Just before midnight at Madonna's tightly choreographed and highly entertaining Rebel Heart Tour concert at the Toyota Center on Tuesday, she veered off script, scratching two songs for a heartfelt tribute to David Bowie, who died Sunday after a bout with cancer.
"He was one of the geniuses in the music industry and one of the greatest singer/songwriters of the 20th century and he changed my life," she told the sellout crowd of cheering fans. "He showed me that it was OK to be different, right? He was the first rebel heart I laid eyes on. So I think we should get this party started."
She whipped off her senorita dress from a segment of the show that featured "La Isla Bonita" and a samba version of "Dress You Up" to reveal satin gym shorts and sequined bra and launched into Bowie's classic 1974 hit, "Rebel Rebel," which replaced "Who's That Girl" and "Frozen" she had performed in this portion of the concert at previous stops.
For a few minutes, as images of Bowie flashed on a video screen, Madonna sang the song like an excited teenager, sometimes off key, thrashing on the floor in excitement — and it didn't seem overly planned like much of her concert did.
It was pure magic.
"Let a girl catch her breath, right?" she said afterwards. "Oh my god."
And then she turned serious again, praising Bowie for "the groundbreaking that he did with his music, his attitude, his style, the way he looked at life, with all of it, you know?
"In a way he opened the door for transgenders and made people feel like it was OK to be different, that it really didn't matter if you dressed like a boy or a girl. What matters is on the inside. Am I right?"
"I'm feeling a little bit emotional. I am going to miss him. He fucking blew my mind."
The rest of the nearly 2-1/2-hour concert was typical Madonna in a number of ways:
It started really late
Madonna sang her first song (not so ironically, "Ironic") at 10:28 pm as she was lowered from the ceiling in a steel cage. A number of concertgoers around me grumbled at the late start while others simply explained, "That's Madonna."
Throughout the show, which ended around 12:50 am, Madonna sensed that the audience, while enthusiastic, was holding back because of the late hour and chided concertgoers for not worshiping her fervently enough.
"I'm not going further unless I see a little more enthusiasm. Let's have some Texas spirit over here," she barked at one point before offering her semblance of an apology.
"We may go on late, but we give you a show you will never forget," she said.
It was really theatrical
Putting on a show is what Madonna does — she did it long before the current crop of singers who stole her ideas of oversized sets and gyrating dancers were born. But this Rebel Heart Tour is heavily theatrical — even by Madonna's exacting standards.
The show was divided into four segments, each with a lavish theme that ranged from a bacchanalian orgy at the Last Supper (Madonna still hasn't resolved her religious issues) to a 1920s supper club in Harlem, where she's dripping in Swarovski crystals and surrounded by sculpted dancers in formal wear.
At times the concert resembled a lavish Broadway musical-meets-Cirque du Soleil, with bare-chested dancers swaying on poles that tilted toward the audience, rappelling down a video wall or mock fighting as Samuri warriors along a long stage that ran nearly the length of the Toyota Center floor.
There was so much movement that at times Madonna seemed lost in the crowd. However.....
It proved Madonna can still move
At 57, Madonna doesn't move like she used to, but she twerked a time or two, did some fancy footwork with her dancers and was hoisted in the air numerous times. She raced up a spiral staircase that descended from the sky, was hoisted on a giant cross that served as a stripper's pole and was whirled around and turned upside down by multiple dancers throughout the evening. I was exhausted just watching her.
It featured some old songs in new ways
Madonna is savvy in offering up a number of her greatest hits, but in fresh ways. She did a cowboy two-step with her dancers to "Deeper and Deeper," led a conga line with a samba beat to a mash-up of "Into the Grove," "Lucky Star" and "Dress You Up" and played the ukulele on an acoustic version of "True Blue" (albeit surrounded by bared-chested men with six-pack abs).
And she turned "Material Girl" inside out as a would-be bride ditching the men in her life instead of reenacting the Marilyn Monroe impersonation she used to make the song a wild hit in 1984.
My friend swore that some of the songs were lip-synched, but as another friend pointed out, "At Madonna's age, do you really expect her to dance and sing at the same time?"
And it featured some good quips
Even though Madonna chided Houstonians for their lack of fervor, she flirted with a chef who brandished his Visa Black credit card, swiped a crown from an admirer and danced with an attractive woman plucked out of the audience during the song, "Unapologetic Bitch."'
But she saved her fondest words for the large gay audience who have been her fervent supporters since the early '80s.
"There are plenty of queens around here, " she said, "but there is only one queen."
Watch Madonna's tribute to David Bowie in Houston: