A Look Back at Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour

In celebration of Madonna’s 59th birthday, as well as her provocative Rebel Heart Tour coming to DVD, Blu-ray, CD and digital download in September, I’m reflecting on her fabulous Nashville concert stop back in January 2016. The two-hour-plus show was the first Music City performance of the superstar’s career, which now spans more than three decades. This egregious fact didn’t go unnoticed by the singer as she jokingly professed to be a “Nashville virgin” when she took the stage.

The pop diva’s show was divided into four themes: Samurai, Asian, Latin and Party Celebration. Each segment was individually characterized by distinguishing wardrobe changes, choreography, and song selection. The show’s setlist heavily incorporated material from the singer’s most recent album Rebel Heart, but also contained many fan favorites, some of which she hasn’t performed in years, namely “Dress You Up,” “True Blue,” Deeper and Deeper,” “Who’s That Girl” and an electrified version of her early hit “Burning Up.”

This show marked my fifth Madonna concert overall, since first seeing her live on the acclaimed Who’s That Girl World Tour way back in 1987. I also attended her Drowned World, Re-invention and MDNA World Tours, and each show was an inimitable and exhilarating vision. As every true-blue fan knows, no one else puts on a show quite like Madonna. All five times I was lucky enough to witness Madonna perform live on stage was analogous to sneaking into a master class of the performing arts. [Read Full Review]

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Garbage Live in Nashville

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(Photo: Eric Allen  © 2016 PopMartZoo)

 

Alternative rockers Garbage returned to Music City’s historic Ryman Auditorium last night for the first time since 2005. Ferocious Scotswoman Shirley Manson captivated multitudes of devoted ‘darklings’ during a nearly 2-hour set which mined a contrasting batch of shining jewels from all six of the band’s albums including 1995 hit “Only Happy When It Rains” and the current “Empty.” Although illness related no-fly orders meant Butch Vig was absent from the evening’s performance, drummer Eric Gardener slammed through the blistering set without missing a beat.

Once Manson and company took command of the stage with opener “Supervixen,” it was immediately obvious the band’s global tour promoting Strange Little Birds (Garbage’s latest and darkest album yet) is an unmistakable quest to prove it is possible to defy ageism and successfully make music on their own terms without interference from the politics of a major record label. The rock band’s latest offering is the second full-length released via its own independent Stunvolume record label. Despite its gloomy, misanthropic tone, the critically acclaimed Strange Little Birds easily managed to concurrently claim the number one spots atop Billboard’s Top Rock Albums and Alternative Albums charts.

The all but sold-out crowd stood on its feet throughout the evening, never showing signs of fatigue as it cheered and sang along to everything the band’s well-armed arsenal hurled upon everyone in attendance. The audience included spirited twenty-somethings and silver-haired seniors alike, with every age in between disregarding any evidence of a musical generation gap. The steamy, humid night didn’t dampen spirits as the energetic troop danced, sang, and fist-pumped its way throughout the beloved group’s well received set.

As the evening’s performance came to a close with the energetic favorite “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)” the foot stomping masses made it clear they weren’t ready to go home. Luckily, Manson and her faithful bandmates Duke Erikson and Steve Marker happily indulged spellbound onlookers with a generous encore consisting of “Sometimes,” “Empty,” and “#1 Crush.” Hopefully fans won’t have to wait another 11 years until Garbage returns to Nashville.

Set List

Supervixen
I Think I’m Paranoid
Stupid Girl
Automatic Systematic Habit
Blood For Poppies
The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
My Lover’s Box
Sex Is Not The Enemy
Special
A Stroke Of Luck
Even Though Our Love Is Doomed
Why Do You Love Me
Control
Blackout
Bleed Like Me
Push It
Vow
Only Happy When It Rains
Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)

Encore:
Sometimes
Empty
#1 Crush

Queen of Pop Plays Music City

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(Rebel Heart Tour: Bridgestone Arena Nashville 2016)

Pop music icon Madonna played Nashville last night at Bridgestone Arena during a stop on her global Rebel Heart Tour. The two-hour-plus show was the first Music City performance of the superstar’s career, which now spans more than three decades. This egregious fact didn’t go unnoticed by the singer as she jokingly professed to be a “Nashville virgin” when she took the stage.

