Rebel Heart Tour – my final review

I think I’m in a state of shock.
I know the tour’s over, but it’s–
Last week in [Sydney], I really felt like I was gonna have a nervous breakdown.
I couldn’t take the crowds, do the shows. It was too hot.
Everything was getting to me. And I thought…
I think I’m getting ready for the depression for when the tour’s over.
But I really didn’t feel emotional last night.

This quote from Madonna’s Truth or dare movie, the documentary on her legendary Blond Ambition World Tour in 1990 – and incidentally my first ever Madonna concert that started all this craziness – pretty much sums it up.

I started my Rebel Heart Tour on 9 September 2015 in Montréal, followed her throughout Europe and concluded it with the Australian shows. 25 in total, my all-time record for a Madonna Tour, and bringing my all-time total to 78 shows.

It was crazy, exhausting, exhilarating, it was a whirlwind that carried me through the autumn, of which I don’t have many memories other than airports, hotels, queues, numbers on my hand, new and old friends and shows, shows, shows…

2015 ended with me waking up in the morning thinking: Where am I? and: Do I have a show tonight?

When it ended in Sydney, in torrential rain, I was ready. I’m not falling into a post-tour depression. It’s ok. I’ve made my peace.. All good things come to an end…

So here’s my final review of the tour, the songs, the costumes, the choreographies, the instrumentation… the whole crazy thing that is a Madonna tour.

 

The Opening

Madonna_Rebel_Heart_Tour_Mannheim-1-3It’s probably hard to impossible to top the best way she ever came on stage – in a giant disco ball during the 2006 Confessions Tour – but the intro with the warriors and Madonna assembling her troops for her revolution of love was pretty impressive.

Lowering herself from the ceiling an a cage like a beast to be unleashed onto the audience was quite a feast for the eyes. It set the tone for the first act, the overwhelming force of Madonna on stage. ★★★1/2

Madonna_Rebel_Heart_Tour_London_1-3Iconic

Not my favorite song on the record, it worked pretty well as an opener, with Madonna pulling all the stops of her stage presence and the force of her dancers. The choreographies were impeccable, astonishing fighting scenes, herself hanging upside down, fighting her dancers, and of course, emerging triumphant. ★★★

Bitch I’m MadonnaMadonna_Rebel_Heart_Tour_London_1-18

The son’s a parody, and I could not really stand it when the album was released, but it is clearly my highlight of the first act. Over-the-top dancing, and again the amazing choreographies managed to get me jumping up and down during a song I initially loathed. Bitch she’s Madonna, and she’s here to show it. ★★★1/2

Madonna_Rebel_Heart_Tour_Amsterdam2-39Burning Up

Oldie but goodie, with a rather simple presentation of Madonna taking on the guitar again and pretty much standing still – except for a little interlude of biting a lucky fan’s finger every now and then – she shows she can get an arena to the boiling point without much of a spectacle. Lights, a little backdrop, the rest is her song and her stage presence. It rocked. ★★★★

HolywaterHoly Water/Vogue

Again, a song on the record which I did not care about, and most likely, in all honestly, skip in the future. Still, the way she put it on stage was hilarious. The dancers in her nun costumes, the raunchy slaps and her surfing a nun on a cross… only she can come up with that stuff. I still hate the song, but it was fun to watch. ★★1/2

DevilPrayDevil Pray

Finally, after all the overwhelming, in-your-face performances, this beautiful song toned it down a bit and brought Madonna’s voice to the fore. ★★★

Madonna_Rebel_Heart_Tour_London_1-46Messiah

The first interlude, a beautiful, a bit too perfect and polished song for my taste, but her two dancers made a simple yet beautiful interlude out of it, only using fans, a white cloth, and some perfectly executed dancing on a video projection. ★★★

Madonna_Rebel_Heart_Tour_Amsterdam2-80Body Shop

Return of big M, this time in 50s style seducing the mechanics in her body shop. It reminded me a bit of West Side Story, and I finally understood what this little song was all about. ★★★

