By Eve Cheesmur
Date / Venue: Saturday March 5th, 2016 - Vector Arena, Auckland
The Queen of Pop finally graced New Zealand with her Rebel Heart Tour at Auckland's Vector Arena, and was welcomed with elation by fans young and old, who had been waiting for the Madonna experience in NZ's backyard for around 30 years.
Breaking in to the pop music scene in the early 80's, Madonna has had an almost cult following by feminists, fashionistas, clubbers, movers and shakers alike since her debut single 'Everybody' hit pop clubs and chart tops in 1982. She has consistently pushed boundaries with music, theology and aesthetically ever since, and kiwi fans were keen to see if she still had it.
With a crowd full of anticipation, the scene at Vector was set with a gigantic love heart stage (which seemed apt considering the tour's name) and fans dressed in homage to the siren of pop, donning themselves in lace, gloves and teased hair - the classic hallmarks of the era we mostly know and love Madge for.
Madonna has the uncanny ability to reinvent herself, and has done so through the decades; from an innocent virgin in the early 80's, to catholic preacher girl in the later 80's, dabbling as a bad girl sex symbol in the early 90's, shining a ray of light by merging British rock in the late 90's, and then back to the American life in the early 2000's... and that's just in relation to her music.
As with most reputable musicians, we also love icons because of their personal lives, and Madonna is no exception. While recreating herself on the stage, behind the music she has also had an acting career (albeit eyebrow raising at times), she's a mother, and a philanthropist. There's actually not too much Madonna hasn't done.
So, did she still have it at the ripe age of 57?
Yes, yes she did.
The stage was set... epic, and phallic. Make no mistake that Madonna is a woman who is clearly backing feminism, and she backs it well. Rainbow coloured followers adorned the arena, and trans-genders were part of her dance ensemble, I for one was elated that she was bringing to the forefront a colourful backing with her.
With true impact and in tone with her debut into the pop stage and heritage, The Knights Templar took to the stage as props. Her first song Iconic from her latest album Rebel Heart was a mixture of holding the arena like Beyonce and battling the ropes like Tyson. Her presence was real, and the rhythm of her latest hit was one which was different to what the audience assimilated with the Madonna.
The show started with a Japanese theme - which was atheistically pleasing, but mildly distracting from the notes and lyrics for which the whole crowd had previously been pacified with when we hearing the name Madonna. I personally loved it. The Backing Vocalists were dressed as Geishas and the VJ sure knew how to draw you in to the graphical (but not clichéd) Harajuku district of Japan. It was as visually bold and new as the beat and lyrics to Madonna's new image and sound.
Bitch I'm Madonna (feat Nikki Minaj) was up next. Again, the crowd seemed upset about the introduction of a new song, similar to that of being told there's no more rose and only chardonnay at an event you've been prepping months for. Hurumphs were almost heard through the audience, as they waited for the 'classics'. Once the beat dropped however, there were new fans of the new Madonna... and I was one of them.
Madonna changed the RPM as often as she changed her outfits, it was incredible and seamless. With a show that was like something out of the Las Vegas strip, Madge and her team of seriously talented dancers put on a show that rivaled Cirque Du Soleil. At times, I felt it was a distraction from the Queen of Pop being potentially out of tune - un-alas this was not the case. Madonna hit the notes she was supposed to and really delivered.
Nuns dancing to Bitch Get off My Pole, mashed up with Vogue was a highlight. Again, Madonna's entourage really had her back - not that she was lacking any sass. Lending to the dancers was the stage setting and projection mapping, both incredible. If anyone were to complain about where the money they spent on tickets went... well, the stage, dancers, costumes and lighting weren't earning minimum wage, and they deserved every cent.
We caught the bullet train from Japan to Spain, and Matadors took the stage for the next segment of the show. This is where things took recoil, back to the earlier Madonna days and sing alongs. No one seemed to mind that classics such as Like A Virgin were put to a dub step beat, and I will give credit where credit is due. Madonna sure knows how to breach any genre or era. The classics were mashed with modern undertones, wavering bass lines and dub/trap, at times even jungle beats... no one cared though, everyone just sang along to the lyrics they knew so well.
Mad Max theatrics of men on crucifixes, riding the waves of songs in unison to Music had the audiences mouths agape and was followed by Material Girl, again with a break beat that no one batted an eyelid to. To be fair, it worked, and I found myself up on my feet dancing away with my mouth and my feet.
We were then hit with Flamingo dancers and some heart felt connections with the crowd. The audience yearned for attention and affection from the Queen of Pop, but for some reason, perhaps due to the stage value and performance prior, it felt disingenuous.
The night finished on a more intimate note, where Madonna drew the crowd in to more personal issues (her estranged son and custody with her ex husband Guy Richie), and showed us how she still has skills as a musician, plucking seductively on a guitar.
Overall, the night was a show. It was theatrical, entertaining and rewarding. After waiting 30 years for Madonna to grace our shores, she sure didn't let the team down and let us Kiwi's know she's still a bad bitch after all.