One doesn’t really need to review a Madonna show, you simply have to recount it as faithfully as possible and the details speak for themselves. You don’t need to talk about the electricity in the air or the way the crowd responded rapturously to a given stunt or antic, because there’s only one way to react to one of the world’s most iconic pop singers revolving around a cruciform stripper poll aboard a dancer dressed in a nun habit.

The show begins rather fittingly with a song called ‘Iconic’, a cut from her most recent album, Rebel Heart, a conceptual tribute to the Unapologetic Bitches of history from Joan of Arc onwards, and a musical return to the singer’s club roots, a tactic that’s previously resulted in some of her most memorable, compelling, and popular releases, like 1998’s Ray of Light (produced by William Orbit) and 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor (produced by Stuart Price).

The show is sliced into four equally exquisite portions, each with their own theme and costumes: Joan of Arc / Samurai, Rockabilly Meets Tokyo, Latin / Gypsy, and Party / Flapper. All of the evening’s revelry takes place on a stage that extends out into the crowd like a crucifix, tipped with a love heart. “It looks like a dick from here. I didn’t design it from this angle,” she tells the crowd. “I designed it from the other angle and from here it looks very… phallic.” Everything we see is the product of her vision. Madonna is a consummate auteur, like a pop music Martin Scorsese, only with more swearing.

Her crowd banter is, for lack of a better word, profane, even by the most liberal standards. Madonna doesn’t just use naughty words, she delights in them, like a cigarette smoker inhaling that first drag. They’re just words for the rest of us, but in the mouth of this former Catholic school girl the dirty seven are like tiny little acts of revolution. When she asks the crowd a question, she demands they respond with a “Fuck-fuck-fuck yeah!” because as she explains, “Once is good, twice is better, and three times is amazing.”

Libertinism is the meal du jour. And although one can’t help but recall the ‘Presented by Telstra Thanks’ that adorns every promotional poster for the Australian Rebel Heart Tour when Madonna’s voice talks of “escaping corporate oppression” during one of the many video interludes of the evening, Rod Laver Arena truly feels like a bastion of self-expression tonight.

There are costumes everywhere, from middle-aged men dressed as ‘Like A Virgin’-era Madge to prominent drag queens from the local Melbourne scene donning full regalia. Others meanwhile have opted for the red latex booty shorts, angel wings, and devil horns with knock-off Maison Margiela masks. The crowd is as colourful as the show, but not quite. After all, no one upstages Madonna.

When she’s not making dirty jokes or pulling off dance-acrobatics on a staircase suspended from the rafters, Madonna is smashing myths.

“She can’t really sing, she’s just good at marketing herself.” Her rendition of Édith Piaf’s ‘La vie en rose’ accompanied solely by a ukulele which she plays herself is one of the most memorable moments of the show not only for its poignance, but for her simply stunning vocals.

“Her shows are overly rehearsed and she performs by rote.” Overly rehearsed? Perhaps, but when you’ve got a stage with more trapdoors than a haunted manor inhabited by a small army of dancers, musicians, roadies, and stage-hands, you can be forgiven for ensuring you don’t have to enact your multi-million dollar insurance policy.

As for performing by rote, her stage banter may be vulgar but it’s also surprisingly and charmingly candid, and most of it is improvised. In fact, certain segments of the show could probably have used a little more rehearsal and maybe even a rewrite or two, such as an awkward-to-the-point-of-uncomfortable interaction with two of her dancers right after the sterling performance of ‘La vie en rose’. One dancer offers her a cigarette, the other a diamond bracelet, and Madonna is forced to choose between the two. The unfortunate skit is built around a punchline that never actually arrives.

‘Never a dull moment’ is a tired cliche, but from the moment the lights go down even the most jaded cynic would consider themselves lucky to be in the audience (once you deduct the ticket price). The show is a treat as much as it is a spectacle and it’s easy to see why the woman is considered an icon by everyone from Greil Marcus to The Church of Satan, because that’s what she is: iconic.

Photos by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Setlist

Iconic
Bitch I’m Madonna
Burning Up
Holy Water (with “Vogue” snippet)
Devil Pray
Body Shop
True Blue (acoustic)
Deeper and Deeper
HeartBreakCity
Like a Virgin
Living for Love
La Isla Bonita
Take a Bow
Rebel Heart
Music
Send in the Clowns (Stephen Sondheim cover)
Candy Shop
Material Girl
La vie en rose( acoustic Édith Piaf cover)
Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend
Unapologetic Bitch
Encore:
Holiday

Madonna Australian Tour Dates

Sunday, 13th March 2016
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Tickets: Ticketek

Saturday, 19th March 2016
Allphones Arena, Sydney
Tickets: Ticketek

Sunday, 20th March 2016
Allphones Arena, Sydney
Tickets: Ticketek

Saturday, 26th March 2016
Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane
Tickets: Ticketek

Sunday, 27th March 2016
Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane
Tickets: Ticketek