Keith Bruce’s verdict: five stars.
Some of you perhaps thought the Queen of Pop was the girl who wouldn’t grow up, and was still out to shock and trade provocations with lasses less than half her age. Wise up, because the Rebel Heart show is the work of a woman who has shown no inclination to compromise over 30 years of work and would like to remind us of that.
We are ages, Madge and I, but I hadn’t seen her perform live since the Who’s That Girl tour visited Leeds Roundhay Park in 1986, an era she specifically recalled with a singalong acoustic version of the song and a thanks to her fans for supporting her over the past three decades – leading into her latest anthem Ghosttown, and the title-track of Rebel Heart. This show is a careful celebration of all things Madonna as well as a comprehensive plug for the new album, and if a retiral announcement would be as believable as Sinatra’s, it would still be a very fine biographical statement to go out on.
Split into four sections by stunning quality video and using the whole arena as no other has done, we ended up in a 20s speakeasy that was as much Josephine Baker as Sally Bowles and embraced Music and Material Girl, as well as a couple called Pierre and Stephen who caught her bouquet, and kilted lad called Jimmy. Before that we’d had a caped crusader segment with her physique revealed to be clad in a stunning toreador’s suit of lights, and lovely version of La Isla Bonita. The opening sequence dressed some of her dancers in wimples and tennis knickers and had them pole-dancing on crucifixes before a Last Supper tableau – even the liberal congregation of Cairns Kirk, Milngavie might have looked askance.
But it was the segment that followed it, with staging that recalled Greased Lightning and some panto audience-baiting, that revealed the show’s music-theatre heart. When Madonna says she’s a girl who works hard for her money, it ain’t no word of a lie. From her commitment to the ensemble – all stunning dancers – on Deeper and Deeper through to a virtuosic solo Like A Virgin to a pulsing industrial beat, this was a performance that was as much theatre as it was music, and owned the space.
Just to prove it, when they pulled the plug and the hard-hatted crew were waiting at the open dock door to start the get-out, Madonna and company came back out and performed Holiday anyway, with the audience filling the audibility gap. Whether you come back or not, Madonna, this was a night none who were there will forget.