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She gets into the groove

Madonna turns the TD Banknorth Garden into a dancefest

Anyone who attended Madonna's show at the TD Banknorth Garden last night is hereby excused from the cardio portion of their workout today.

When the veteran pop superstar said she wanted her ``Confessions Tour" to feel like one big disco, she wasn't fooling.

For almost the entire, frenzied, two-hour performance, Madonna -- whether on her own or backed by some combination of her cadre of spectacular dancers -- was in constant motion, and the sold-out crowd of 15,076 got down right along with her.

You can nitpick the music (the set list had imperfections), debate the visual accompaniment -- some of her ``political" statements felt clunky with the glitzy, booty-shaking atmosphere -- and you can gripe about the ticket prices. But never let it be said that anyone works harder onstage than Madonna.

It's clear that the 47-year-old is enjoying her music and her incredibly toned body -- apparently yoga and Pilates really, really work. That joy showed in the performance, which felt more upbeat than those in the past.

She began the night, appropriately, emerging from a giant mirror ball over a runway that ran straight through the center of the arena. Decked out in equestrian gear -- the first of seven costumes -- she was up to her old tricks in no time as she took a quick ride on one of her burly male dancers for the opener ``Future Lovers," which merged briefly with homegirl Donna Summer's ``I Feel Love."

The night's first big cheer came for ``Like a Virgin," which found Madge writhing atop a saddle. (Disturbing footage of riding accidents -- recalling her own -- on the large video screens may have been a buzz kill for some. )

And as much as she's a diva, Madonna also isn't afraid to let the spotlight occasionally fall elsewhere. She seems to construct her shows for her own entertainment as much as the crowd, and songs like ``Jump," featuring a group of ``parkours" -- urban jungle gymnasts -- jumping, climbing, and running headlong toward a nutty jungle gym contraption were eye-popping.

The politicized portions of the show felt airlifted in from some other much more serious performance. ``Live to Tell," with it's mammoth disco crucifix, was meant as a paean to survival -- complete with dance interpretations of child abuse -- and the reprise of ``Sorry," with visual images of flames overlaid on African AIDS orphans, both seemed heartfelt but preachy.

An ecstatic ``Ray of Light," on the other hand, got the blood pumping again, and Madonna may be the only person to ever get a Boston crowd to chant ``I Love NY," as she did during the glam rock version of that song.

An acoustic section was the best vocal showcase as Madonna simply stood still and played guitar on a tender, unadorned version of ``Drowned World/Substitute For Love" and the gently computerized ``Paradise (But Not For Me)."

The night was brought to its thumping conclusion with the shuddering rhythms of ``Hung Up" as Madonna and her dancers alternately jumped, crawled, and threw themselves across every inch of the stage, knowing that this was their last dance.

The second of the three shows on Sunday is also sold out, but tickets for Monday's show remain.

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