IT was a long wait.
But Madonna returned to Australian stages tonight for Tears of A Clown in the lead up to the coming weekend's Rebel Heart stadium shows.
It wasn't just the 23 years since Madonna last passed through Australia with The Girlie Show in 1993, that fans had to endure, but an additional four hours after the expected curtain call before she took the stage. On a tricycle. At 1am.
From the outset, Melbourne Madonna fans though got something the world has not seen from Madonna. And repeatedly.
In a set at the Forum Theatre which stretched out til nearly 3am, and thereby became her latest night out on stage - presumably since her early New York days - fans were treated to over a dozen songs in an almost two hour long show many of which had never been performed live.
Fans were also subjected to some jokes, banter and some philosophizing. And, this was not the usual, polished repertoire that the singer brings to the stage. It wasn't rehearsed to the nth degree, and nor did it rely on effects and visuals. In fact, M constantly referred to her notes throughout the show not having any real choreography to hide behind.
Instead, what the show relied on was her music, and not even the hits, some of which were performed towards the end of the show to Twitter's absolute glee.
I recently posted about Madonna's B-side and album tracks. Not for vanity purposes, but because for Madonna fans, this is where the heart and soul of her music lies. And tonight in Tears of A Clown the woman herself seemed to emphasize that point.
Madonna drew heavily from her American Life (2003) and Music (2000) albums. On the one hand, Australian audiences haven't been privy to seeing any of these songs performed live. But you got the feeling that wherever M's head was at, its foundations were largely based on this period of her career when the juggling act of career and family came to the fore for her.
Those two albums are, also not coincidentally, the two which arrived alongside her son Rocco. Music was recorded when Madonna was pregnant with Rocco, American Life was the first album she recorded after his birth.
American Life was written off at the time as an anti-commercial sentiment from the Material Girl, but in reality, it was an album whose backbone was shaped around songs about her family: her children, her then husband, and her parents. If anything it was about her looking back and forwards but from a familiarly perspective.
As songs that are structured around an acoustic guitar, the four songs from American Life (Xstatic Process, Easy Ride, Intervention and I'm So Stupid) made for good fits for a stripped down show and seemed to emphasize the theme of the show, which itself was built around the sad side of a performer.
These numbers were joined by Ray of Light's Mer Girl (another first time - if rambling- live performance) and Drowned World - songs from the album in which she began to reflect musically on her spiritual journey. Drowned World - a song about her daughter, was the album opener. Mer Girl, a song for her mother, its closing track.
Her chats between songs often descended into lude double entendres but also were occasionally reflective - including reference to Rocco, to whom Intervention was dedicated.
Elsewhere, the song choices spoke of the conflict that you often find in her music. Of being presented something, everything, and it not being right for you, or simply walking away from it. Those are themes that I think underscore songs like Drowned World, Nobody's Perfect, Paradise and Joan of Arc, all songs performed tonight.
Beyond that there were bittersweet moments like Don't Tell Me or ballads like Borderline and Take A Bow, the latter which was a perfect final number for the clown show.
The encore of Holiday left the audience with something a little lighter to stew on, but there were so many first time live performances tonight, and such a focus on the 2000-2003 period of her work that I would think audiences would have walked away happy even if they might have hoped for a couple of more hits. What they got was something no other city or audience has and might not ever again.
What they also got was a reminder that for all the hard candy, the sugar and spice of her vast back catalogue, M's musical choices are not about easy rides. And most Madonna fans are appreciative of this, even if they don't mind a gratuitous performance of Like A Prayer every now and then.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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