Madonna_RebelHeartTour_Paris2-31True Blue

I never thought I’d hear that song live, ever. And I would not even have cared, as it is one of the predictable bubble gum pop songs that you forget once it’s over. It never clicked for me, too sweet, too ‘baby I love youuuuuu…

But reworked into this tiny little song, accompanied only by her ukulele, it was one of the first highlights of the show, and actually the first real big hit she played in the show. It got everyone up in their seats and singing along. It seems she realizes she does not have to rely solely on the big perfect show stoppers… sometimes, less is more. ★★★★

DSCN4808Deeper and Deeper

She toned it down, only to turn it back on, right away. The pretty much true-to-original version of Deeper and Deeper brought the house down. The song in itself is a party anthem, but the choreography nailed it. It was definitely the highlight of the set, and of the first half in total. ★★★★★

HeartbreakcityHeartBreakCity/Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

Like a roller-coaster, the next two songs were quiet again, slow ballads about love, betrayal, abandonment. Sung beautifully on a winding staircase with her main dancer Marvin as her lover and opponent, she really brought the songs to life. That she dug out her old song Love don’t live here anymore was a total surprise on the set-list, but it worked out beautifully. ★★★★

LikeavirginLike a Virgin

A stomper. With a slightly updated instrumentation, but not too far from the original, she simply owned the stage, all by herself, and made it clear to anyone who would still have had a doubt: she’s a stage animal, she wants to be on that stage, along, with 20000 people watching her and screaming her name. Simple, but effective. ★★★★

DSCN4041S.E.X.

The next interlude, a song which I simply do not get, more like a draft of a song and a return to themes she already has explored in extenso. I’ll skip it on the album. But the choreography of her 8 dancers on their four beds, two straight couples, one lesbian, one gay, made it a feast for the eyes. You wondered if they were dancing or if something really went on on stage.. and in true Madonna fashion, at the end the pairs intermixed… ★★

DSCN2805Living for Love

The cape. Everybody remembers the spectacular fall at the Brit Awards, but this time the cape was no problem. It rather was timing, as at a number of shows she came on stage quite late and they had to run down the catwalk to get to the main stage on time. It must have been a pretty close call to change her, and I wonder what was going on behind and under the stage. As her dresser, Tony Villanueva once said, the real show is happening behind the stage…

Anyway, back to the song, the lead single of the album. The choreography and the visuals were stunning, I could have taken a thousand pictures. Her fight with the dancers were amazing, and I have no idea how hard this must have been… She performed it to a rather harsh sounding remix though, and I felt it took away some of the songs energy. I also felt the public’s reaction was a bit lukewarm to this great song, so I only give it ★★★★, saved by the amazing choreography.

DSCN2840La Isla Bonita

A classic song that she has performed on most of her recent tours. Some think a bit too often. But if she does a latin section, how could this song not be on the set-list. And the audience’s reaction proved her right, it got everyone dancing and singing along. It’s and easy win for her. ★★★★

Medley2Dress You Up/Into the Groove/Lucky Star

The fabulous 80s medley of her early hits was the one part that got dropped in a lot of shows throughout the tour. She explained it was so hard to get through it, with the dancing and singing and the costumes, that they decided sometimes to skip it. The first three shows even contained a snippet of her very first single, Everybody, but was then dropped.

The costumes were amazing, the energy breathtaking, I was always disappointed when she skipped it. The instrumentation was a bit hard to get into, basically the songs were stripped down to their beats and lacked a bit of their pop appeal. but the beats were so mesmerizing that throughout the songs we were simply swept off our feet. ★★★★

DSCN2877Who’s That Girl

I never thought she’d sing this, ever, again. Sitting down on a bar stool with just her acoustic guitar, she slowed the song down to its basics and its simple, beautiful melody. Unfortunately she skipped it on some nights and replaced it with one of the bonus songs, but I am grateful I got to hear it live a few times. For me it is a quintessential Madonna song, even if often overlooked by the public who barely remembers that 80s ditty, it’s Madonna, after all these incarnations and re-inventions, sitting down and asking herself who she really might be… ★★★★1/2

The bonus songs

LikeaprayerI was lucky to hear a number of the bonus songs she sometimes added one song to the setlist, maybe if she was in the mood for it or she thought the crowd was so enthusiastic that it merited a bonus. I got to hear an acapella version of Fever, Secret, Don’t tell me, Like a prayer, Drowned World, Take a bow, and, luckily, one of the best songs on the new album, Ghosttown. No idea why that one was not on the set list every night, as it brought the house down. As did Like a prayer, which was the song that had everybody standing in their seats. If she played it.

