Several large pop acts have decided to start their world tours right here in Montreal. A few years back Lady Gaga did and worked out the kinks of the show on stage in front of forgiving fans. Well, it was pretty much by accident that the Queen of Pop, Madonna, began her Rebel Heart tour here in Montreal. The tour was originally slated to begin in August but the well- known perfectionist pushed it back two weeks to make everything perfect leading to Montreal being the kick off city rather than Atlanta. After a reputed 100 days of rehearsals she was finally ready to unveil her latest tour/vision upon the world and Montreal was lucky enough to be the launching pad.
The is Madonna’s first tour since the 2012 MDNA tour which fans and critics saw as dark and harsh. In the tradition that has been the backbone of her over 30 year career, reinvention was the name of the game here with the usual very serious on stage woman allowing plenty of smiles to appear and the themes of the night being more centered on fun and having a good time.
Since her arrival on the music scene in 1983, Madonna has sold over 300 million albums making her the biggest selling female recording artist of all time. Over the course of her lengthy and impressive career she has earned a huge number of very ardent and loyal fans.
When the lights finally went down at 9:40 (40 minutes after opening act Diplo left the stage) the crowd made up of mostly middle aged long-time fans and her usual large gay male contingent was ready for her. The three huge screens at the back of the large stage projected images of Madonna herself and the occasional ones of former heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson. The recorded spoken word track playing over some bass heavy beats was Madonna speaking of things like censorship and dictatorship. The lady has never been shy about speaking her mind and she is smart enough to do so without sounding like an idiot. Always at the forefront, she did not enter the stage from the side or back or even from underneath like is typical, rather she descended from the ceiling in a cage. Her opening song was “Iconic” form her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, which features a spoken section by Mike Tyson and a rap by Chance the Rapper. It was a fitting song to start off the night of one of pop music’s iconic personalities.
As she worked her way through her just over two hour show that contained twenty-one songs you could see how she has over the years laid the foundation for many of the trends in pop music. She has dabbled in house, trap, dance, folk, electronic, funk, R&B, gospel, jazz, swing, hip hop, and even classical. Always at the forefront. Always a leader.
Though she has been criticized for not aging gracefully or trying to desperately cling to youth, on her Rebel Heart tour she is showing other younger pop acts like Katy Perry, Beyoncé and even Britney Spears how they can age and still get up on stage and perform their catalogue of songs. Madonna demonstrated her smarts in how she presented songs that were up to 30 years old. She performed lots of her older tracks like “Everybody”, “Burning Up” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” all reimagined to fit into today’s world. With every image she projected or dance step she took there was a level of maturity that had been previously missing. She is now for the first time dealing with her legacy. Our little pop star is now officially all grown up. But still a rebel.
Despite the fact that she is approaching her sixties the lady is still fitter than most and the show, while she did give herself more “breaks” than usual, is still physically demanding for the petite songstress. Meaning she still has to work her ass off. The stage is huge and she used every inch of it. Off of the main part there was a long lighted catwalk that was in the shape of a cross that led to a smaller stage which was in the shape of a heart. Madonna often came out onto the catwalk/heart and got close to fans on the floor.
The show was filled with the contemporary and varied musical styles along with themes that she has used time and time again over her career. Of course, sex and religion were huge parts of the show. There has never been a Madonna tour in which these two seemingly incongruent subjects have not been side by side on her stage. Portraying her sexual side while still controlling its image has always been a forte of Madonna’s. It is a combination of sexuality and feminism that she preaches and it has not changed one iota now that she is 57-years-old. She began a revolution amongst female artists and not have that side of them silenced and continues to fight the fight.
As for her obsession with religion and spiritual images, that was still there. At one point there were stripper poles on the stage with dancers dressed as nuns (albeit in very skimpy habits) performing on them. The original mash up artist the lady knows has to provoke and cause anyone watching to think. Sexuality and religion go hand in hand in this lady’s life.
Selecting a set list when you have 13 albums of songs to choose from must be difficult. You cannot have a 4 hour show at the pace she goes at so you have to select 20-odd songs and run with them. Obviously the set list was Rebel Heart (her latest album) heavy, but there was also a nod to fans who have been with her since the beginning in her selection of lots of older songs. For instance, she performed “True Blue” for the first time live since the late 80s. Some fans might be disappointed that there is nothing from Ray of Light, MDNA, Like a Prayer, American Life, Confessions on a Dance Floor, Hard Candy, and Bedtime Stories. They did not make the cut or fit into her themes this time.
Oddly enough the biggest applause and a spontaneous standing ovation came for her one cover song, Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose”, which she performed alone on stage while playing a very tiny guitar. Her voice was clear and strong and her French better than passable. The Montreal crowd ate it up with a spoon.
You cannot write about a Madonna concert without spending some time on her outfits. Fashion has always been an integral part of her live shows. As is typical she underwent several costume changes over the course of the show. Because of her celebrity she is able to command designs from huge design houses. Her outfits for the tour have been designed by big name fashion designers like Alexander Wang, Miuccia Prada, Fausto Puglisi, Alessandro Michele of Gucci, and Jeremy Scott of Moschino. Each of her costumes was linked to the four themes or sections of the show. Whether it be a matador or a gypsy or a 20s flapper everything fit into an overriding theme while still allow Madonna to dance about the stage.
This tour is the third and last under her Live Nation contract and she is one of the few artists that makes it financially worthwhile for a promoter to sign such a contract. Her last two tours have raked in over $400 and $300 million dollars respectively. Rebel Heart will go until March 2016 with over 60 planned dates. Based on what she did in Montreal on her two nights here this tour will further cement her as one of the premier live performing musical artists of all time.
The supporting act on the Montreal dates was the DJ extraordinaire and co-writer and producer on several songs on the Rebel Heart album, Diplo. His one hour long opening set was filled with high octane dance numbers, many of which were his own. He got the crowd really going with songs like his collaboration with fellow DJ Skrillex “Where Are You Now?” featuring Justin Bieber and the tune was most likely the song of the summer under his alter ego Major Lazer “Lean On” featuring MO. He left the crowd ready for a party.
2) Bitch I’m Madonna
3) Burning Up
4) Holy Water/Vogue
5) Devil Pray
6) Body Shop
7) True Blue
8) Deeper and Deeper
9) HeartBreak City/Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
10) Like A VIrgin
Interlude S.E.X./Justify My Love
11) Living For Love
12) La Isla Bonita
13) Dress You Up/Into The Groove/Everybody/Lucky Star
14) Who’s That Girl
15) Rebel Heart
16) Music (Get Stupid)
17) Candy Shop
18) Material Girl
19) La Via En Rose
20) Unapologetic Bitch