Three nights earlier at LA’s Dodger Stadium, both Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake joined Madonna onstage, but there were no such attention-grabbing surprises at the singer’s November 9 MGM Grand Garden Arena show. It made no difference, though: This show was all about Madonna connecting with her audience, without the need for stunts or cheap provocation. Her most recent album, Hard Candy, may be a disappointment both musically and commercially, but even throwing nine of its songs into the mix couldn’t stop the show’s relentless energy and good cheer.
“Make an effort, because God knows I am,” Madonna exhorted the audience during “Ray of Light,” and that was a serious understatement. At 50, she’s in better shape than ever, and she kept pace move for move with her much younger troupe of dancers, all while singing just about every word to every song. The show featured nothing nearly as controversial as the faux-crucifixion from her last tour—even the same-sex kiss Madonna shared with one of four impersonators who showed up during “She’s Not Me” was more chaste than titillating—but it more than made up in showmanship for what it lacked in shock value.
The mostly mediocre songs from Hard Candy didn’t necessarily sound better live, but their flaws were much less notable when the music was only one element in a spectacle that included inventive staging and enthusiastic audience interaction. The older songs were invariably the highlights, though, presented in new arrangements as is customary for Madonna shows. A full Latin band came out for a sped-up “La Isla Bonita,” which went a long way toward alleviating its inherent gringo fakiness; “Into the Groove” got an updated remix even as it was presented as a celebration of Madonna’s early ’80s club days; and a rockin’ version of “Borderline” was so great that it very nearly made Madonna’s guitar playing seem not absurd.
There was a lot of that guitar playing (she broke out the ax on six songs), but it was of a piece with the show’s playful, intimate vibe. Madonna knows she looks silly playing the guitar, but it’s clearly something she loves doing, and she imparted nothing but love during those two joyous hours.