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Madonna takes us there with a spectacle like no other

Madonna in concert during her MDNA Tour at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on September 12, 2012.

Teresa Barbieri for The Globe and Mail

Air Canada Centre
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Some gluteus. Some maximus.

Part way through an outstanding display of pop Madgematazz late on Wednesday evening, the ring mistress Madonna slowed things severely down, rendering a hit that was once shiny and new as a melodramatic minor-key waltz. As a pianist in top hat and tails struck the notes of Like a Virgin, the famous blonde lady next to him pulled down her pinstriped pants, revealing a thonged, toned behind.

It was not a flash; the cheeky pose lingered, and then lingered more, as if to say, "behold it, jeer it, kiss it, but you don't you dare ignore it."

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Ignore Madonna – why would we go to the trouble?

For the first of her two concerts here, the programs in the corridor were fetching $30, as if we didn't know this woman's act well enough by now. But then, this tour in support of her so-so latest album MDNA was spectacle like no other. The pomp was eye-popping and outlandish; the circumstance, exceptional and near-crazed. Many old hits were brought up to 2012-EDM speed. Dancers got up to all sorts of precision shenanigans, with Madonna, 54, keeping up to their choreographed big-production steps.

These are some of the things that happened: Gun-toting female dancers struck full-calibre poses and Madonna with an assault rifle wondered "do you want to die happy" for Revolver. A motel-room scene for Gang Bang was a bloodbath, with our heroine lethal with a pistol against all manner of male assailants. Nicki Minaj made a video cameo on the jittery rap of I Don't Give A, closing her bit with a sycophantic sign-off, "There's only one queen, and that's Madonna." The queen, meanwhile was up front at the arrow-tip part of the protruding secondary stage, using an electric guitar as a prop.

Majorettes appeared for Express Yourself, where Madonna implored that one should never "settle for second best" and then pointedly inserted a snip of Lady Gaga's sound-alike song Born This Way. It is hard to know exactly which way Madonna was born, but it is possible that her first cries were lip-synched. (She sang often at ACC, usually adequately and sometimes with cranked-up Auto-Tune effects).

Yes, that was a drum corps suspended in midair, hanging from the rafters for the cheer-leading single Give Me All Your Luvin'. A Basque choral trio appeared twice, as did Madonna's dance-happy son Rocco. Some stage-mom that kid has.

Video interludes were employed. Stage platforms moved up and down. Sometimes male dancers wore shirts. Vogue was set to an elegant art-deco scene, with the song itself stripped down to a pounding-beat rhythm. And if papa don't preach, Madonna did: "We're all the [bleeping] same," she exhorted, urging us to "treat each other with dignity."

The show closed with a hypnotic Celebration, but the preceding Like a Prayer was the highlight. All hands were on deck, with a choir that numbered more than two dozen. A gospel singer wailed on the mainstage while Madonna was on the floor of the front stage, writhing in orgasmic ways. "I hear your voice," she sang, "I have no choice."

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And we know that feeling.

Madonna plays Vancouver's Rogers Arena, Sept. 29 and 30.

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