If you’re a true blue (pun intended) Madonna fan, then there is at least one era from her illustrious 30-year career you’d rather forget. For many, it’s 2003’s American Life, but I actually loved Madge’s sociopolitical commentary set to frantic techno slosh. Or maybe it’s 2008’s late-to-the-party Hard Candy, with its stale Timbaland beats and aggressive lollipop album cover. (Again, I didn’t hate it. In fact, “Miles Away” is one of M’s best tracks to date.)

No. For me, it was Rebel Heart. From the borderline offensive Instagram promo to the preliminary leaks, and then the album itself—inconsistent, light on effervescent dance-pop, and heavy on cringe-worthy lyrics—I loathed this era like Madonna detests hydrangeas. Coming off 2012’s MDNA, an immaculate collection of dark, bubbly EDM, Rebel Heart felt like a rush job—well, at least to me. Where was the cool, calculated Madonna with dry wit I fell in love with? Rebel Heart M definitely wasn’t her.

Notice how I’m speaking in past tense, because all of this changed Wednesday night when I attended Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour at Madison Square Garden. Madonna is a consistently athletic showgirl, with each tour more cardio-intensive, provocative, and splashy than the last. RHT was no exception. The nearly two-hour show was a larger-than-life display of cutting-edge pop showmanship, filled to the brim with zesty costumes, intricate choreography, and a militant, rigid precision that felt other-worldly. The 17,000+ fans packed in MSG were mesmerized—hypnotized—from start to finish.

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(@Christopher Rosa for VH1.com)