Madonna, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

Queen of pop consolidates her grip on the throne
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The Independent Culture

At a time where every emerging pop artist gets plaudits for how "raw'' and "honest'' they appear to be, thank God for Madonna. Ultra-slick and fantastically fake her act may be but this is pure, unadulterated escapism on a colossal scale. At up to £150 a pop for tickets, it had better be.

"There's a lot of people who talk and talk, but how many walk the walk?'' she asks her reverent multitude. What walk she walks is anyone's guess, as this is plastic pop, which only pretends to have a soul. But this is no mere gig, but the ultimate showbiz extravaganza.

As the world's number one superstar emerges clad in Jean-Paul Gaultier's S&M-esque creation of leather riding boots, top hat and jodhpurs from her giant disco ball - encrusted with £2m-worth of Swarovski crystals - it's evident we've been teleported to planet Madonna, or cloud nine which ever you prefer. Recent song "Future Lovers" segues into Donna Summer's "I Feel Love", and soon the blockbuster "Like a Virgin" gets the crowd all jumping. It's one of the few Eighties songs in the set, revamped for the chemical generation.

This show, her first-ever in Wales, dwarfs any in the stadium's short history, including U2's. This, the first stop-off on the European leg of her tour, also boasts a bigger staging than any of the US dates, and it's mainly all standing. "Thank fuck for that,'' the adopted English rose declares, before telling us she wishes she could touch us. Oh, she's such a tease!

You could never imagine Her Madgesty, the Queen of Pop for the past 22 years, baring her soul in a song, despite naming her tour Confessions. She displays compassion and empathy - "I can tell you all have a conscience of unity,'' she says, and a screen relays images of war and suffering during a remix reprise of "Sorry" - but all this hardly squares with the 47-year-old diva's pelvic thrusts and whip-cracking dominatrix pose.

There's no escaping the material girl. Love her or berate her, she encapsulates the great capitalist dream while exposing, and revelling in, the hypocrisy of it all. Well aware that shock sells, she raises a perfectly manicured two fingers to the Church; she mockingly wears a crown of thorns while rising a crucifix, flirts with the seven deadly sins and periodically gyrates with a devilish look of ecstasy.

Confessions is a show of four quarters. It begins and ends with her cast as the disco diva, as she reasserts her presence on the global dance floor, while the middle is given over to a "Bedouin" section, featuring the spiritual warbling of Hebrew singer Yitzhak Sinwani. She emerges from a trapdoor for a section she's called "Never Mind the Bollocks" and she actually appears to have a grasp of basic punk chords as she straps on a guitar. "I Love New York" has more than a whiff of "Pretty Vacant".

Culminating in dance floor visitations to the various phases of her career, including "La Isla Bonita", "Erotica", and "Lucky Star", Madonna expertly consolidates her grip on the pop throne with a four-to-the-floor finale. Long will she reign.

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