The concert opened with “Iconic” (featuring a rapping Mike Tyson), as images of the pop music innovator splashed across a colossal video screen as she was eventually lowered from the ceiling in a metal cage. The all but sold-out crowd roared as Madonna emerged from the cage and was delimited by ten male dancers dressed as medieval executioners adorned in gold and black and armed with large metal pikes.

The pop diva’s show was divided into four themes: Samurai, Asian, Latin and Party Celebration. Each segment was individually characterized by distinguishing wardrobe changes, choreography, and song selection. The show’s setlist heavily incorporated material from the singer’s most recent album Rebel Heart, but also contained many fan favorites, some of which she hasn’t performed in years, namely “Dress You Up,” “True Blue,” Deeper and Deeper,” “Who’s That Girl” and an electrified version of her early hit “Burning Up.”

The musical spectacle’s wow moments included Madonna body surfing atop a nun while swinging from a crucifix-shaped stripper pole during the racy “Holy Water,” which segued midway into an updated version of “Vogue.” Also noteworthy was a death-defying routine choreographed to “Illuminati,” which featured several dancers swaying back and forth over the audience while atop twenty foot poles.

But the evening’s most unique moment arrived halfway through the set when Madonna unexpectedly broke into an acapella version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” The impromptu cover was interrupted as the singer explained in a faux southern accent “Okay let’s start this again ‘cuz I fucked it up and I’m not gonna embarrass myself in front of Johnny Cash right now. You have to understand I did not rehearse this, it just came into my head, underneath the stage a couple of minutes ago. Let’s start again okay? So, I’m playing my pussy (the opening notes of the song were synchronized with Madonna’s vaginal hand movements), that’s what I’m doing,” the singer humorously clarified.

Throughout the night, Madonna seemed surprisingly unguarded and radiated a vivacious spirit and playfulness which was devoured by the enamored audience. We were treated to an engaging mix of high-energy dance numbers such as “Music,” as well as a few stripped-down acoustic numbers including “La Vie en rose.”

Ultimately, the ambitious production concluded with an energetic encore of the singer’s first hit single “Holiday,” which had the late night crowd up on our feet as we clapped, danced, and sang along with the Material Girl, until she eventually disappeared after being hoisted up into the air. At age 57, Madonna convincingly demonstrated she is still a force with which to be reckoned when it comes to the art of live performance. The reigning Queen of Pop delivered an incomparable show, the likes of which Nashville will doubtfully ever see again.

David Cook: The Digital Vein Tour Live in Nashville

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(Photo by: Eric Allen © 2015 Popmartzoo)

David Cook played to a packed house when his Digital Vein Tour made a stop in Nashville on Wednesday night. The 2008 winner of American Idol was in rare form during the 90-minute set, which was filled with fist-pumping rockers and emotional ballads. The left-handed guitarist instantly took control of the room with his commanding, but amiable stage presence.

Cook (a Music City resident since 2012), was both charismatic and comical as he brought the room to its feet during the night’s intimate performance, which included a healthy dose of selections from his latest album, the self-produced Digital Vein, which recently debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Pop Album Chart. The set list contained songs from the platinum-selling artist’s repertoire such as fan favorites (“Paper Heart,” “Heroes” and “Declaration”), radio hits (“Come Back to Me” and “Light On”), and a smoldering cover version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.”

The “Time of My Life” singer and left-handed guitarist seemed noticeably eager to play a hometown show as he shared a humorous anecdote of being forced to dance on national television during his Idol days, confessed his desire to play 3rd and Lindsley’s stage after catching a recent performance of Los Angeles rock band Failure, and requested score updates of his favorite baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. Midway through the show, Cook noticed a girl in the balcony who was engrossed in her cell phone and shouted “Are you ordering a pizza on that thing? She’s probably thinking, I can’t believe that asshole just called me out,” he humorously remarked. The enthralled crowd, as well as Cook himself, seemed to relish the evening’s numerous candid moments.

