Madonna pours on the juice (tour review - spoiler)

June 18, 2004

BY JAY LUSTIG
 Star - Ledger Staff

 NEW YORK - - Bagpipers and skateboarders. Yoga poses and a T - shirt reading "Kabbalists do it better." Rap and country music. Angry political statements and giddy party anthems.

 Madonna's Wednesday night show at Madison Square Garden had all of the above, and more. A Madonna tour is, by definition, a spectacle. But she has never presented anything quite as dizzying and dazzling as her current "re - Invention Tour," which has four more dates at the Garden, as well as two at the Continental Airlines Arena.

 Dancers turned into acrobats, spinning on swings high above the stage. They also breakdanced and tap - danced as images of Tarot cards flashed behind them. At two points in the show, a V - shaped ramp descended from the rafters and Madonna and the dancers ran out to the middle of the arena floor.

 Without an album of new material to draw from, Madonna added new twists to some of her old songs. "Material Girl" and "Burning Up" took on a new - wave rock feel, and "Deeper and Deeper" became a jazzy ballad. Bagpipes and a filmed Missy Elliott rap were added to "Into the Groove," while "Don't Tell Me" had a strange country - techno interlude.

 Madonna sang "Lament," from the rock opera "Evita," from an electric chair and added video footage of a gospel choir to "Like a Prayer." Artful film of entwined, slow - moving, near - naked bodies enhanced the yearning sentiment of the ballad "Frozen."

 In general, though, sexual content was kept to a minimum. Madonna seems more interested these days in spirituality and the state of the world.

 One of the show's low points came during "Express Yourself." Dancers dressed in military uniforms marched and twirled rifles with projections of tanks and planes behind them. Madonna herself held a rifle above her head as she sang the line, "What you need is a big strong hand to lift you to your higher ground."

 One imagines she was making an anti - war statement, but the theatrics didn't make much sense accompanying a song about personal empowerment.

 Better to be inscrutable, though, than heavy - handed.

 "American Life" was accompanied by a video that showed, among other things, footage of a President Bush lookalike kissing a Saddam Hussein lookalike, and lovingly laying his head on the dictator's shoulder.

 Shots of children suffering from malnutrition or violence were projected behind Madonna during her earnest cover of John Lennon's "Imagine." Toward the end of the song, though, happy children were shown, and a Jewish boy and an Arab boy walked off together, arm in arm.

 Madonna made her longest speech of the night before this number, encouraging fans to see Michael Moore's upcoming documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which explores links between the families of President Bush and Osama bin Laden.

 "I don't think I ever cried so hard at a movie in my life," she said before thanking Moore, who was in the audience.

 Later, she offered a more conventional thank - you, dedicating "Crazy for You" to the fans who have stuck by her through her entire career. She then sang a warm, relaxed version of the song. This was the concert's calmest moment, by far.

 Then it was back to business as usual, with a manic "Music," featuring hip - hop record scratching, dancers gliding around the stage on conveyor belts, and the word F - R - E - E - D - O - M spelled out on the dancers' butts. The show ended with "Holiday," a celebratory dance - pop tune with prancing on the V - ramp, a blast of confetti, and a final video message: "Reinvent Yourself."
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