Madonna’s last studio album, 2015’s “Rebel Heart,” was far from her best work, but when it comes to the tour that it launched — finally out on DVD and live album a year and a half after wrapping — the album itself hardly matters.
“The Rebel Heart Tour” was another triumph for the pop icon, who has never disappointed as a live performer. The worldwide trek stretched for 82 shows and 55 cities, raked in a cool $169.8 million and was viewed by more than a million lucky fans.
Madonna’s continued strength and perseverance is inspiring to her fans and should be even to those who don’t care for her music. Even her detractors cannot deny that she has put in the work. She is tireless, working hard to make sure her fans get the most for their money and to make it an experience they will never forget.
The just-released live CD and DVD were filmed at the Allphones Arena on March 19–20, 2016 in Sydney. The double CD spans 22 songs and 100 minutes and for the most parts it’s thoroughly entertaining. The weakest aspect of the collection are the nine songs from the “Rebel Heart” album, although they do work marginally better in a live setting than their underwhelming studio versions. It’s understandable that she would highlight her most recent album, but these songs will never stand up along her best work and most of her classic singles.
Of course, Madonna doesn’t neglect those hits and it’s fascinating as always to hear which ones she decides to highlight. She obviously can’t play them all (unless it’s gonna be an all-night show), so she picks and chooses carefully, including songs that haven’t appeared frequently on prior tours. Madonna typically splashes them with a modern sheen and different arrangements, keeping the much-played tunes fresh and keeping the audiences guessing.
She cleverly adapts the ‘60s pop pastiche “True Blue” into an acoustic singalong and her early new wave dance classic “Burning Up” features a blistering guitar solo. The retro disco groove of “Deeper and Deeper” is updated in electrifying fashion while her sometimes overlooked classic “La Isla Bonita” is kept more faithful to the original but is still a highlight.
Madonna has reinvented “Like a Virgin” numerous times over the years and this time she goes with a minimalist club beat so the audience can sing along exuberantly. “Dress You Up” and “Into the Groove” were both popular around the same timeframe so it makes sense that they are appended together in a medley. She delivers a sizzling take on her final no. 1 single, 2000’s “Music,” with a flirty throwback jazz intro that might have been an interesting approach for the entire song. The biggest surprise is “Candy Shop,” the funky lead track from her underrated 2008 album “Hard Candy” — it holds up nicely wedged between much bigger hits.
Less effective is the modern take on “Material Girl,” which saps the cheeky charm of the original while accenting its more annoying aspects (especially those wretched background vocals). Her take on the Édith Piaf standard “La Vie en Rose” doesn’t quite get off the ground, and a gruelingly long take on her recent “Unapologetic Bitch” is eminently skippable. The finale, though, is a strong one-two punch of her first major hit “Holiday” and arguably her greatest single “Like a Prayer,” which retains its dramatic grandeur.
Of course, a CD and DVD will not replace seeing the actual show in person, but like all of the live album releases Madonna has issued over the years (this is her fifth), they are excellent souvenirs.