Courtesy Ticketmaster
Courtesy Ticketmaster

By Manning Harris

The overriding truth about Madonna’s Philips Arena performance of her “Rebel Heart” concert is simple: She delivered, and then some.

It was an thrilling, almost overpowering display of technical virtuosity by the most famous star in the world and her team of dancers, musicians, lighting, sound, and video wizards. Each song was a play, a mini-movie and live performance all by itself.

Of course the main attraction was to see the legendary diva in person, and when she finally appeared, almost three hours after the listed start time (more about that later), the sold-out arena erupted in cheers, whoops, and applause.

A Madonna concert is an all-out assault on the senses: the tremendous sound, the highly evocative videos on large screens, the endlessly inventive, witty choreography by Megan Lawson and a host of assistant choreographers, the lighting, the ever-changing set. You are, in effect, invited into an alternate universe for over two hours, and if you’re there, you really can’t escape it, and nobody wants to. It’s quite hypnotic.

As we mentioned in INtown’s preview, Madonna is the consummate showgirl, a highly disciplined performance artist whose skills have been honed over 30 years. “Rebel Heart” is her 10th world tour. She postponed the start of this tour in early fall of 2015, tweeting her fans that her show “has to be perfect” and was not quite there yet. But she got there: Wednesday night’s show was flawless.

She began with “Iconic,” from the “Rebel” CD; and there were several numbers from the album, including “Ghosttown,” “Living for Love,” “Devil Pray,” “Holy Water,” and “Body Shop.” Madonna’s life-long fascination with the dichotomy of religion and sexuality was on full display, in witty and provocative numbers.

But she never forgets fun, and reached into her vast catalog of hits to amuse herself and her fans. “Like a Virgin” was quite a hoot, with the star prancing down a runway, obviously enjoying a witty, nostalgic romp. She told the audience she wrote her 1990’s hit “Secret” in Atlanta with local music producer Dallas Austin and was glad she could perform it here.

In her fifties, the star is incredibly photogenic: Her image on two screens above the stage revealed a beautiful woman seemingly in her 30’s. Her dancing may not be as frenetic as it was on the 1990 “Blonde Ambition” tour, but whose is? She is a trained dancer and that discipline has influenced her entire career (Does “Vogue” ring a bell? She did a snatch of it on Wednesday night.) Her voice was as clear and as strong as I’ve ever heard it, and I’ve seen several Madonna concerts.

Other hits performed were “True Blue,” “Deeper and Deeper,” “La Isla Bonita,” “Music,” “Candy Shop,” “Into the Groove,” and others. A major tour like this is a gigantic production: I looked at the credits in the snazzy program I purchased, and wow—it’s like a major motion picture—believe it.

This brings us to the fly in the ointment: that late starting time. Okay, to be fair I’ve never seen any show at Philips Arena (20,000 capacity) start at the listed time; it’s always at least an hour later. But 10:47 p.m. when the ticket says 8 p.m.? This is unacceptable. The show lasted well over two hours. The folks sitting next to me said MARTA stops running at 1:15 a.m. I said, “Uh oh.”

Then I noticed people leaving at 12:30 a.m. Simply inexcusable: people have paid a lot of money to see a full show and to have to leave early to avoid being stranded is unconscionable. Madonna, your tour people are supposed to investigate these things. You can’t jerk your fans around like that. What gives? I hate it that a “perfect” show has to be besmirched like this. Somebody do something!

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

18 replies on “Concert Review: Madonna’s ‘Rebel Heart’ at Philips Arena”

  1. The start time ruined the night for myself and almost everyone around me. I’m not referring to the boring, endless waiting which did stink, but rather the logistics towards the end of the night. I read that she started in Nashville at 10:30 as well. There is no transit there – everyone drove or took uber/taxis. Everyone around us and then ourselves emptied out around 12:40 to make sure to catch the last Marta. There was no other option. You can’t have 5,000 people outside at 1:30am looking for a Uber on a Wednesday night. I saw a surprising # of probably Uber drivers outside, maybe 50 cars lined up. That covers what, 100-150 people total. Luckily most people got to Marta presumably but missed 1/3 of the show. Truly incredible and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people were seeking a partial refund because it was legitimately not feasible to stay til the end of the show. I’ll survive and it’s not worth the hassle but that means the producers get away with it.

