Madonna kept her Thai fans waiting until 10pm on Tuesday night at Impact Arena – but then what was an extra hour or two after they’d already waited decades for a chance to see the Queen of Pop live and in person?
The world’s best-selling pop singer rolled into Bangkok on her “Rebel Heart” tour and suddenly all the impatience drained away in the course of a mind-blowing production spiced with her delightfully controversial stage persona.
It was the first of two Bangkok shows and anticipation was every bit as keen for last night’s event.
Onscreen video and the tremors of the track “Iconic” from her latest and 13th studio album, “Rebel Heart”, opened Tuesday’s proceedings before she burst onto the stage with a hearty roar. “Are you with me, Bangkok?” Madonna yelled, and the crowd responded with thunderous cheer.
She wasted no time singing and dancing her way through “Bitch I’m Madonna” and “Burning Up” from her self-titled 1983 debut CD. “Holy Water” mingled with shards of “Vogue” next as pole dancers (barely) dressed as naughty nuns formed a decidedly unholy pastiche of the Last Supper. Then, while the Queen took a break backstage, her dance crew entertained with an eerie rendition of “Messiah”.
Borrowing elements from Cirque de Soleil trapeze work, Chinese New Year and the movies “300” and “Grease”, this was perhaps the most complex and intricate concert production Bangkok has ever seen.
Apart from the ample artillery of lights and an eight-by-five-metre video screen, the main stage had a catwalk and “causeways” on which Madonna and the other performers would suddenly appear and disappear. A three-metre platform at centre stage tilted 90 degrees, becoming a backdrop as needed or a wall they could slide down. Half an hour in, it felt like we were watching a full-scale Broadway musical, a treat for all the senses.
Madonna returned in retro costume straight out of “Grease” to sing “Body Shop” and “True Blue” and then danced up a whirlwind though “Deeper and Deeper”. Next a spiral staircase descended to the catwalk to set the dramatic scene for “Heartbreak City”, during which she sent her “love interest” to his doom with the immortal words “Nobody f**ks with the Queen.”
“Like a Virgin” was heavy with drums, shorn of its disco roots, but the fans sang along at the top of their lungs nevertheless. Then it was bedtime – hardly. Three beds appeared onstage for the raunchy dancing of “Sex”, though Madonna chose to abstain from this round, perhaps having generated enough steam-heated controversy in her time.
When she did reappear, it was in a glittering matador outfit ready to do some “Living for Love”, the whole ensemble waacking furiously to the techno beat. Then they were off to a dreamy Spanish island for “La Isla Bonita” before kicking into “Take A Bow”, one of her all-time greatest hits – though she said this was only the third time in her career she’d sung the song.
At age 57, Madonna likely needs those regular pauses from the kinetic pace of the show, and this time she left her dance posse to put on an enthusiastic, perfectly synchronised master class in flamenco. When the star came back, she offered a warm and funny greeting. “It took me a long time to finally get here. I have a lot of fans in this part of the world and it’s good to be back, Bangkok! Bang – kok – it sounds so pornographic!”
Well, at least she finally noticed.
Guitar in her arms, Madonna then sang her heart out – “Ghost Town” and “Rebel Heart” – while the fans created a rippling sea of lights holding their phones aloft.
A charged-up, electronic “Illuminati” was the cue for the dancers in tuxedos and top hats to begin an astonishing acrobatic show on towering poles, and then we were into the home stretch with “Music”, “Candy” and “Material Girl”, the whole crowd up and dancing.
For “Unapologetic Bitch”, Madonna chose a member of the audience to dance with her onstage, and a fine selection it was – a young lady named To, dressed to the max in blonde wig and high heels. When they were done, the lights went out and speculation buzzed over what the encore might be.
The answer came soon enough with the opening chords of “Holiday”, greeted with a huge cheer. The troupe cantered around merrily to the 1983 pop-dance hit and the queen of all pop emerged in an American-flag outfit – waving a Thai flag. At the final bows she called out, “Good night, Bangkok!” and slowly withdrew from sight.
Showing little sign of her age, Madonna gave us what was clearly one of the most sensational concerts that’s ever graced Bangkok. She did a great job as a dancer, singer and all-round entertainer.
She’s got more stops ahead in Asia, off to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Macau, Manila and Singapore before wrapping up the world tour in Australia.