By night’s end it was clear Cool held the audience in the palm of his hand, as the multitude of  “Cook-ies” reciprocated the pop star’s personal outpourings with swooning sighs, overexcited yelps, and booming applause throughout the evening. The show ultimately climaxed with a vivacious encore which included current single “Criminals,” resulting in a standing ovation as undeniable proof Cook had skillfully managed to captivate spectators with his uniquely honed musical mix of cock rock and panty pop.

 

Shania Twain Rocks Music City!

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Country megastar Shania Twain brought the house down when she played Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. The long-awaited concert was part of Twain’s current Rock This Country Tour and farewell trek across North America. Friday’s performance marked the country icon’s first proper Nashville show in 17 years as Twain hasn’t treated Music City to one of her trademark performances since her Come On Over Tour rolled through back in 1998.

The five-time Grammy winner opened the show with a blazing version of “Rock This Country!” as she emerged center stage grasping a blood-red microphone amidst a foggy, LED lit, multi-level band riser, as she was slowly hoisted to perilous heights while gazing upon a packed house of elated onlookers. Adorning flowing blond locks and dressed in black with fringed leather, thigh-high boots, and rose tinted shades, Twain served up an exhilarating musical olio with an impressive hodgepodge of wardrobe and special effects, which included up-close moments of being pushed around the arena floor in a Plexiglas Shania mobile, as well as later sweeping over the thunderstruck crowd while riding atop a flying saddle.

A nervously energized Shania expressed it felt great to be back in Nashville and how she wanted the special night to last forever. The singer then reminisced of making lasting friendships and having countless fond memories of Music City. Twain also seemed overwhelmingly taken aback at the warm reception, so much in fact, she stumbled over a few words and repeated the first verse twice during her 1995 mega-hit “(If You’re Not in It for Love) I’m Outta Here!”

The evening’s most personal moments included an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday,” which she sang to a lucky audience member, in addition to Twain comfortably cradling an acoustic guitar for an unplugged portion of the show. The brief acoustic set included stripped-down, but heartfelt renderings of “Today is Your Day,” “You’re Still the One,” and “No One Needs to Know,” the latter of which she confessed to writing way back before she’d secured a recording contract.

The former ACM and CMA Entertainer of the Year luminously sparkled throughout the night as she energetically bestowed her glitz and glamour to an all but sold-out show. Twain was in top form during the nearly two-hour non-stop extravaganza. Packed with career-spanning greatest hits (underscored with electrified guitars, amped-up fiddles, and chest-pounding drum beats), a dynamic duet with opening act Gavin DeGraw (“Party for Two”), musical interludes, stunning video effects, multi-colored lasers, an ample helping of pyrotechnics, and multiple costume changes, Twain seemed determined go out in style for her final Nashville tour date.

The awe-inspiring show literally ended with a bang as the explosive encore of “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” brought the adoring throngs to their feet as the crowd (Which included Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves) was ultimately engulfed into a gigantic cloud of glitter, resulting in thunderous applause. By evening’s end, it was glaringly obvious Shania devotees had sorely missed the multi-platinum-selling artist as they eagerly embraced her return to Music City. The one and only artist responsible for the best-selling country album of all-time has undeniably come a long way since her youthful aspirations of  becoming Stevie Wonder’s backup singer.

 

Tori Amos Repents at the Ryman: A Shared Experience

What can be waxed poetic about a live performance by Tori Amos that hasn’t already been covered over the last 25 years? Not much, but her stop in Music City on Monday night at the world famous Ryman Auditorium proved the 50-year-old songstress hasn’t lost any of her magic.

Amos’ latest outing in support of Unrepentant Geraldines (her first proper pop full-length release in five years), finds her touring solo with the bare essentials – her pitch-perfect voice, Bösendorfer, and inimitable charisma. Although I personally prefer when she performs with a band, as playing with others forces Amos out of her comfort zone and the results are usually unforgettably rewarding, over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances of an intimate Amos solo performance. Amos heavily mined her vast canon of baroque compositions stripped to their core, and skillfully delivered each one as a revealingly honest pop song confessional.

