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Madge whips up a storm

You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Pay somewhere between £80 and £160, however, and you get horses.

And Madonna, of course. The Queen of Pop's latest arena extravaganza had a strong equestrian theme, somewhat surprisingly after her famous fall a year ago. It was pricey, yes, but when the glitter has settled the vast majority will look back and conclude that it was probably worth it.

The only comparable tour at this price right now is that of the Rolling Stones, and they don't arrive onstage from within a 1.5-ton disco ball. Madonna strode out of her shiny pod dressed for dressage, brandishing a horsewhip while male dancers wearing saddles and bridles whinnied around her.

A modernised version of Like A Virgin was accompanied by footage of horse racing accidents and X-rays of broken bones. Then she writhed all over a rotating saddle and pole like a onewoman merry-go-round. She didn't fall off.

Unwilling as Madonna ever is to stay with one look for long, for Jump the arena was quickly transformed into what looked like an abandoned multi-storey car park. The dancers demonstrated their skills at parkour, the French craze for clambering over urban obstacles.

Madonna left them to it, but otherwise the 47-year-old was emphatically not carried by the numerous younger people around her. During a thunderous Sorry she fought off the men with kung-fu moves. For Let It Will Be she performed alone, dancing with such abandon that she thoroughly earned the sit-down ballad that came immediately afterwards, Drowned World.

Some fans may have been disappointed that this was not a greatest hits set. Holiday, Papa Don't Preach, Material Girl and many other classics were all left off the set-list, replaced by some weaker new tracks such as the forgettable Arabic house of Isaac and the mid-paced groove of Like It Or Not.

But most of the songs aired from huge-selling latest album Confessions On A Dance Floor were tremendous fun, thanks mostly to the Eighties fixation of producer and current muse Stuart Price. He was by her side throughout this evening, usually fiddling with a laptop.

As is often the case with Madonna, the spectacle frequently overpowered the music. There was the predictably controversial crucifixion sequence during Live To Tell, although it was strangely boring to see her still pushing the same old Church-baiting buttons.

The drone rock of I Love New York also offered the embarrassing revelation that, even after playing a guitar on her last tour, she still looks incredibly uncomfortable holding one. More fun was her Saturday Night Fever white suit for Music, and the flashing cape she sported during early hit Lucky Star.

Wembley will witness seven more nights of this razzmatazz. "I never thought I'd be saying this in London, but it's good to be home," she said to huge cheers. "I miss my house, I miss the countryside. I even miss the congestion charge."

And what of those in the most expensive seats? They got to go home with a gold balloon. Not real gold, and not worth the extra 80 quid, but taken as a whole, this was definitely top-dollar entertainment.

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