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Madonna returns to Michigan with exacting, entertaining spectacle

If you’re going to wait so long to come home, you might as well do it up right.

Dropping into her old stomping grounds Tuesday night for her first show here in seven years, Madonna wowed a crowd of about 30,000 at Ford Field, serving up the sort of oversized oomph to match her stature as pop queen.

It was just as promised: a stylish sensory overload, brimming with high-end video, sublime lighting, strapping dance numbers and an array of pulsing hits. The homegrown hall of famer, tight and sinewy, was an onstage dynamo, whirling and gyrating her way through the biggest concert spectacle Detroit will see this year.

From an elevated throne -- where she perched spread-eagled in a fringed black leotard -- Madonna kicked into “Candy Shop” to launch an energetic, edge-of-risqué set that belied her 50 years.

She didn’t acknowledge her homecoming until midway through, when she clicked her heels a la Dorothy and uttered, “There’s no place like home.” Later, she paid tribute to Detroiters’ storied toughness, and wryly prodded the audience to clap along: “I don’t come here very often, so please make a big deal about it.”

The high-concept, even icy aura of her 2001 shows was replaced Tuesday night by a warm, vivid vibe. A nightclubby opening stretch gave way to a pleasant spell of mid-tempo pop, including a rocked up version of “Borderline” with Madonna providing chunky electric-guitar licks -- one of several reworked tunes that showed little taste for nostalgia.

Quietly aging material such as “Music” and “Ray of Light” revealed that they’re holding up well to time, and “Into the Groove” got a workout that showed why the versatile tune endures as a club staple. “Hard Candy” was the big focus, the songs delivered with cool elegance (“Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You”) and high-energy sizzle (the epic closer “Give It 2 Me”). She didn't try to hide the vocal tracks occasionally synced up to her songs, treating them as just another theatrical element in a show full of them.

It was a night for people-watching, as a multigenerational crowd of about 30,000 piled into Ford Field in everything from kilts to hand-scrawled T-shirts. Many were casual fans, including large contingents of women friends, dressed for a party night out and ready for an evening of hits and pizazz. But the die-hards were easy to spot, too -- longtime devotees, many of them gay men, eager to indulge in a time-tested ritual with an artist many view as a personal icon.

Down front, fans rushed toward the stage during the show’s early stretch, turning the clogged aisles into an impromptu dance floor before security eventually cleared the way. The crowd energy kept up for the duration of the night, boosted by an up-tempo set list and a pace that rarely flagged.

Unlike most of the dates on this tour -- and Madonna’s previous stops in Michigan -- the show wasn’t a sellout. If anything is a bellwether of tough times in Detroit, this was it. Fans elsewhere might still splurge $165-plus on good seats, but ticket brokers Tuesday afternoon were discounting Ford Field tickets by up to $100. And this in a city once known as a can’t-miss concert market, for acts small and large.

With the stadium’s upper level curtained off, the main stage was positioned at about the 25-yard line, with a ramp and satellite stage extending well into the crowd, where Madonna and her troupe ventured often for tightly choreographed dance pieces.

There was little to nitpick: The Sticky & Sweet show is such a meticulously crafted, professionally executed spectacle that something would have to go disastrously wrong -- screens falling down, sound zapping out, Madonna crawling -- to make it a bad concert.

At this point in the tour, just a week left in the U.S. leg, the set can be only second nature, and perhaps that’s the only real criticism: There was a vaguely rote feel to the precisely arranged proceedings, though Madonna occasionally slipped into improv mode, most notably for a warbly a cappella rendition of “Material Girl.” (“How did I become known for that song?” she cracked.)

For an artist many assume is approaching a crucial crossroads -- heading into whatever her 50s might bring -- the star looked quite like herself Tuesday night: progressive, potent, in charge. There’s no need to heed Thomas Wolfe, Madonna: You can come home again, you know.

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