The nice thing with these songs were that they were sung without any distraction, no dancers, no backdrop video, just her singing and dancing. With her being famous for her shows being so overwhelmingly perfect, I liked the simplicity of it, proving she can bring down the house with only her voice and just a few moves. ★★★★★

RebelHeartRebel Heart

My favorite track on the album, Rebel Heart was my highlight of the show. Performed with her acoustic guitar only, and to a backdrop of fan made art about Madonna, it is probably one of Madonna’s most personal songs ever. It was simple, personal, warm. A whole different Madonna on stage than you’d expect to see. Simply perfect. ★★★★★

RebelHeartSydney2-218Illuminati

A stunner. A show-stopper. Even though it was ‘only’ an interlude. I wasn’t too fond of the song before I saw it on stage, now it’s one of my favorites. Seven dancers on long, bending poles, swinging and swaying over the public, stealing the hats of her fellow dancers, or lifting them up five meters high in the air. The choreography was mesmerizing, stunning, perfect. The precision required is amazing. It’s Madonna at her best – and she’s not even on stage! ★★★★★

Music2Music

Awesome. I can’t believe how often she can re-invent that song and turn it into something new. She starts it as a jazzy, slow number, then turns it back into the stomper that it actually is. Her costume was fantastic, classic, beautiful, with the glittering appendixes hanging from her arms. Her hair tied in a knot, she looked all like a classic lady. Her dancers wore amazing costumes too, and it was a joy to watch all the stuff that was going on with the eyes are on Madonna, they do some amazing stunts, too.

While in the first few shows Madonna always tried to get onto the top, surrounded her dancers, she mostly failed, and during the tour they turned it into a little interlude, with a few jokes thrown in, or her singing a snippet of a song, like Hanky Panky, during the last shows in Australia, In total, a massive moment in the show, and a clear ★★★★★.

DSCN4639Candy Shop

When I saw that song on the setlist again, I was rolling my eyes. Never a single, only the opener of her 2008 Hard Candy Album, she had performed it on the last two tours. Again, really??? But never underestimate Madonna. It was a highlight of the show. Slightly updated with a throbbing baseline and beat, M and her dancers danced their asses off. Her sugar is raw, and she likes to serve it! Together with her costume, it was a visual feast for the eyes. ★★★★★

MaterialGirlMaterial Girl

Who thought she would sing that song again? I think she loathes it. Several times I saw her doing a mock throw-up, sticking a finger down her throat when the first chords came on. Still, it worked great for me. Also a bit stripped down and with a dominating beat, she did a classic performance of the song, getting rid of the men, one by one. The fun part came after the song, when she tried to get married to someone in the crowd, threw her bouquet and talked a bit to the lucky guy or girl who caught it. In the end though, she always just walked away…★★★★1/2

DSCN4681La vie en rose

Sitting alone in the middle of the arena, with her little ukulele, she sang this classic song, in French. A cute, quiet moment in the show, that I will always remember best for Montréal’s overwhelming reception of it. Standing ovations and an ever-growing roar that I hardly ever heard in any concert. Not even the French in Paris could beat those Québecois! In other cities, the reaction was more tame, people sitting down or having a drink. Still, it was beautiful, with the arena lit up with the lights of all the smartphones. ★★★★

Unapologetic Bitch

BitchThe bitch is back for that last song of the show, a fun and again visually stunning performance in Madonna’s glittery dress. The highlight was the fan (or VIP) who got to get on stage with Madonna, dance with her and receive the special prize – the now famous banana.

