It was the first of the show's two overtly political displays. Just before Madonna hoisted a Les Paul guitar to accompany herself on "I Love New York," images of world leaders — from Richard Nixon to Saddam Hussein to George W. Bush — flashed on a screen beneath bold red letters that read "Don't Speak."
The guitar didn't seem organic to Madonna, but she stayed behind it for "Ray of Light" and switched to an acoustic for "Drowned World."
The singer looked happiest when she was dancing, microphone at her side. It was the only time she smiled.
Despite the aerobic performance, her voice remained strong. At times, though, it was hard to tell where her singing stopped and the reverb began.
One of the night's most interesting elements came from guest vocalist Isaac Sinwanhy. Wearing a robe and turban, he did a solo on the shofar, a ram's horn traditionally blown during the Jewish high holidays. He then joined Madonna to harmonize with the famous Kabbalist on "Drowned" and "Paradise (Not for Me)."
The most lively and festive numbers came at the disco-flavored end of the show. A dozen dancers on roller skates emerged from beneath the stage to perform "Xanadu"-worthy tricks while Madonna, wearing a sleeker version of John Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" white suit, sang "Music."
She kept the energy high as she performed new, disco-enhanced arrangements of the 20-year-old "La Isla Bonita" and 1992's "Erotica." Gold mylar balloons fell from the sky as she implored the crowd to sing along with her latest single, "Hung Up."
"Don't make me stop this car," the Material Mom joked when the audience didn't sing to her satisfaction. Then she spat, "Come on, you lazy (rhymes with suckers), SING!"
They did. And with the same flash and dazzle that characterized the show, it was over.
By Sandy Cohen