Madonna getting younger with age

years after her last visit, and just one week after news broke of her
impending divorce from husband Guy Ritchie, 50-year-old pop queen
Madonna settled in for the first of two sold-out nights before 17,800
fans at the Bell Centre. And the party was most definitely on.

speaking, of course. The renowned perfectionist plans her shows to the
T, and sticks to script every step of the way. But her music
(particularly that of her last two albums) has stayed self-consciously
young. And to her credit, despite rumours of her rigid stage presence -
which was very much the case in 2006 - Madonna actually seemed to be
having fun.

This was a looser show than the last - less bogged
down by elaborate props, and leaving more room for Madge, her dancers
and band to interact. A matrix of state-of-the-art screens, and
hydraulic platforms provided the setting for her and her entourage to

After an elaborate video intro - featuring a candy
factory/pinball game montage - she emerged on a throne, a leg
provocatively straddled over one of the arms. The song was Candy Shop,
off her new album Hard Candy. "Get up out of your seats," she sang, as
she and eight dancers pranced about to the clubby groove.

cameos dotted the evening, with the main players of the pop new school
- Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake -
each making virtual appearances.

The performance was divided into
four thematic segments: Pimp, NY Old School, Romani Gypsy and Rave
Armageddon. A highlight of the first was the funky Beat Goes On (with
Pharell), in which she and her dancers rolled down the catwalk in a
Rolls Royce.

It was the second set, however, that stood out most.
With Keith Haring videos playing on the big screens, Madonna and her
entourage literally skipped (with ropes) their way through a dance
remix of Get Into the Groove, decked out in colourful '80s costumes.

was one of several songs she performed with electric guitar in hand (a
first for her). She unmasked an array of Madonna wannabes (her dancers,
dressed up as her different incarnations) in She's Not Me, and rocked
the house in the subway-and-graffiti-themed Music. This last number
drew huge cheers - Madonna was at her best when sending up her New York
City roots.

Montrealer Ric'key Pageot got his moment in the
spotlight. Playing keyboards for on the tour, he accompanied her in a
dramatic rendition of The Devil Wouldn't Recognize You, in which she
crouched then stood atop his piano, clad in a black cloak.

songs such as Human Nature and Spanish Lesson fell flat, those
instances were few and far between. Miles Away was a mid-show standout,
as the room sang and clapped along to the infectious chorus. It was one
of the few truly communal moments of the night.

Madonna isn't one
for singalongs. She would prefer her fans marvel at the spectacle. On
this tour, she struck a compromise. Deadline meant an early exit, and
missing the hits 4 Minutes, Like a Prayer and Hung Up.

But she had already pulled off an unlikely feat: getting younger with age. And she'll do it all over again, tonight.