Madonna’s 2015-2016 Rebel Heart Tour was one of the best and most successful tours of Madonna’s career. In a review from 2015, this author said that the show was masterful and made performers like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga seem like “beta” pop stars. Then, the show was broadcast on Showtime in December of 2016 and was edited so poorly, flashy, and rapidly that some fans called it the Epilepsy Tour.
That same show is the one included on the DVD and Blu-Ray release of the live concert. Those who enjoyed the Rebel Heart Tour may not like the fact that the digital video versions don’t really reproduce the live experience. However, the accompanying Rebel Heart Tour live album certainly does, and makes the case as Madonna’s best live album to date. While the Queen of Pop’s other live albums always stood as attachments or bonuses for people who bought the accompanying Blu-Rays or DVDs, the Rebel Heart Tour live album stands on its own.
One of the things that makes the Rebel Heart Tour such a pleasure is the fact that Madonna sings live, at least most of the time, without much auto-tune or digital enhancement. And sure, you can hear her voice strain, quiver, and go off-key, but you can also hear her being raw, emotional, and very technically proficient, despite the fact that her critics still say that she technically can’t sing. This live album certainly proves them wrong.
It’s obvious that some of Madonna’s numbers include heavy playback or heavy background vocals. Who knows if Madonna actually sings one word live on the opening track, “Iconic.” She seems to be softly singing along in “B***h I’m Madonna,” and “Holy Water.”
The “live” experience really begins with a slowed-down version of “True Blue,” which Madonna sings beautifully, offering a warm tone that isn’t even available on the original 1986 version. Her interaction with the audience is also warm and sincere. Madonna continues to impress vocally with “Heartbreak City,” though it’s missing the part where she performs “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” during the middle of the performance.
Madonna’s vocals waver off-key somewhat when she sings “Like a Virgin,” “La Isla Bonita,” and “Dress You Up,” and one doesn’t notice when they see the concert live since Madonna’s dancing is the key element in these performances. However, the vocal faults are more noticeable when listening to the live versions without the images. But this isn’t a bad thing; the flaws make Madonna more human. And when you try heavy dancing and singing at the same time, nobody could expect the results to be perfect.
However, when Madonna sings her most recent album’s title track, her voice is captivating. After a couple more dance numbers, the pop queen gives what’s perhaps the best vocal performance of her career so far, an almost pitch-perfect version of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.” This is a song nobody could imagine Madonna covering at the beginning of her career. Now, it sounds natural.
The album ends with a watered-down but still sweet version of “Like a Prayer,” which has become a religious anthem among her fans. Hearing the crowd loudly sing along makes you want to join in the experience as well. Actually, the whole album makes you want to run to a Madonna concert, and that’s exactly what a live album is supposed to do.
[Featured Image by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images]