  2. Thank you for reading and responding. Yes, the exiting part was awful, inexcusable, and should never have happened. I had to leave about 12:40 a.m. myself in order to catch Marta; we were probably on the same train. I really, really hope some of her PR people read my review and other reactions I’ve seen and correct this situation. And I’m the kind of person who HATES to leave early for anything; I even think it’s tacky to rush up the aisles during the curtain call of a play. But like you, I didn’t want to be left standing in the cold at 1:30 in the morning. And it’s a further pity because the show was brilliant. Thanks again for writing!

  3. I don’t think our comments will matter to her or her PR. I always thought that she is a great artist. She always stands up for what’s right, fighting for women/gay/minority rights, AIDS awareness, being different, being political, and of course her creative mind for music and film. Now, she is not creative with her music at all, and she abuses her fans. She is such a hypocrite to do such a thing to her fans. Shame on you Madonna! We are so disappointed with you.

  4. Cities like Chicago and LA extend mass transit, adding bus, subway, light rail rotations and run the system later to accommodate major concert and sporting events.

    Perhaps you should complain to them, not to Madonna. Stop whining! It’s a special night out and I plan for it. People are calling Madonna old. It’s the fair weather fans who are now too old and forgot how to have a good time. Madonna tours only every few years. Try to remember your youth when many of us had to beg our parents to stay out late for a great concert.

    Also, many times it is the arena management who requests late start to maximize sales of food and beverages. None of this money goes to Madonna. Do you really think Madonna goes on late just for kicks? She is on a grueling, exhausting tour and prefers to rest and prepare for travel and the next show.

    People are so quick to judge and assume they know all the answers. Ticket sales and Merchandise go to Madonna and Live Nation/promoter. The venue makes most of their profit from… overpriced booze, hot dogs, pretzels. So… duh! The longer the audience waits, the likelihood of more MONEY increases.

    But, if you’re determined to hate and blame Madonna without thinking things through, typical textbook reactionary behavior. Sorry you missed part of the amazing concert. Complain to the arena and sorry your city has substandard mass transit, complain to them also.

  5. I’m not defending what time Madonna goes on stage but guys please, don’t make up facts to make your story more dramatic. The ticket says “Opening Act at 8pm”. If the opening act doesn’t go out on time them there is probably going to be an additional delay. I would rather she not have an opening act. I don’t think you’ll ever find a star, pr person, etc etc who is truly going to be concerned about your transportation to and from the event. If the writer has been to several Madonna concerts as he/she claims, then he/she would know Madonna goes on between 9:30 to 10:30. If the opening act isn’t over until 9:30 or 9:45, which was the case when I saw her, obviously there’s going to be a delay.

  6. Which planet are people living on! The ticket says 8pm and that refers to the warm up act not to the artist. That finishes around 9 to 9.15 pm. So in essence Madonna was just over an hour late. You’ve given a great review here and written at lengthh how this is a show of enormous magnitude production wise so to have it go off without a hitch might take a little longer for safety checks. It’s been highly documented everywhere that she is often taking the stage late. So why don’t people make appropriate arrangements so they don’t have to leave early! Frankly I’m more tired of the emphasis on the minority who moan rather than on the thousands of comments of how wonderful this show is. If people were unaware it might just end later than it possibly should, though no end time is given!, then they must have been walking around with their eyes closed and they’re ears muffled for the past few months. I wonder if the whiners stopped to consider that being as how Madonna is at logger-heads with her ex husband at the moment and about to fight a custody battle in court over her son Rocco, again well documented by the media (inclhding tv if you don’t do reading)…. she could have cancelled her shows altogether!!! Cut her some slack please and put yourself in her position.

  7. Madonna has already explained that if the show is late it’s not because she is back stage filimg her nails. In fact she is there since the early afternoon. The fact is that her shows are super complex; we expect her shows to be in a league of their own, and they always are, but everybody can see the complexity of such shows. A glitch (just a little safety harness not working) and the whole show is delayed. It’s not like Madonna and her team don’t want to get done with it…

    I knnow they had problems choosing the venues because many are just not capable of holding a show like that. The MDNA tour even had a date ‘unplugged’ as the venue just didn’t have enough power to supply the stage. Didn’t Madonna ask her fans, in a recent show, if they would like her next tour to be her singing on a stool? There’s a reason for it; we expect her to put on the greatest show on Earth every single time, and that means sometimes things go wrong. But then the papers blame it on her, pretending we are stupid and don’t know she too is waiting, and she wants to at least have dinner (she can’t until the show is over), and possibly a glass of wine.

