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!