INGLEWOOD, California — So how does Madonna reinvent herself on her Re-Invention Tour? It's nearly impossible to count the ways.
Actually, "re-inflame" might be the better word, as seemingly every second of her extravagant two-hour performance features something rousing, whether in the elaborate sets, the stunning choreography, the massive video screens or the music itself.
One minute she's provocatively vogueing with her male dancers while homoerotic images flash behind her, the next she's in fatigues, twirling a rifle to the sounds of explosions and helicopters. In the blink of an eye she goes from being strapped in an electric chair to pulling up her kilt to spell the word "FREEDOM" with glitter letters on her and her dancers' underpants.
"There's a lot of mixed messages," Madonna admitted Monday backstage at the sold-out Great Western Forum, where she launched the tour. "It would take me hours to explain them. Come back and see the show again."
At $315 for a decent seat (plus $20 to $60 for parking, $45 to $60 for a T-shirt and $10 to $18 for a drink), that's a luxury few can afford, but there's certainly enough to the show that seeing it several times would make for different experiences. Like the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy with more sex.
Monday's show was divided into five segments, beginning with what resembled a Renaissance-era ball, until Madonna and her dancers walked on their hands and feet the arched-back way (ouch!) during a breakdown in the opening number, "Vogue."
The band, tucked away in the back corners for most of the show, seamlessly transitioned from "Nobody Knows Me" to "Frozen" before a giant catwalk lowered from the ceiling and a circular section of the stage turned to reveal stacks of TVs.
Dancers dressed as soldiers, as well as nuns and other religious figures, joined Madge for a rendition of "American Life" made extra stark by images of war flashing on the various screens.
Livening up the mood, Madonna asked, "Come on, boys, do you believe in love?" as she launched into "Express Yourself." After donning a guitar for "Burning Up," she segued into an almost hard-rock version of "Material Girl."
While Madonna exited for her third costume change, the stage turned again to reveal a circuslike atmosphere complete with a half-pipe and mohawked skateboarder. Various dancers, from a breakdancer to a tap dancer, strutted their stuff to the music of "Hollywood," setting the tone for lighthearted, showgirl-like performances of "Hanky Panky" and "Deeper and Deeper."
With Madonna still in her sexy corset, the mood suddenly turned for "Die Another Day," which included imagery of an old man on his deathbed and ended with Madonna singing on an electric chair as it raised high above the stage.
"That's my favorite part," Madonna said later. "I like the idea of being restrained. I'm singing about all the things I could have had, but my ego got in the way and I destroyed all my happiness."
Swings dropped from the ceiling and three acrobatic dancers got their slither on for the next transition, which found Madonna in a black Stella McCartney suit to sing "Nothing Fails" and a funked-up "Don't Tell Me."
"That was just a warm-up," she announced. "I don't want to see anyone sitting down the rest of the show. I'm giving my all and that's what I want back."
With that, she launched into "Like a Prayer," accentuated by footage of a gospel choir. Images of Jesus and Mary faded away only to be replaced by impoverished kids. To accompany the heartbreaking photos, Madonna covered John Lennon's "Imagine."
"I wanted to make a statement," Madonna said after the show. "I feel like that song is the ultimate peace song. ... And it was important to have the stuff going on behind me, the pictures, and really hit home that children are involved in all this chaos and destruction. I don't think people remember that all the time."
As she sang the words "We can live as one," Madonna held up one finger and was lowered beneath the stage for her final costume change.
A bagpipe player and a drumline, all decked out in kilts, took the stage playing a beat that morphed into "Into the Groove." As Missy Elliott (also in Scottish attire) appeared on the screens to rap her part of the remix, Madonna and her dancers used wooden posts to enhance their hopscotch-style routine.
After donning a "Kabbalahists Do It Better" T-shirt for "Papa Don't Preach" (a play off the "Italians Do It Better" shirt she wore in the 1986 video), she slowed it down with "Crazy for You." "This is for all my fans who've stuck by me the last 20 years," she said.
The stage made one last turn, this time revealing lighted staircases surrounding a DJ, who mixed and scratched through "Music" while Madonna and her dancers transformed the arena into a steamy nightclub.
For the finale, the catwalk lowered again and Madonna danced to the front, singing "Holiday" as confetti exploded from all corners of the building, covering the enthusiastic audience.
Christina Aguilera, who had watched quietly from her seat most of the show, even cheered. And why not? All that excitement and she didn't even have to make out with Madonna.
The Re-Invention Tour plays the Forum again Tuesday (May 25) and Wednesday before moving on through the rest of the United States and then Canada and Europe before ending in September (see "Madonna Announces Summer 'Re-Invention' Tour").
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.