There's a theory about Madonna that she's best when her back's against the wall. 'Ray Of Light' reignited her career as a proper global megastar after two relative flops, while the actually amazing but poorly received 'American Life' was swiftly followed by her last truly great album, 'Confessions On A Dance Floor'.
While her last three — 'Hard Candy', 'MDNA' and now 'Rebel Heart' — have all had their moments, it still feels like we're waiting for that big rebound moment. After the lacklustre MDNA 'jaunt', perhaps the Rebel Heart tour — a typically audacious spectacle featuring a recreation of the last supper as an orgy, men on precarious-looking bendy straws and pole dancing nuns — is her way of reminding the world that she's pretty good at this pop lark and has been for over thirty years.
Obviously this being Madonna in 2015 you worry something's going to go wrong. After all, this is a tour in support of an album that leaked almost in full months before it was even announced. That was promoted by Madonna utilising some dodgy Photoshop, some black wire and, apparently, Wikipedia's random article function. Let's not even mention the unfortunate Brit Awards cape debacle (I do mention it below actually, apols). So when the clock ticks past the 9:30pm stage time people start to worry. As it edges past 10pm I'm convinced she's not coming out. By 10:15 I'm contemplating the Uber journey home. Five minutes later, however, and we're off, Mike Tyson bellowing from the big screens as 'Iconic' blares out.
So, without further waffle, here are nine things I learned while watching Madonna have a singsong in LA:
The new songs she does are a bit of a mixed bag
You know it and I know it: 'Body Shop' is not a very good song. In fact, it's almost embarrassingly shit. That it makes the setlist ahead of 'Ghosttown', or 'Hold Tight' or 'Inside Out' is fairly baffling, but it does give Madonna the chance to roll around on a car bonnet and maybe she's earned that right after all this time. Overall the new songs work quite well out of context of the album, although the opening section — which features four new songs — looks amazing but feels strangely sterile. In fact, most of the new songs are set within the show's more theatrical and rigid frameworks, while the older ones are done fairly straight. It means that she seems much more relaxed just having a dance and singsong while performing 'La Isla Bonita', for example, than she does hanging upside down during 'Holy Water', and not just because of the physical exertion aspect. It sometimes feels like she's forcing the new songs to appear more spectacular than they are. Also, Madonna, get rid of 'Candy Shop' too, please and thank you.
'Living For Love' has made quite the impact in the fan community
Dotted around the Forum are various fans recreating various eras of Madonna's career. There are women covered in bangles and lace; one woman is dressed as Dawn French dressed as Madonna doing 'Vogue'; one guy has arrived in a full gimp outfit, although perhaps that was just because it was a Tuesday night. Also dotted about, however, are matadors and people sporting black bull horns. Following the Brits performance it feels like the song and the outfits have pushed their way alongside Madonna's other iconic looks, which, given the fact I can barely even remember most of the songs/videos from the previous few albums, is a good thing for Madonna's continued ability to inspire her fans' shopping habits. On stage 'Living For Love' was quite a moment too. Obviously — OBVIOUSLY — she still wore a cape but this time it was about twenty times longer, as if she was daring it to go wrong again. This time you could see she turned to her dancers and nodded when the cape was ready to be torn off, and off it came, this time not dragging her down after it thank goodness. That bit got one of the biggest cheers of the night too.
The stage is basically a penis
Look at it! Yeah yeah it's a heart and a cross and actually if you had a bar going through the middle of your penis I'd go and see a doctor, but that is meant to be a cock and balls, surely? In fact, I don't know why I'm asking because Madonna agrees. "Thank you for lighting up my penis" she says at one point, before adding: "It's interesting how much a heart looks like the head of a penis. Honestly I didn't plan it that way." Cue a very knowing look.
She's still a fan of guitars
NEWSFLASH: Madonna's a really great popstar. She can do the singing, the dancing, she's sweary, she's knowing, she's funny, she looks like she loves doing it and she'd kill your cat to be more successful. What Madonna isn't is a guitarist. And that's fine, obviously, I just wish someone would tell her (I think we have William Orbit to blame for this so maybe he should do it). So tonight we get (an otherwise incredible) 'Burning Up' thrashed out on an electric guitar. The lovely 'Secret' is hampered by some 'unique' acoustic guitar strumming and 'True Blue' and a cover of 'La Vie En Rose' are eked out on a ukulele. A UKULELE! She's not Ed Sheeran for Christ's sake! Still, 'True Blue' though, what a fucking tune.
She's not afraid to get nostalgic
Madonna's stage 'banter' consists mainly of "LA you motherfuckers" and "Are you ready to heat shit up Los Angeles". It does the trick. But just before she does 'Rebel Heart' she gives a lovely speech about her fans and their loyalty and talks about her career. She also at various points mentions how tired she is. During 'Rebel Heart' she shows a montage of drawings fans have made showing her various looks from her various eras and it all feels pretty nostalgic. In fact, all of these things felt quite new for Madonna, a woman who doesn't really enjoy relying on the past or reflecting on it for too long. It suits her too, meaning that the show's older songs — at one point she does a medley involving 'Dress You Up', 'Into The Groove' and 'Lucky Star' — feel like a celebration rather than some songs she's contorted into new shapes so as not to appear like she's resting on her back catalogue (something her last few tours have stubbornly avoided). As with Janet Jackson's current tour, it just means she's celebrating what she's achieved and there's nothing wrong with that is there really. Oh and there's also some self-awareness too! At one point she says: "You're probably bored of my stupid cliche, rebel heart." My lips are sealed.
What a tune 'Deeper And Deeper' is
The setlist features precisely zero songs from 'Ray Of Light', 'Confessions On A Dance Floor' or 'MDNA', but there is room for one of Madonna's greatest relatively neglected singles, 'Deeper And Deeper'. Seriously, what a song that is. Plus she doesn't just do a bit of it or mash it up with some other song — she does the full version and every moment of it is glorious.
She's happy to be back in Los Angeles
She tells the crowd a few times how happy she is to be in LA again and that she feels like it's a second home etc etc. To honour this fact she decides to do a song that's not in the setlist as a special treat during the 'acoustic section'. 'Oh', I think to myself, 'it will likely be 'Frozen' or some other song that will work quite well 'stripped back''. She only bloody does 'Like A Prayer' and not just in a boring way but the full amazing way.
Here's a bit of it as shot by me on an iPhone:
Katy Perry has no qualms about drinking from a banana
Every night Madonna pulls a fan out of the crowd and makes them dance and then gives them a banana. Usually the fan will pretend to give the banana a blowjob or Madonna will hint that it could be used as a dildo or something and that's that. Tonight the 'unapologetic bitch' is none other than fellow song singer Katy Perry (or Katherine as Madonna calls her (after Katy calls her 'mom')). So Katy does some awkward dancing (obviously), Madonna spanks her, then pretends to have sexual intercourse with her from behind and then gives her the banana. Only this time the banana is a flask and, without knowing what's in it, Perry just downs a whole load of it. Madonna then does the same but recoils in horror. Ergo, Katy Perry can handle her drink better than Madonna.
And finally, a nun's habit will set you back $35
Or how about some rather fetching 'sliders'?