Madonna Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON, September 12

Madonna Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON, September 12
Photo: Lucia Graca
Ah, Madonna. She of the countless personas and prolonged pop queendom has accomplished pretty much everything as a performer. So, what's left for her to do? It turns out that Madge isn't really sure.

Its mildly controversial title aside, the "MDNA Tour" is essentially just a hodgepodge of ideas, tones and unrelated set pieces built around a general progression from darkness to light. The resulting spectacle is full of the requisite sound, fury and throwback crowd pleasers, but ultimately signifies nothing.

Kicking off with ominous chanting and a roving censer, the dark first act poured on the catholic overtones that have long been a staple of the singer's mythology (see "Like a Prayer" and so on). Thematically, it offered nothing new, yet served as a decent introduction to Madonna's hugely talented troupe of dancers and musicians.

Like Julie Taymor-lite, costumes exaggerated archetypes and juxtaposed disparate characters, from Gregorian monks to 1960s femme fatales. Mixing vaguely biblical tropes with late-period electro-pop cuts like "Girl Gone Wild" and "Revolver" made for a joyless beginning.

"Gang Bang" delivered a dime-store thriller with a dash of noir, plenty of Grand Theft Auto-style violence, a Christmas Story-type shootout, and more gunshots than a Tupac song (see "Me and My Girlfriend"). Though its cartoonish violence was hardly provocative, it did show off some damn fine fight choreography while letting Madonna use her acting.

Morale improved with a stunning Cirque du Soleil-indebted balancing display during "Hung Up." Also, the introduction of a jacked and dangling drum line on the mercifully ebullient "Express Yourself" and "Give Me All Your Luvin'" helped -- despite the slightly antagonistic "Born This Way" allusion. Didactic interlude aside, "Open Your Heart" was equally joyful and the Gramercy Riffs-inspired garb worked wonders.

Thus, as Madonna moved away from self-serious conceits toward palpable enjoyment, the show gained steam. Nevertheless, a plodding, piano-led "Like a Virgin" dragged and a gratuitous temporary "Free Pussy" tattoo would have benefitted from the word "Riot."

Still, aiming for the sky with a pre-closing run of "I'm Addicted," "I'm a Sinner," and "Like a Prayer," Madonna and co. ended with a worthy dose of euphoria, presumably helping ease the pain of the lofty ticket price.