She is an artist whom fans in our country had been wanting to see for the past thirty years. When it was announced middle of last year that Madonna was finally coming to the Manila for a concert, everyone got very excited. The extravagant P58,000 per seat in the VIP section apparently did not matter. The February 24 date quickly sold out. Just like the One Direction and the EX-O concerts before it, a second date was also opened on February 25.
On concert day itself, the MOA Arena was full of very excited fans of all ages, but mostly children of the 80s and 90s whose long wait to see their Queen of Pop was finally becoming a reality tonight. There were fans who dressed up for the occasion. I saw girls who wore the "True Blue" look, the "Cherish" look, the "Like a Virgin" look. I also saw guys who wore "Take a Bow" matador coats, as well as several transvestites who came in very daring "Express Yourself"-style drag outfits.
By 8:30 pm, a lady DJ named #DJMaryMac took to the stage to warm up the audience. Whenever she played songs from the 80s, notably Whitney's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody", everybody got excited and even sang loudly along. However, most of the songs she played were of the modern EDM genre. In fact by the one hour mark, people began to get impatient when her set began to last so much longer than typical front acts. Her set ended 1-1/2 hours later at about 10 pm! As her table and gear were being dismantled to clear the stage, a voice announced that we will have to wait 30 minutes more before the show will begin. A loud groan was heard from the audience, and people started to file out of the theater for a snack or souvenir or a trip to the bathroom.
By about 10:45 pm, the house lights were finally dimmed and people started to scream loudly. I personally felt like I had butterflies in my stomach much like I was about to have a big plunge drop on a roller coaster. The anticipation was quite exhilarating at that point.
The opening song "Iconic" (from the "Rebel Heart" album) was the most elaborate concert production number I have ever witnessed, where Madonna entered in a glittery cage. From that opening number alone, you can already see that this will not be an ordinary concert in terms of its elaborate lights, its colorful costumes, its innovative stage design and props, its complex choreography. This was followed by another song from the last album, "Bitch I’m Madonna" (VIDEO) with its Japanese flavor and racy language. With this song, we are already warned that this concert will still be Rated R. Madonna's age of 57 did not mean jher mouth had mellowed in terms of attracting controversy.
Her very early hit "Burning Up" followed next, with Madonna playing an electric guitar centerstage. The next song "Holy Water" had those Catholic images which had long been Madonna's favorite whipping boy. The stage had four poles (which just had to have crossbars near the top) and her dance mates were four dancers dressed like nuns. Her big hit "Vogue" was thrown into the mix to the delight of the audience. This set ended with "Devil Pray" where Madonna was writhing on the floor of the raised stage with her hands tied together by a red rope.
After an interlude with some elaborate special effects of air and fire, the next set had Madonna and her dancers in an auto mechanic shop in another big dance showcase "Body Shop." She then addressed the surprised audience with a spiel generously peppered with "M-F" bombs! She even wanted the audience to answer her questions with a "F - yeah!" She then took up her ukulele and sang her sweet old song "True Blue". This segued to an energetic rendition of one of my personal favorite upbeat songs, "Deeper And Deeper".
A metallic spiral staircase appeared over the heart-shaped stage and Madonna performed the dramatic "HeartBreakCity" with one of her male dancers, ending in an impassioned "Love Don’t Live Here Anymore." This set ended with a simple version of her classic signature song "Like A Virgin" but this one had everyone on their feet singing and dancing along. The big productions were reserved for the newer songs she is promoting.
The next interlude had four beds with four couples doing those sexy suggestive moves to the sultry songs "Justify My Love" and "S.E.X."
Madonna and crew came out in Spanish matador-inspired costumes to perform "Living For Love". This dissolved into another sweet classic "La Isla Bonita" (VIDEO). She walked to the heart stage, put on her acoustic guitar and unexpectedly sang what I thought was her most obscure #1 song, "Who’s That Girl." The next song again had everyone up on their feet dancing and singing at the top of their voices-- "Like a Prayer"! She was very effusive with her thanks to the audience before she sang the title song of the tour "Rebel Heart."
The next interlude set to the tune of "Illuminati" had the dancers in tuxedos with coat tails. But what set this number apart were the dancers on tall poles who were bravely swaying in all directions. That act was truly breathtaking to witness.
Renditions of #1 hit "Music" and "Candy Shop" (from the "Hard Candy" album) followed with a 1920s nightclub setting and costumes. Another classic hit "Material Girl" was sung on a hydraulic stage with lighting effects. She then took a small bouquet and threw it to the audience. A girl named Zorina (?) caught it. I thought Mads would call her up on stage, but oddly this did not happen. Madonna then sat on a raised mini-stage in the middle of the central stage, and surprised the audience by solidly singing a French torch song "La Vie en Rose."
Her dancers then escorted a tall blonde-wigged transvestite chosen from the audience to dance "Unapologetic Bitch" with the Gay Icon herself. After the number, Madonna chatted with her giddy guest, who called herself "Super Starlet" (VIDEO). Again, the conversation took a raunchy turn when Madonna naughtily gave Super Starlet a banana and a straw as gift souvenirs. Then the words "Bye Bitch" was shown onscreen, and everyone just cleared out of the stage without warning.
The house lights were not yet being turned on, so the audience knew there would be another song at least to end the show. It would be her joyous early hit "Holiday." Madonna courted controversy here by wrapping a Philippine flag around her waist while dancing. I was really hoping the flag would not touch the floor as it dangerously swayed down so closely. She eventually gave the flag to one of the dancers. These dancers would later display the flag horizontally with red side up, which they corrected promptly, thankfully. The song ended with Madonna being lifted upwards by a cable, where she bid her final goodbyes. The show ended at exactly 1 am, making it the latest show I have ever seen.
This would count as one of the most unforgettable concerts I have seen, and you know I have seen a lot. The lights, graphics, stage design, choreography were out of this world. (I know I should already expect anything from Madonna, but the bad language can still be sort of off-putting, until you eventually get used it being repeated so often throughout the show, up to her very final words while hanging on the cable.) Her vocals were not really the highlight here, but it was her grandiose showmanship and her one-of-a-kind artistic vision joyously celebrated in her music and dance. This extravagant and ostentatious show of the Queen was indeed worth the 32 year wait!
POSTSCRIPT: The concert on Day 2 followed the same order of songs, except for two significant changes. Instead of singing "Who's That Girl" and "Like a Prayer", Madonna sang a medley of "Dress You Up/Into the Groove/Lucky Star" and, in celebration of EDSA Revolution Day, a song she said she has never sung live for 30 years "CRAZY FOR YOU"!