BananaIt was a fun moment of the show. Although, it was a bit anti-climactic as the last song of the show, as she disappeared rather simply after a long chat with the fan and the audience. Somehow, another song after that would have made a better end to the show. ★★★1/2

Holiday

Holiday

The encore, a fun version of Holiday, came without many surprises, but as a visually fun end to an amazing show, with the dancers giving their all and Madonna having a great time. She disappeared being lifted up, behind her video screens, looking stunning and happy. ★★★★

 

 

So, after all the evaluation of every song, I can say that this tour was one of my favorite tours of Madonna.

It was smaller in scale, she only played arenas, no stadiums, which I think works best for her shows. They are so stunning that you would want to to see it up close, there’s no point in seeing a little woman far away or only on a screen.

I also loved it because she toned it down a bit in parts, which made it more human, more accessible. She interacted a lot with her audience, taking and joking, touching them and letting them sing.

That mix worked better for me than in previous tours, that were so overwhelming and perfect, but as a side effect I sometimes had the impression I was not watching a life show, but a perfectly produced DVD of the show.

This time, it was smaller, more intimate, and it worked well, showing other sides of Madonna as an entertainer.

I think she’s exploring new ways of her going on tour.

She is in amazing shape for being 57, but clearly she is moving less today than 25 or even 5 years ago, at the benefit of her live singing, by the way. In the most impressive numbers, she is clearly singing over her own voice, or over the voice of one of the backup singers. Toning it down a bit helped her to show her often underestimated voice.

But how could she go on tour in 10, 20 years time, when she clearly cannot do a yoga pose and walk bent over backwards while singing? The Rebel Heart Tour was her first step into smaller, more intimate shows. She could go on and sit on a bar stool with a guitar well into her 80s. (I sincerely hope so).

Her special Melbourne show Tears of a clown, with more intimate songs and less distractions, went in that same direction and focussed more on the music.

The only downside to this tour – and I want to be honest here and not only praise her – was her ever growing lateness, which was more and more upsetting. True, on some days things can go wrong, stuff needs to be fixed, the stage set-up might have been late, the sound check particularly complicated…

But pushing her arrival on stage past 10, sometimes past 10.30, sometimes past 11 o’clock, was tough. And sometimes it simply killed the mood, and it killed the reception of the show.

If throughout the show a big part of your public has to leave, because they have babysitters, rely on public transport, or are simply tired, it’s not that good.

Unfortunately, towards the end of some shows like Brisbane or the last one in Sydney, big parts of the ranks were empty. And people even stayed in their seats even on the floor. Even me, as a big fan, was sometimes simply too tired to cheer…

But besides that one point, and having seen the show 25 times over seven months on three continents, I had a great time with it all… the show, the music… but above all the other fans that I have met on tour. Some of us date back some 15 years, having met in a queue to a show, and meeting again every tour…

But on this tour, I have also met a whole bunch of new people, 105 new friends that I added on facebook on this tour alone….

Here’s to you, my Rebel Hearts. See you in 2019!

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For my pictures, check the posts on this site or my flickr account with all pics from all shows. Please don’t steal them, and if you use them respect the copyright and link back to my site.

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  4 comments for “Rebel Heart Tour – my final review

  1. Paul
    April 16, 2016 at 08:48

    Hi there

    That’s a great review. It must have been a great time for you with all this shows.

    One remark.
    I think ‘Love don’t live her anymore’ was also a single release.
    First in Japan only in 1986 and later the version from ‘Something to remember’ worldwide in 1995.
    Not really successful releases, but this song is not album-only.

    Go on. The next M Tour is in progress.

    🙂

    • admin
      April 16, 2016 at 15:18

      Oh, true, I forgot the 1995 re-release. It was a single in Italy, too, the only 12″ and 7″ missing in my collection… Shame on me. I’ll correct it 😉

  2. Cintia
    January 8, 2017 at 19:57

    Hi! I wish i could enjoy her concert so many times as u did! I had only 2 opportunities to watch her live: 1st time in SP (Brazil) – the girlie show n rebel heart in jp. Both amazing! I love her! ♡ and i love her interaction with the audience, she always learn some words in other languages haha how cute speaking japanese!!!

    • admin
      January 8, 2017 at 20:05

      Where did you see Rebel Heart? In Japan? How cool, I wanted to go too…. Must be great fun!!!

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