BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
That’s all it took for a sold-out crowd at Philips Arena to forgive Madonna for finally gracing us with her presence at 10:54 p.m.
In the hour prior, fans grumbled and groused, asking out loud, “Is she always this late?”
The answer: Yes, more or less. My review of her Nov. 17, 2012 concert at Philips noted that it began at 10:30 p.m. Still inexcusable, but since it was a Saturday, it was treated more as a party night.
And reviews of her other shows this week in Nashville and Louisville, Ky., pointedly castigated her for start times after 10:30 p.m. (even Reba McEntire, an attendee in Nashville, hit Twitter to call Madonna out for this unnecessary rudeness).
But in the seconds when Madonna descended in a cage for the opening “Iconic,” the grumbles turned to roars of approval and, until about 12:45 a.m. when many fans had to flee to ensure a ride on the last MARTA train at 1:15 a.m., the crowd stayed solid and standing, basking in the glow of their queen.
» MORE PHOTOS: Check out our gallery of shots from the show.
Good luck, Miami. You might see her by 11:30 p.m. for her show there on Saturday.
But hey, as long as this behavior is accepted and forgiven, Madonna will continue to disregard the fans – the very people who have turned her into a pop culture icon – without apology.
So, anyway… about the show.
Here are some things we learned:
Madonna thinks calling the city “Hotlanta” is endearing. OK, it served a purpose as a lead-in to “Burning Up,” complete with Madonna on black Flying V guitar, but the other times, not so much. No one likes the term. It’s stupid. Also, it was 40 degrees outside Wednesday night.
Madonna should know better than to call the city “Hotlanta” because, as she reminded the crowd halfway through her 2-hour-plus show, she wrote her 1994 hit, “Secret,” here with Dallas Austin. “We wrote it in the basement of a house on Peachtree,” she recalled. “It was a wonderful experience for me.” She played the song about a dozen times during the first leg of this “Rebel Heart” tour last fall, but it isn’t a set staple, so Atlanta did receive its special moment. Madonna also sounded terrific as she launched the song on acoustic guitar before her four-piece band broke in to guide its gentle thump.
Her need to marry the sacred and profane hasn’t waned. A pack of female dancers wearing nun habits and ruffled undies and swinging on stripper poles shaped like crosses accompanied “Holy Water” (which featured a languid snippet of “Vogue”), while “Devil Pray” had Madonna, in her black fishnets and thigh-high boots, climbing onto the lap of a gentleman donning a clerical collar.
She sprinkles her set lists with enough classics to keep longtime fans sated. No matter how worthy the songs on “Rebel Heart” (fortunately, our show included the album’s most potent track, “Ghosttown”), her devotees shell out hundreds of dollars on tickets because they still want to bounce to “Like a Virgin” (and she obliged them with a recast of the song decorated with a hip, electro-pop beat). Other highlights included a ukulele rendition of “True Blue,” which stripped the sweet song to its melodic core; a foot-stomping, hip-swiveling “La Isla Bonita,” (cue the fringed black and gold matador outfit); a sultry jazz take on “Music,” which quickly flipped back to its insinuating beat; and a cutesy “Material Girl,” during which Madonna covered her ears in mock horror at the sound of the “Li-ving in a material world” chant and cavorted with her tuxedo-clad dancers.
Don’t think Madonna doesn’t care what people say about her. After “La Isla Bonita,” she and her dance crew gathered at the end of the long catwalk and slugged a shot of clear liquid. “Just trying to earn my new reputation as an alcoholic – as I drink shot glasses of water and throw them into the audience,” she said sarcastically, a defiant rebuttal to speculation that she was drunk onstage in Kentucky. “I’m kinda getting used to being misunderstood. It goes with the territory…Some of us give a (expletive) about explaining ourselves and some us don’t, right?” Strike up the rapturous applause and shouts of approval from the audience.
No human being could perform this show drunk. What Madonna is still able to accomplish physically, at 57, is simply astounding. No, the moves might not be as complicated or crisp as a decade ago, and toward the end of Wednesday’s show (well, Thursday’s at that point), Madonna did appear to start to wilt (join the club, lady) and detoured into a rambling discourse about marriage and love and other random topics. But her aerobic dance moves, sometimes in lock step with her taut team and sometimes solo, were fluid, fun and fierce.
So back to that absurd start time. Fan Mark Medlin from Roswell paid $400 for his seats, would be in for more than $100 for a babysitter given the extra time and had to leave early to catch MARTA. But he grinned and stood throughout the show, content with his first Madonna experience. In the hours before the concert, fan Laura Bechtel, who had driven from Macon and was spending the night in Atlanta, was nonetheless growing weary of the wait. “If she comes on and she’s awesome, then all is forgiven,” Bechtel said around 10:30 p.m. We checked in with her two hours later and were greeted with a giant grin. “It was well worth it.”