For just over two hours, Madonna left zero downtime as she carried her fans in Houston through a musical and visual journey spanning more than three decades, thirteen studio albums, and a cultural whirlwind ranging from samurai warriors, matadors, nuns on stripper poles, Cirque du Soleil -like acrobatics, fifties greasers, twenties flappers, transgender performers, and rhinestone cowboys. The clear message one came away from the show with is that Madonna is still the Queen of Pop. While many other modern pop artists attempt to put on extravagant stage shows to justify their bloated ticket prices, wearing the outfits they're told to wear, standing where they're told to stand, it's obvious that Madonna herself is the supreme architect and driving force behind this show. Add to this the fact that she seamlessly wove 14 previous hit songs in with 9 songs from her latest album, all while taking the audience on a cultural and musical journey around the globe.
The other thing anyone in attendance would have been unable to miss is the fact that Madonna appeared to be genuinely enjoying herself throughout the evening. This was a woman who is clearly at the top of her game, both as a musician and as a performer. A rare accomplishment for any artist whose career and hits span more than three decades, her mix of songs old and new was flawless. The songs featured from her new album are as strong as anything else in her older catalogue, and the older hits are at their core such great songs that they can be easily molded and reshaped as needed. In particular, Madonna wove no less than five of her earlier hits into a Spanish-themed segment, including "La Isla Bonita" and a medley featuring "Dress You Up", "Into the Groove", "Everybody", and "Lucky Star", and based on the audience response, no one had any complaints with these updated versions of her classics.
There was a particularly touching moment in the show (and partly why the show ran longer than at other dates on the tour) in which Madonna took a moment to pay tribute to the recent death of musical icon David Bowie.
"I want to do a musical tribute to someone who inspired my career. I saw him back in Detroit when I was a little girl and I knew that's what I wanted to do... He's the first rebel heart I ever laid eyes on."
She also gave Bowie credit for being an early advocate for transgender people, a theme that is also apparent throughout Madonna's show, especially with the female dancer who regularly is dressed as a male dancer, even topless as the male dancers often are. She then performed a stripped down version of Bowie's classic "Rebel Rebel".
This was clearly the most personal show Madonna has ever toured with, showcasing big spectacles and intimate performances equally. And while sexuality and religious taboos have always been and always will be core to both her music and her art, they have finally reached a place where she knows exactly when and exactly how far to take these elements to achieve the effect she desires. The 1950s segment ("Body Shop") is clearly a reference to her own Detroit background, and being a global entertainer for more than three decades, even the Japanese and Spanish themes are cultures that she has shown great affinity for over the years.
The fact that she chose to conclude the show with her new song "Unapologetic Bitch" is also telling. The lyrics are self-empowering, and while the lyrics are being addressed to a past lover whom she's moved on from, the deeper meaning in placing this song at the close of her show appears to be a message she's giving to critics as well. "Woke up this morning feeling good that you were gone / Hurt for a while, but I'm finally moving on." It's a message to critics, and it's a message to her fans, encouraging them to find their inner strength and find their own path forward.