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Bullwhips and flying drumlines: Madonna’s over-the-top Vegas concert history

Like a virgin, we were once new to the Madonna live experience.

And then came the mooning, the Material Girl doppelgangers, and the stripper pole attached to a horse saddle.

We will never be the same.

Now it’s your turn.

Time to revisit some of Madge’s previous Vegas shows to prepare for this weekend’s two-night stand at T-Mobile Arena — if preparing for the spectacle-of-all-spectacles is even possible.

Quite a wild ride

Arms outstretched on a glimmering cross, she played the role of 21st century savior in patent leather boots.

There Madonna was, getting mock crucified at the MGM Grand Garden on May 28, 2006, during her “Confessions Tour.”

The show began with the pop superstar getting her Mr. Ed on, emerging from a giant disco ball that descended from the rafters, as she waved a glittery whip at the crowd, climbed onto the back of a dancer on all fours and grabbed the reins of a horse harness.

The equestrian theme continued during “Like a Virgin,” with a black leather saddle and some tawdry gymnastics.

And all this was just for starters.

Madonna’s shows are so awesomely — sometimes absurdly — over-the-top and visually ostentatious it can feel like peering through diamonds in place of eyeballs.

At her Nov. 8, 2008, show at the same venue, for instance, she rode down the runway that jutted into the crowd in a sparkling white convertible during “Beat Goes On,” interacted with a quartet of Madonna look-alikes from different eras of her career while performing “She’s Not Me,” and flung herself around a pole mounted on a movable DJ booth.

“Don’t be fooled by my humility,” she’d later wink, which is kind of like a shark urging you to ignore its teeth.

Returning to the arena on Oct. 13, 2012, it was Madonna as a Charlie’s Angel, clad in a curve-hugging black bodysuit, doing cartwheels across the stage and firing at invisible foes during “Revolver.”

She’s also displayed her more cheeky side — literally — exposing her backside to the crowd.

Why drop trou onstage? she asked and then answered: “So that people pay attention.”

Don’t mess with Madge

If there’s one thing Madonna can’t stand at her shows it’s anyone not standing.

Like a schoolteacher catching you passing notes during home ec, she’ll call you out in front of the whole class.

“This will not do. I’m spoiled,” Madonna fumed during her May 2004 show at the MGM Grand Garden, as reported by the RJ’s Mike Weatherford, annoyed that anyone in the crowd would have the audacity to cop a squat at one of her gigs. “People don’t sit at my shows.”

She expressed similar exasperation during an October 2012 concert at the same venue.

Just three songs into her set, she was cursing the audience and bemoaning the relaxed vibe in the arena.

“There’s a lot of laid-back people here tonight,” she sighed. “It’s freaking me out.”

And it wasn’t just those fans with tired feet who earned her ire.

First, ex-husband Guy Ritchie was in her crosshairs.

“I tried to be a good girl / I tried to be your wife,” she seethed on “I Don’t Give A,” sucking her cheeks in and glowering at the crowd with eyes that doubled as daggers. “Diminished myself / And I swallowed my light.”

Next, she targeted a fellow pop star who she clearly felt was riding her coattails.

During “Express Yourself,” which Madonna performed dressed as a majorette backed by a marching band drumline suspended from the rafters, she included a sample of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” (a song that some have criticized for being a facsimile of the hit in question), followed by a portion of “She’s Not Me,” which could be read as a shot at the younger singer.

A few years later, Gaga would return fire …

‘A queen is never late’

Clearly, punctuality is for plebes.

At least according to Her Royal Highness of I’ll Get There When I Feel Like Getting There, Bro.

During her 2019 “Madame X Tour,” on which Madonna traded arenas for multi-night stands in midsized concert halls, she continually riled fans by starting shows “late.”

“There’s something that you all need to understand, and that is that a queen is never late,” Madonna told the crowd during her Nov. 7 date at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, the first of three shows at the venue.

According to the RJ’s John Katsilometes, Madonna began her performance nearly two hours past the show’s scheduled 10:30 p.m. start time (and this was after the concert had been bumped back from an 8:30 p.m. start the week before).

Some in attendance were so agitated that they serenaded Madonna with chants of “refund!” once she did show up, with upward of 500 fans leaving before a single note was played, Katsilometes reported.

A Florida man was so upset at Madonna’s tardiness during a Miami tour date that he filed a class-action lawsuit against the singer. It’s happened again on her current outing: A pair of fans recently sued Madonna after she was hours late to a concert at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in December.

After Madonna’s tardiness at the Colosseum show, Gaga got her revenge, at least.

Before Gaga’s concert at the Park Theater at Park MGM the following night, a sign was posted outside the venue that read: “Jazz Show #32, The Park Theater, 5,400 Guests SOLD OUT 8:00 p.m. ON STAGE.”

No big deal, Gaga was just expressing herself, right?

Vamping and revamping

Just as with start times, Madonna often takes liberties with the way she performs her songs.

And it makes perfect sense, really: The do-your-own-thing ethos at the heart of her catalog wouldn’t be served with a played-straight greatest hits performance.

And so Madonna often serves her audience by being concerned with serving only herself.

This means reworking her songs in concert, sometimes rendering them drastically different than their original recorded versions.

During her May 2006 show at the MGM Grand, she shimmied along to decidedly more beat-heavy versions of “Erotica” and “Lucky Star,” added guitar skronk to “Ray of Light” and stepped aside for an extended percussive breakdown in “La Isla Bonita.”

Two years later at the same venue, she turned early dance pop confection “Borderline” into a riff-heavy rocker with flared nostrils that actually had some crowd members playing air drums. Heart-pounding disco dervish “Hung Up” got a similar treatment, slathered in muscular power chords until it could nearly be classified as a metal tune.

And at her 2012 performance at the MGM Grand, Madonna drained the blood from “Like a Virgin,” rendering it a spectral, spare torch song that she sang backed only by piano. Former dance floor fire starter “Hung Up” was leavened by dreamy synth lines and Auto-Tuned vocals, and “Candy Shop” was similarly reshaped and slowed down with a vamping bass line.

Few popsters would ever think of toying with some of their biggest hits the way Madonna does.

“If it makes you feel good, I say do it,” she sang during a show-closing “Celebration.”

And that’s exactly what she does.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram.

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