The O2, London
December 1, 2015
Tonight, Madonna doesn’t mention what happened the last time she graced the stage at London’s O2 Arena. While closing February’s Brit Awards with a performance of ‘Living For Love’, the singer’s cape famously failed to untie at the neck and she was yanked backwards down a flight of stairs, causing her to hit the floor with such force that she suffered whiplash. Then again, it’s tempting to imagine this embarrassing incident is playing on her mind when, halfway through her set, she snarls, “Nobody fucks with the queen!” and launches into a little-known tune called ‘Like A Virgin’.
Initially, the first of five UK shows on her globe-trotting ‘Rebel Heart Tour’ is dominated by songs from the somewhat patchy album of the same name. Mostly, Madonna manages to elevate the new material with her signature brand of sexed up pop spectacle. Her boasts of “Yeezus loves my pussy best!” on ‘Holy Water’ (it was co-produced by Kanye, though sadly he’s not here to confirm her claims) are accompanied by dancers dressed as pole-dancing nuns, while ‘Body Shop’ finds her rolling around on a car bonnet while asking a crew of hunky mechanics to groan “tighten the suspension” – yes, really.
Too much of this could have felt try-hard from a pop star who’s now been filling arenas for three decades, but as the show progresses, Madonna becomes more relaxed and begins to mine her enviable back catalogue. She strums a guitar while singing ‘True Blue’, packs ‘La Isla Bonita’, ‘Dress You Up’ and ‘Who’s That Girl’ into a flamenco-themed midsection, and twice turns The O2 into a sweaty gay disco with energetic renditions of ‘Music’ and ‘Deeper And Deeper’.
However, the most affecting moment comes when she marks World AIDS Day with a heartfelt speech acknowledging “not only the dearest and most amazing friends of mine who died of AIDS so many years ago, and who still do, but the entire family of my adopted son who died of AIDS”. She then performs a stirring version of ‘Like A Prayer’ in their honour.
When she caps her two-hour set with a suitably jubilant ‘Holiday’, it’s a crowd-pleasing end to a tremendously entertaining evening. On recent albums, Madonna has struggled to assert her continued musical relevance, but on stage she still works harder and delivers more thrills than her younger rivals. Nobody fucks with the queen? It’s hard to disagree.
‘Bitch I’m Madonna’
‘Body Shop ‘
‘Deeper And Deeper’
‘HeartBreakCity’/’Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’
‘Like A Virgin’
‘Living for Love’
‘La Isla Bonita’
‘Dress You Up’/’Into The Groove’/’Lucky Star’
‘Who’s That Girl’
‘Like A Prayer’