pervade show
Madonna is well-known for her controlled career and, remarkably, Saturday night showed a few chinks in her armour.
There were genuine moments where she seemed to let go and a sense of chaos and vulnerability crept into the performance.
Madonna seemed at times emotional and open to spontaneity. This was on the back of her recent career-first intimate show, Tears of a Clown, at Melbourne’s iconic Forum Theatre.
It was refreshing to see this side to her and as she sat on the side of the stage singing a beautiful version of the Edith Piaf standard La Vie En Rose, surrounded by a glow of twinkling iPhone lights, the crowd was mesmerised.
The final act was a gorgeous tribute to the glamour of the 1920s and the phenomenal Josephine Baker.
Madonna looked sparkling in a Jeremy Scott for Moschino flapper dress, complete with thousands of Swarovski crystals.
Throughout the show a bawdy sense of humour and profanity pervaded and built to a cameo from Australian drag star Courtney Act who capped the camp quota for the evening.
By the time she closed with the classic party anthem Holiday the crowd were on their feet. Hopefully it would not be another 23 years before her next holiday down under.
Madonna continues her tour in Brisbane and Sydney this week.
Read more at ABC.net