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Madonna lights up Vancouver

A mega-show experience is completely different from a mere concert.

Or at least it should be. Madonna has never performed in Vancouver.

That alone made last night in B.C. Place something to anticipate.

The last act to pack the dome was no less than those Rolling Stones.

At the time of that show, writer Tom Harrison and I ran down a list of who else we thought could fill a venue this large that was still active as a recording artist.

The only name we could come up with was Madonna. So how come the buzz in the space was so much less electric than it was for Sir Mick and that Pirates of the Caribbean guitarist and crew?

Maybe because of how few young people were there.

Madonna fans appear to cut off around the mid-thirties for the most part. Or was it just not as big a deal? Hard to say.

Madonna's recent albums certainly outsell other legacy acts. But most were there for "Take a Bow" and "True Blue," not that Timba-lake single that took only two seconds to forget altogether.

That said, the roar when the lights went down was as huge as expected. Multiple video screens displayed a wild pinball animation and the dancers rose out of the stage as a wall rotated to display none other than the star attraction on a rhinestone studded throne.

She was sporting the whole Queen Top look with riding crop, corset and feather collar. Then, surrounded by her dancers, we were off.

By the third song a vintage Phaeton had rolled on stage, and Kanye West and Pharrell had turned up in song and on screen.

All good. But "Human Nature" was brutal.

Her voice sounded terrible and I don't know if she should ever play guitar.

She sure seemed nasty repeating "I'm not your bitch."

Far better was "Vogue," where she could get her moves on and show off that insanely ripped stomach. Holy pilates.

"Into the Groove" kicked off with her skipping across the stage to a pole mounted on a mobile DJ booth.

Yup, she rode that action and danced herself silly on this one.

A highlight of the set. And what about that full-on hard-rocking version of "Borderline"?

It was like Madonna as interpreted by Liz Phair.

Didn't see that coming.

Which is exactly what you want from a major artist: an intense and entertaining overview of a career's work.

This show was all about her cutting loose, her considerable talents and even staging a tantrum in "She's Not Me" from her latest album, Hard Candy.

Perhaps the most joyous moment of the night was the double punch of the Romany-themed new arrangement of "La Isla Bonita," including some truly stunning dancers and killer acoustic band.

Doubtless this new love of gypsy culture is partially owing to working with Gogol Bordello lead singer Eugene Hutz on her directoral debut as a filmmaker, titled Filth and Wisdom.

It was genuine and heartfelt music-making.

Unfortunately, followed by the heavy-handed pro-Obama video montage of "It's Time."

It was the fourth performance video of the night and it really didn't do much.

Duh, "Four Minutes" followed. Cool costume change though.

The crowd was getting a bit antsy, but was back on her page with "Like A Prayer."

This was the musical highlight in terms of creating that 'stadium' thing.

People were up off their feet, clapping along and pretty well losing it.

So much so that they didn't notice all the dreck appearing on the video screens.

Was this a concert or an evangelist rally?

"Ray of Light" got things back on track, turning the arena into a huge dance club.

Very cool and electronic, but her voice blew out again on a few verses.

The lead-up to "Like A Virgin" was contrived, but the whole she sang a verse and we sang a verse was great fun.

Then it continued for yet another heavy-rocking reworking of "Hung Up."

Liking this rockist approach. And she looks a little like Zakk Wylde in that leather outfit.

The show finale was the new hit "Give It to Me," and with its declaration of "no one's gonna stop me" you couldn't but agree that Madonna is certainly sticking around.

When it worked well, and it mostly did, we got the star revelling in her power and some engaging staging and songs.

When it bombed, what was on stage was the kind of uncontrollable ego that is the product of believing that the way you are worshipped allows you to make grand statements and "get deep."

It's a precarious balance and one that fell over the edge quite a few times.

Grade: B

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