It was easy to get caught up in the excitement the last time Madonna was in town, for a two-night stand in November 2012, thanks to the herculean effort she puts into her live shows as well as the fact that it had been 25 years since the Material Girl last played Minnesota.

In retrospect, that tour has lost some of its shine, due to its dark tone, the pointless interlude where Madge brandished a gun and her brattish decision to start the show after 10:30 p.m. All of which made Madonna’s Thursday night return to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center a relief.

Now 57 and at the end of her 10-year contract with Live Nation, Madonna stands at a crossroads in her career. She’s likely to be 60 the next time she tours, that is if she can find another deal as sweet as her current one.

For all the millions her outings have raked in over the years, Madonna has approached live performing with a certain teeth-gritting grimness. She works harder than most in the entertainment business and has never been afraid to remind her audience of that fact. But now, she’s not only seemingly happy, she’s almost playful.

To be sure, Madonna still thrives on controversy, even if it’s difficult for her to truly shock in this era when “Fifty Shades of Grey” made S&M mainstream, network TV shows feature explicit (straight and gay) sex scenes and there’s a Cool Pope who is totally down with “Like a Prayer” (possibly).

She opened the show with a sequence of songs that culminated in scantily clad nuns pole dancing on crosses and an orgy-inspired re-enactment of the Last Supper.
But she did it all with an obvious sense of humor, barking out her goofy new song “Bitch I’m Madonna” and strapping on an electric guitar for a reworked “Burning Up.”
Later, she conjured the spirit of the musical “Grease” for a sexed-up take on “Body Shop,” pulled out a ukulele for a tender “True Blue” (and returned to the instrument later for a cover of Edith Piaf’s signature tune “La Vie en Rose,” dedicated to her “good friend” Prince), adopted a Spanish bullfighter look for “La Isla Bonita” and wrapped things up with an ebullient “Holiday.”

As was the case in previous tours, Madonna did lean heavily on her new album, “Rebel Heart,” and not all of it worked, particularly the harsh remix of “Living for Love,” which otherwise stands as her finest single in a decade.

During “HeartBreakCity,” she included a bit of “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” from her second album. The latter took on a new poignancy when delivered by an AARP-eligible, twice-divorced mother of four.

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