By Paula Yeoman
They say better late than never -- and how true that was for the thousands who packed into Auckland’s Vector Arena last night for Madonna’s first-ever New Zealand concert.
It was a brilliantly colourful crowd and largely middle-aged, made up of people who remember firsthand the lace, hair ribbons and bangles of the early 80s, the ones who struck a pose in the 90s and those who embraced the yoga-loving spiritual days of 'Ray of Light'.
The singer has sparked angry headlines on this ‘Rebel Heart’ tour because of her late appearances on stage. But having already kept Kiwi fans waiting for 30-something years, the several hours we waited beyond the opening of the doors felt like nothing.Fists fitted in lace fingerless gloves pumped the air and wine in plastic cups flowed far, far too easily as the sold-out crowd kept themselves entertained until the lights dimmed, dancers appeared seemingly from nowhere on a crucifix shaped stage that stretched two thirds of the way across the main floor and a cage carrying the mighty Queen of Pop descended from the ceiling.
She opened with songs unfamiliar to the heathens like me who haven't closely studied her recent album, Rebel Heart.
It didn't take long, however, before she started rolling out the big guns.
First up was ‘Burning Up’, her very first single. And the hits followed, dotted throughout the two-and-a-half-hour show – ‘Vogue’, ‘True Blue’, ‘La Isla Bonita’, ‘Like A Virgin’, ‘Get Into The Groove’, ‘Dress You Up’, ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Holiday’. Some were mixed with other songs, some stood on their own. But they turned the sold-out arena into a heaving dance floor.
And when it wasn't a pumping nightclub, it was a crazy, magical circus of epic proportions that saw the star and her dancers rolling about on a car bonnet in a 1950s mechanics garage and writhing on crucifix-stripper poles in a reenactment of the Last Supper and so much raunchy, sexualised religious symbolism, it's no wonder the Catholic Church has been critical of this tour.
It was all that I expected, and wanted, from a queen who has reigned across four decades. It was huge and it was fun. The dancers were simply amazing. Would I have preferred to have seen her in the 80s, 90s or early 2000s? Yes, I would have. But was it still worth the wait? Absolutely!
Madonna was warm and friendly with the crowd, thanking them for their patience. She mastered the pronunciation of kia ora and aroha like a pro. But there were a few too many bizarre crowd interactions, none more so than when she shared a banana and a kiss with a random woman from the audience. Tears shed for her son Rocco, who she's currently embroiled in a custody battle over, also left some squirming in their seats.
But it held its ground against some of the big theatrical spectacles we've seen from the likes of Taylor Swift, Kylie, Beyonce and Lady Gaga. After all, it's her they've learnt their craft from.
If anyone thought it was about time she hung up those dancing shoes, they weren't there last night. Madonna's a survivor. She's the Queen of Pop. She'll say when it's time go.
Madonna plays a second show at Vector Arena tonight.