To be material, or not to be material? That was one question facing Madonna as her Re-Invention Tour kicked off May 24 at L.A.'s Forum. The Kabbalah evangelist had Hebrew inscriptions spinning across the giant video screens; a rendition of John Lennon's ''Imagine'' featured footage of children in states of war or emaciation, ending with the message ''Spirituality for kids makes big things happen''; mystic texts were for sale at the souvenir stands.
Then again, those lobby boutiques were selling decidedly unrabbinical ''Boy Toy'' necklaces. And the set list so aimed to please that even ''Material Girl'' was back in -- though she yelled ''But not really!'' after the chorus, lest simple minds take it at its ignoble word.
You want shock value? The biggest jolt was how this tour reverses the equation of her 2001 trek, which was big on disturbing imagery, short on hits. This time, there's a wealth of warmer pre-electronica chestnuts like ''Crazy for You'' and virtually no sexual high jinks.
Not that provocations are absent. ''Evita'''s ''Lament'' had her settling into an electric chair. (No switch pulling; guess she'll have to fry another day.) ''American Life,'' in which her blue burka gave way to army garb, sported rifle-twirling choreography and a video juxtaposing war victims with cuddling Bush and Saddam look-alikes.
The military drag stayed on for a calisthenic ''Express Yourself.'' More peacenik agitprop, or just cool evocation of a USO show? Either way, most of the buttons being pushed on this oldies-heavy tour are of the jukebox variety.