Madonna “Rebel Heart” Tour @ Barclaycard Arena, 16th December 2016

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The M42 tonight is horrific, and the overhead speed signs of ‘40’ are optimistic as I rarely get out of first gear. After ninety minutes the forty mile journey is made and I park and make my way to the NEC. I’m struck by the surrounding punters, all of a certain vintage, and say to myself ‘well to be fair Madonna has been going for over thirty years’ but as I turn the corner towards the loading bay of the NEC all becomes apparent as a large coach sits there, on its side ‘ANDRE RIEU’ is written in large letters. Horror befalls me.

A quick check on my phone reveals the catastrophe I’ve made; I’m at the wrong venue! Barclaycard, NEC, LG, Genting, NIA, all these names, I’ve messed up. In my defence I have been up since 05:30 and at work all day and it’s coming towards Christmas and the chaos that brings. What to do, there’s no way I will drive to the NIA in time, not to mention for the non-existent parking at the 15000 capacity city-centre venue, therefore I make the decision to jump on the train and I make the venue with time to spare. Phew!

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There’s a huge queue leading to the venue but once inside it’s clear the merchandise stand is doing a roaring trade with everything from standard fare of T-shirts and programmes (both £25 each) through to jewellery, perfume, shot glasses, caps in fact enough items to buckle a credit card as indeed some appear to be doing. It’s come to something when cash is no longer the main payment at merchandise stands and credit cards are.

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Inside the arena the stage is shrouded in drapes with Her Madgesty’s crown and sword photo and there a long walk-way into the centre of the arena. An announcement tells us tonight’s show is expected to end around 23:30 which means for those with transport connections (like me) the last few songs might be missed (three were cut from the last show in Manchester due to technical errors forcing a late start and hence an even later (predicted) finish. Ah well so is life.

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The opening sees video montage featuring Mike Tyson shouting “I am beautiful” before Madonna is lowered from the rafts of the ceiling in a cage fittingly performing “Iconic” before leaving the cage and launching into “Bitch I’m Madonna” as if anyone on planet earth doesn’t know.

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The stage set is amazing, huge back screens with a clarity like no other, and a floor which rises, tilts and also has a screen built in (think the John Travolta floor in Saturday Night Fever). The last time I saw Madonna (in this very venue) was on her ‘one-off’ indoor date in the UK for the MDNA Tour, and to be honest I personally found it rubbish in that the set hardly touched her enormous back catalogue, tonight however couldn’t be more different. Yes it’s promoting the Rebel Heart album (of which almost all songs are either played or shown via video link) but also a greatest hits package, with variations such as beautiful acoustic version of “True Blue” played on a ukulele no less by Madonna.

7P8A1834Remaining, some would say controversial, “Holy Water” is a modern-day take on “Like a Prayer” complete with the Last Supper table where she cavorts and a priest whom she later asks for forgiveness, Bible in hand. It’s clearly too much for the family in our row who leave at this point with their young daughter, having spent what must’ve been an eye-watering amount (up to £200 each I believe) on tickets for about twenty minutes entertainment.

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The show is split into sections, and the ‘Spanish’ set is perfection. Opening with a video of ‘S.E.X’ we are then treated to “Living for Love”, “La Isla Bonita”, “Dress You Up” (which includes snippets of “Into The Groove” and “Lucky Star”) and then “Like A Prayer” which could just be one of the best pop songs she’s recorded. It really is brilliant, superb dancers and supporting staff, great musicians tucked away at the sides of the main stage and the diamond in the middle, dazzling us all.She spends a lot of time on the walkway, teasing those close, touching a few hands, even getting a couple to sing at times during a chorus and it’s at the end of the heart shaped walkway end she sits and places one of the dancers over her lap and smacks his ass 29 times for his 29th birthday. I can think of less better presents!

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All too soon the clock has ticked and the final segment opens with dancers strapped high above the stage on huge poles, which they move and bow in synch over the heads of the crowd, it really is stunning acrobatics before we’re taken back to the 1920’ ragtime scene and a magical performance of  “Music” before morphing  into “Candy Shop” and it’s at this moment I have to make my way to catch a train (I am up at 05:30 again tomorrow) and yes I know leaving early is totally of my own stupid doing but I have heard it took over an hour to leave the NIA car-park and so on reflection I made the best choice I could: the only choice in the situation.

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So that was Madonna, Queen of Pop, bringing her Rebel Heart Tour to Birmingham. She was fantastic, the show was full-on, with enough technology to cause a headache should anything fail (which it didn’t) but most important was that set-list, full of new songs but also full of classics, both intertwined and proving after over thirty years, through various changes and just generally growing up with us all she remains at the top. There are others who have tried to challenge but there’s only one Queen of Pop, Madonna Louise Ciccone.

Set-List:

Revolution (Video)

Iconic

Bitch I’m Madonna

Burning Up

Holy Water (with Vogue snippet)

Devil Pray

 

Messiah (Video)

Body Shop

True Blue

Deeper and Deeper

Heartbreak City (with Love Don’t Live Here Anymore snippet)

Like A Virgin (with Justify My Love and Hearbeat snippet

 

S.E.X (Video)

Living for Love

La Isla Bonita

Dress You Up (with Into The Groove and Lucky Star snippet)

Like A Prayer

Rebel Heart

 

Illuminati (Video)

Music (including Give it 2 Me snippet)

Candy Shop

I believe the songs I missed were;

 

Material Girl

La vie en rose

Unapologetic Bitch

 

Holiday

 

Review Glenn Raybone

Photographs: Andy Watson

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