First Night: Kylie Minogue, Cardiff International Arena, Cardiff

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The Independent Culture

When enduring pop careers are such a rarity, it is even more impressive that it's in her third decade of creating hits that Kylie Minogue embarks on her biggest tour yet.

Aphrodite: Les Folies, her first world tour since KylieX2008, will have seen 36 dates across Europe when it hits London's O2 Arena for five nights next month, before continuing on its odyssey around the world.

Embracing Greek mythology, 42-year old Minogue emerges resplendent as the goddess of love in a flowing white gown, and sparkling gold boots, from a giant golden shell inspired by Botticelli's Birth of Venus, to the pounding beat of Aphrodite. It's a stunning opening that paves the way for two hours of ornate stage sets that will later see the Melbourne star perched on a golden pegasus.

In an era where artists inject ever more funds and extravagant design into their shows (U2's current 360degrees tour cost a reported $100m), and with Lady Gaga raising the bar for exotic pop stage costumes, Minogue's production, featuring 200 costumes, couture designed by Dolce and Gabbana and costing more than $25m, happily rivalled her peers.

After the safe and shiny, but disappointing soulless pop of her previous two albums, 2007's X and last year's Aphrodite, with a set leaning on the latter, it was down to Minogue to use her personality to inject human feel to the newer songs. This she did, transforming songs such as Get Outta My Way into compelling numbers.

In a set that catered well to her sizeable gay following, scantily clad men amusingly struggled to carry the tiny singer in a golden chariot as she sang to her adoring fans in I Believe in You. Proceedings were camped up still further in Cupid Boy with the images of near naked male models posing with bow and arrows as a backdrop to the dancers. Songs such as the compelling Confide in Me were stand out tracks of their own, but weaker tracks such as Beautiful benefited from the extravagant scenes.

It's with Spinning Around, which stands out as one of Minogue's best pop melodies, for which she returned in Moulin Rouge-style black dress and top hat that the concert began to rev up. Minogue has always left edge to other performers, but with the help of her live band which flanked the stage, she used this concert as an opportunity to challenge safer versions of her songs. Slow was morphed into funked up cabaret-style jazz. In My Arms, during which the singer was surrounded by men clad in S&M leather and scarlet dressed women, was beefed up, as was tonight's heavier and darker version of the pop hit Can't Get You Out of My Head. Better the Devil You Know was the one welcome song from her early days with the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory.

Unfailingly smiley, Minogue's authenticity and down-to-earth persona has always made her the most likeable pop diva. From her earliest fame days as the voluminous-coiffed Charlene in Australian soap Neighbours, girly though she remains, Kylie has made the successful transition show-woman. In the past six years she has suffered and beaten breast cancer, bounced back from a break-up, and made her come back with a UK No.1 album.

Her fans' devotion was most felt in the song If You Don't Love Me, which Minogue sang unaccompanied and had to pause several times to take noticeably deep breaths in response to the cheering. Then, in a set of fully rehearsed lines, Minogue signed one eager fan's CD, even to the point of checking the spelling of his name.

She spent the entirety of Closer, and its pleasingly performed circling harpsichord, perched on the back of a winged male dancer suspended on a trapeze, before performing the Eurythmics' There Must Be an Angel. Taking her higher than her usual vocals, and as backing singers and dancers stalked the runway to rouse the crowd's excitement, the cover was the most triumphant moment. But it was the finale which stood out as a true feat as dancers were raised on the trapeze, surrounded by streams of water jets. As an exercise in pure pop pleasure, the concert could not be faulted.