by Jessica Price -
SGN A&E Writer
'REBEL HEART' TOUR
There are few things, I can say without hesitation, that get better with age - happily, Madonna tours are one of these. Yes, they're all beautiful and unique snowflakes; yes, the album of the moment may or not be your personal favorite, but none of this matters in the end. Madonna defies expectations every time because she is, bar none, the ultimate pop music show-woman. Love her, hate her - she reigns supreme in the pantheon of ladies who sing/dance/star in the greatest touring spectacles staged today. It's only fitting, since she pretty much created the niche. She's also still the very best at it.
Playing to a full house at Portland's Moda Center last Saturday, the lady who essentially has nothing left to prove did just that. At 57, Madonna is now on the road with 'Rebel Heart,' her tenth tour (eight of which I've attended, thanks to a supportive-if-not-slightly-bemused mother that took me to 'The Virgin Tour' in 1985.) Throughout my many years as a Madonna fan there have been highs and lows, albums I've either loved or felt at odds with, missteps in men she's dated (or married), career moves that as her superfan she could just do better if she'd only call me&but one area where she has never, ever disappointed is live performance.
As expected, Madonna delivered two solid hours of nearly nonstop music, dance, and visuals that would take multiple viewings to fully absorb at a pace that would probably kill lesser entertainers. Leading with 'Iconic,' footage of Mike Tyson's survival-themed spoken word intro appeared on the backdrop, mixed with scenes of Madonna as a battered Marilyn Monroe-styled blond, complete with white stole and sequined gown - a nod to the objectification/destruction of celebrities as well as to her own performance of 'Sooner Or Later' at the Oscars in 1991. Medieval cross-wielding warriors appeared on stage, and on the backdrop Madonna's image rallied an army of rebels. Predictably, the masses at Moda Center were mesmerized as the Queen was lowered to the stage from a golden, cage-like structure.
Horses kicked, warriors fought, capes swirled, and the night was off to a tremendous start. Blending in to 'Bitch I'm Madonna,' a gang of female dancers brandishing Asian-inspired fans flanked the star, kicking ass and taking names, as they say. Continuing this pillage and plunder vibe, flames ignited and 'Burning Up' followed. After a good fight any sensible ex-Catholic girl needs a little release, and in keeping with her relentless and always amusing sacrilegious vibes, dancers in latex bras and ruffled white panties pole-danced on crucifixes for 'Holy Water' and 'Vogue.' It was hard not to laugh at the sheer audacity of Madonna standing (in stilettos) on a sexy stripper-nun, twirling around and around on a pole. Have I mentioned there was also a 'Last Supper' reenactment complete with a Christ-like figure parting Madonna's upturned legs?
But, as in all Madonna tours, it's not solely about the shocking images. There's a journey involved. Following a healthy dose of transgression there's ever-present themes of redemption and love in Madonna's repertoire. 'Devil Pray' brought forgiveness, segueing into innocent infatuation with 'Body Shop' (also the first major costume change of the night as Madonna and dancers reappeared in a retro-modern '50s/'80s greaser look). Astride a pile of tires, Madonna delivered the first major surprise of the night: 'True Blue' played on ukulele. (The 1986 video also featured cars and a '50s feel some may recall - but most probably won't). Falling 'Deeper and Deeper,' love ultimately turned into 'Heartbreak City' and another blast from the past, 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore,' delivered from the heart-shaped catwalk stage on a spiral staircase. Pushing her lover off the stairs, off came Madonna's coat and the next segment of the evening began - the independent, 'girls just wanna have fun' phase. Madonna threw down her best club moves, prancing and skipping upstage to a fantastic, modernized version of 'Like A Virgin.' 'SEX' came next (naturally), complete with Erotica-era video clips.
Reappearing for 'Living for Love,' the next portion of the set revisited the matador imagery of the video and previous live performances (although her cloak was removed with noticeably more care). 'La Isla Bonita,' 'Dress You Up,' and 'Secret' were reimagined with Latino and South American influences.
Next up, dancers strapped themselves to impossibly flexible poles that pitched forward and backward in the air, dipping down almost to audience level and back again as 'Illuminati' began. The result was a mesmerizing circus-like feat of athleticism. The dancers, as in every Madonna tour, looked as though they were having the time of their lives.
The pacing and tone of the show was more upbeat and light-hearted than 2012's 'MDNA' tour. The final segment unfolded into an art deco, 1920s sensory explosion. 'Music' presented Madonna as a sultry jazz club diva, picking up speed into a full cast dance party. Hair pulled back, silver-fringed skirt shining in the stage lights, Madonna shimmied with male dancers in top hats and ladies in Josephine Baker-inspired, barely-there dresses. The party continued with 'Candy Shop' and another remix, 'Material Girl.' Amidst all this opulence the dancers threw a veil over Madonna's head, handed her a bouquet, and off she went down the catwalk to find someone to marry. Choosing a lucky 'sucker' from the audience, Madonna asked who in the crowd wanted to get married and happened to set her sights on former Seattle Gay News writers Jason Miller and Richard Kennedy to catch her bouquet and make out with gusto on the jumbotron screens.
In a surprisingly intimate pause, Madonna pursed her lips just slightly and alluded to her previous heartbreaks. 'I've been married twice...you might have heard about it,' she deadpanned. 'It's lonely at the top,' she said. 'But it's not very crowded.' Confessing that despite it all, she still believes in love, Madonna broke out her ukulele again for Edith Piaf's 'La Vie En Rose.' Only wistful for a moment though, 'Unapologetic Bitch' was next. A handsome man was chosen from the audience to climb on stage and dance with Madonna down the catwalk, receiving a few spankings along the way. His prize? A banana, courtesy of Madonna to 'eat& or do whatever.' Pulling out all the stops for the final song, 'Holiday,' the full cast popped corks and danced as if Moda Center was the world's largest international New Year's Eve Party. And then she was gone, slipping onto a tiny swing (obscured by scantily clad dancers waving an American flag) and magically lifting up, up and away - until the next time.
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