NEW YORK – She may have adopted the new name Esther, but it was the same old Madonna (search) electrifying Madison Square Garden in New York City Wednesday night.
In a barrage of video imagery, campy dance routines and hit songs, last night's opening concert of Madonna's six-show Garden series was more artistic regurgitation than reinvention -- despite the title of this tour.
That isn't saying the tightly wrapped "Re-Invention" (search) extravaganza wasn't fun eyeball candy. But in most ways, this show seemed to be the old Madonna in a new bustier.
While the lightning bolt of musical greatness didn't strike the stage during the nearly two-hour concert, Madonna razzle-dazzled her way into the hearts of the devoted audience with an entertaining theatrical revue that was elaborately staged, costumed and cast with a full dance troupe that included acrobats and even a Mohawked skateboard boy.
The 45-year-old pop legend sang well and looked great. And when it came to her dance-oriented pieces, she was certainly at her most compelling.
Yet, she was at her best when she performed her bare-bones strum 'n' hum "Like a Prayer." Madonna accompanied herself on acoustic guitar, and it was the one song where a feeling of soul came across.
An unfortunate cover of John Lennon's "Imagine," the low point of the night, followed that. She complicated it by playing it beneath images of desperately ill and dying children. "Imagine," one of Lennon's best tunes, was such a downer, it felt as if Madonna pulled the plug on the show.
With all that's been made of her new-found Kabbalist leanings -- which inspired her new name -- and shadowy spiritualism, it was surprising how little of that made its way into this concert. She took a lesson from her own song "Papa Don't Preach." and didn't gab about finding higher ground. Yes, video images of Hebrew letters and pictures of the Sacred Heart Jesus popped up, but the projections were more graphic design than evangelism.
In fact, that was one of the biggest problems with this concert. The songs and the staging often had little to do with one another.
There was an anti-Republican undercurrent here, but Madonna smartly voiced no criticism of the president or his foreign policy in words. Instead, she let videos featuring the ravages of war convey her why-can't-we-just-get-along message.
As for the notion that Madonna couldn't sell out the Garden anymore, the reports of the demise of her career were greatly exaggerated. There wasn't an empty seat in sight.