Madonna, Manchester

Those biceps! Those thighs! She exists!
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The Independent Culture

So, there she is, Our Lady made flesh. Even after 20 years, the novelty of looking at the real-life Madonna still hasn't warn off. From the minute that she rises from beneath the stage, dressed in thigh-high boots and a glittering corset, it's impossible to take your eyes off her. See those biceps! Check those thighs! Blimey, you think to yourself, she really does exist.

By virtue of her longevity, Madonna may not be the mistress of the unpredictable that she once was, but her live shows are still a big event - not as huge as the Olympics' opening ceremony, though possibly as expensive. Which is why there's a palpable electricity in the air tonight for the first of her UK shows.

As the touts bellow outside the arena, we clutch our tickets tightly lest anyone try to wrestle them off us. No matter that the merchandise stalls are flogging the same pink Stetsons of three years ago, it's a safe bet that pop's reigning queen has something different up her sleeve.

That Madonna has elected to call this the Reinvention Tour is either outrageous folly or a joke (remember: Madge does irony these days). At this stage in her career, the singer has nowhere left to go but backwards. And so to the utter joy of the 30 and 40something straight woman/gay man crowd, our hostess offers up a set list touching on the best - and, in some cases, the worst - moments in her career.

Alongside recent hits such as "Don't Tell Me'', "Frozen'' and "Music'', we get "Like A Prayer'', "Material Girl'' and "Papa Don't Preach''. By way of added entertainment, we are also treated to trapeze artists, tap dancers, fire eaters and a bagpipe player.

The Reinvention Tour is a comparatively straight-laced affair with dance routines built around her continuing love affair with yoga. Even so, in terms of sheer physicality, the show is enthralling and Madonna is as light footed and athletic as a cat.

If the anti-war message during "American Life'' comes across as a little ham fisted, it's forgivable. We're used to Madge's clumsy political statements by now.

She's a woman of many flaws but in terms of theatricality and spectacle, there's no one who can touch her.