    Guys, I understand we want everything to be perfect all the time, but then we also expect Madonna to be mega creative and super experimental on tour; well, you can’t break the mould every time without having glitches. Plus, many other artists start late (even after midnight) but the tabloids forget about them, and just go on about Madonna…

  8. Thanks to all for the passionate, insightful comments. I think Victor is quite right when he says MARTA (our mass transit system) should have made arrangements. But I assure him and all that I myself do not “blame and hate Madonna.” I’ve been a huge fan for many years and still am. I’m in awe of the woman. I just didn’t want to be left in the cold without transportation home! I knew she went on late; just didn’t know it would be THAT late, and I feel for those left up s–t creek without a paddle to get home. And once again, as you know, I thought her show was tremendous.

    1. thank you for your additional comments Manning. You are a journalist and I think you should make sure your articles contain FACTS and do not mislead your readers.

  9. My article is a subjective review of a performance, as I saw, heard, and interpreted it. People will always bring their own subjective views to any work of art, be it a play, movie, or concert. This is natural and as it should be. But I did not write one sentence that wasn’t the truth as I saw it; it is too much trouble to lie or make up things, and I don’t do it; and this includes my comments about the late starting time. That was simply reportage as I observed it and of course was not a part of the review of the performance.

    1. ” But 10:47 p.m. when the ticket says 8 p.m.? This is unacceptable. ” The tickets says OPENING ACT AT 8PM. You mislead people when you say otherwise. The truth as you see it doesn’t mean it’s the truth. But otherwise, you are entitled to your opinion not entitled to your own facts.

  10. MADONNA was and always will be the greatest concert performer. People read your tickets properly. The ticket did not say MADONNA was starting at 8PM. The opening act was at 8pm. Since when do MADONNA fans come out to party at 8pm…helloooooo….when you go clubbing do you start at 8????????DOUBT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GROW up and have a good time…….AND for gods sake quit freakin WHINING!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. If madonna started at 12 pm it would have been worth it…….she’s been around since the 80’s…..wake up and appreciate her while she is still performing….this could be the last one!!!!!!!!!! The concert was awesome and I would pay to see it all over again….8pm……10pm……12pm….who cares…….for some its a once in a lifetime event so live it up aaaaaaaand SHUTUP!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. And another thing. PHILLIPS ARENA did”nt even let us in till about 8. No one would have had time to buy t-shirts get drinks and be social with one another. They left us out there to freeze. My wife and I went in to eat and met some really funny and cool peeps. There was plenty to do before the show…..I guess some were not smart enough to come in and have some fun and get warm at the food court.

  13. Facts are easy: the ticket does indeed say “Opening act 8pm.” I didn’t notice that, nor did I “say otherwise.” I just didn’t parrot everything written on the ticket stub (and there was lots more). I’m not in the habit of studying ticket stubs. I did not try to “mislead people” or lie about anything. But when you say “the truth as you see it doesn’t mean it’s the truth,” you are opening up a very large can of worms. All any critic or human being can ever do is say the truth as they see it. Facts and truth are two different ball games. Two plus two is four is a fact and cannot be disputed; but when you say “Shakespeare is the world’s greatest writer,” that may be the truth, but it can be debated, and that’s okay. Tennessee Williams once said, “Truth is at the bottom of a bottomless well.” That’s what I meant when I said earlier that “my article is a subjective review of a performance.” That’s what dramatic criticism is. Well, we’ve strayed quite a way from Madonna’s sterling performance. And a lot of people at the end of the show still had no way home, opening act or not.

    1. Yes, facts are easy and if you leave out an important fact then I guess it makes for a better story? I have no argument (nor did I ever) with the subjective portion of your review so I don’t understand why you think I’m attacking your subjectivity. My issue with your article dealt with you misleading readers with your inaccuracy. When you leave out an important fact from your story and thereby mislead readers, that’s what I have the problem with. As far as people who had no way home, I don’t really care, Madonna and her people don’t care, the venue doesn’t care. We’re adults, we make choices. When I saw Fleetwood Mac on a weekday, I left the show early because I knew I had to go to work early in the morning. I don’t write an article to whine about it.

  14. Maybe Madge checked social media and saw just how many of her fans she’d upset — not just here in Atlanta, but Nashville and Louisville. By all accounts she was only an hour late and on time for her last two shows in Miami. As for all this about an opening act, I’ve been to many, many, many concerts in my life — some with multiple opening acts — and the show didn’t start three hours late. There’s no excuse — I don’t care if she is Madonna.

  15. Like most, read your damn ticket. 8pm Opening act and you also failed to mention that the arena opened the doors late. It Atlanta had real transit they would still be running. Next time drive or take uber. 10:30 is always the start time. The people complaining are the people that are truly but for fast food dining anyway.

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