The attendance of this particular show marked my 11th Amos concert, and I was accompanied by a friend and fellow music enthusiast, who wasn’t very familiar with her repertoire, and I was curious how he’d react to his first venture into the world of Tori Amos. I’d learned long ago not to expect to convert a novice, as Amos’ set lists have always been cherry-picked like a classic iPod had been shaken and/or shuffled. Quickly my curiosities were vanquished as I watched my crony wriggling impatiently like an unruly child trying to sit still in church and he seemed more interested in the pre-show musical selections of Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits. I, on the other hand, was wanting to jump up and down ecstatically as I reveled in hearing some of my all-time favorite Amos compositions, some of which I’d been waiting to hear performed live for several years. My only consolation was sitting in the midst of two-thousand Toriphiles, among them a twenty-something female who was brimming with enthusiasm as she anticipated the heady experience of her first Amos concert. We discussed our favorite songs before the lights went down (“Blood Roses” and “Sugar”) and we both were delighted when both were unexpectedly performed back to back midway through the show.

As is always the case, Amos was highly aware of her surroundings, and this was by far her first appearance at Music City’s mother church of country music. She shared with us how honored she felt to be playing her songs at the beloved venue and confided an anecdote of how her minister father has always wanted her to write songs about carrying out God’s will, at which she replied, “But dad, I do!” The crowd erupted into thunderous applause and ear-splitting cheers as Amos segued into “Cool on Your Island” from her long out-of-print 1988 album, Y Kant Tori Read. The auditorium again became engulfed in a cloud of euphoric surprise as Amos broke into the chorus of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ classic “Islands in the Stream,” followed by a heart-wrenching cover of Parton’s “Jolene.”

The evening’s significant highlights included a technically enhanced version of “Cornflake Girl,” an endearing version of the Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and a thrilling 4-song encore including a haunting version of Depeche Mode’s “In Your Room.” The 2-hour set concluded with the sold-out crowd on its feet and applauding ferociously as the red-haired siren disappeared into the legendary stage’s wings.

Although I’d hardly converted my buddy into an Amos fan, the audience made up of Ears with Feet members of various ages appeared gratified. As for myself, I couldn’t have asked for a more satiating set list.

The Killers Bring Sin City to Music City

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(Photo by Eric Allen ©2013)

Music City met Sin City when Las Vegas rock band The Killers performed at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville Sunday night. Dressed in black and armed with lasers, a projection screen backdrop, and a keyboard bedecked with an illuminated lightning bolt, lead singer Brandon Flowers was on fire as he tirelessly ripped through the dynamic set like a man determined to leave his perpetual mark upon the world famous venue’s stage.

The band members fed off the sold out crowd’s zealous reaction as they delivered a 21-song set list culled from their four album discography, which included “Mr. Brightside,” and “Human,” stacked against newer hits “Here with Me,” and “Runaways.” During the concert’s progression, the evening was filled with sporadic surprises including the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire,” a guest appearance by Brad Paisley, and a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which was preceded by Flowers’ proclamation, “Tiffany stole this song from Tommy James and the Shondells, but tonight we’re stealing it back.”

Although it may initially sound odd for a Las Vegas rock band fronted by a Latter-day Saint to play a gig at the Grand Ole Opry, that’s precisely what took place on an electrically charged Sunday evening in the inimitably unequalled whangdoodle that is Nashville’s beloved music scene.

By night’s end, Flowers held the engrossed audience in the palm of his hand, as thousands stood on their feet while cheering, clapping, and singing along at the top of their lungs for the duration of the virtually two-hour performance. Despite a dubiously absent rendering of the band’s revered hit “Bones,” no one exited the show with any criticisms. While the Ryman Auditorium may exclusively own the moniker “The Mother Church of Country Music,” The Killers live at the Grand Ole Opry House was nonetheless a religious experience in its own right.

© 2013 ForASong Media, LLC