Madonna toured, on 2001’s Drowned World jaunt, her set was big on production values but light on back catalogues stormers. tonight she takes a different route. After her recent name change, it appears Esther has decided to reinvent herself in the simplest was possible – just by being Madonna.

The Beast Within‘ opens the two-hours-plus set with a screen showing images of Madonna writhing around on a bed while, inexplicably, a wolf is shown on two screens overhead. “Behold! I am coming!” she bellows saucily, before rising from under the stage singing 1990’s deathless hit ‘Vogue‘. Backed by eight dancer in French period costume, she then pulls of a backwards crawl and a half-headstand. As entrances go, it take some beating.

She hits paydirt again with ‘American Life‘, sauntering about on a V-shaped silver catwalk suspended over the audience. Now dressed in army fatigues, we are shown images of war and a doctored images of Dubya placing his head on Saddam’s shoulder.

“Hello toronto! Are you ready?” she says before tearing into ‘Express Yourself‘ and ‘Burning Up‘. The wave of retro greeted with loud cheers as she straps on an electric guitar and works up a healthy sweat for both.

The middle third of the show, though, is slightly less good. ‘Hollywood‘ is an instrumental featuring a Fred Astaire-style tap dancer keeping us occupied while his paymistress changes costume for the ’40s cabaret schmaltz of ‘Hanky Panky‘. Then we dip into the disastrous ‘Deeper And Deeper‘, which makes Britney‘s asinine jazz rendition of ‘Oops!… I Did It Again‘ seem like a work of unassailable genius.

Madge tries valiantly to atone with a tango version of ‘Die Another Day‘ and a lovely solo performance of ‘Lament‘, which she sings shackled in an electric chair. But ‘Bedtime Story‘ sees another costume change as a trio of what can only be described as crap acrobats try to keep out attention.

madonna mother of reinventionThen it’s ‘Nothing To Tell‘ of ‘True Blue‘. Thankfully she turns a corner on ‘Don’t Tell Me‘ and by the homestretch she’s really giving us what we want. ‘Like A Prayer‘ soars with its gospel leanings.

A cover of Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is forgettable but a bagpipe-led ‘Into The Groove‘, ‘Papa Don’t Preach‘ and the hair-raising ‘Crazy For You‘ have both the crowd and Madonna grinning uncontrollably. ‘Music‘ and ‘Holiday‘ round off the night as confetti falls from above and the big screens flash ‘Reinvent Yourself!‘. Tonight, with the good outweighing the garish, it’s a trick Madonna has managed to pull off once again.

© Jason MacNeil @ NME 31 July 2004

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