MDNA, the latest spectacle from the infuriatingly fit Madonna, begins (after an almost interminable wait) with Madonna's disembodied voice floating over the crowd, gasping, "Oh, my God." Then performers in red cowls rise up onto the empty stage swinging giant incense censers spewing smoke, followed by other mysteriously cloaked figures, and maybe a human sacrifice (we're not sure), and finally the main attraction descending to the stage in a golden elevator. For the next two hours, as the 54-year-old superstar danced, kicked, jumped, fired guns, beat people up, strummed guitars and even sang, we found ourselves repeating the same phrase that started the show: OMFG MDNA 2012, you guys. Saturday night was our first Madonna concert experience, and we had no idea what we were missing.

For one thing, the physical prowess she displayed seemed almost supernatural, performing feats with her taut bod that we couldn't have pulled off in our 20s, let alone at her age. This included grooving on a tightrope, collapsing backwards off a high podium into her backup dancers' arms, kicking her leg so high that her ankle was above her head, crouching down in high heels so many times that we worried she'd blow her knees out, and pulling down her pants to expose her ass in a thong while telling the audience, "My New Year's Eve resolution this year is to do something every day without fear." After witnessing that, we're sort of afraid to see our own ass.

Madonna's music has never really resonated with this writer—her publishing career was of considerably more interest during adolescence—and her show didn't really change that. But the sheer scale of the spectacle, and its breathtaking precision, was unlike anything we've seen at a concert before. The massive stage show involves so many moving parts that it's hard to believe they can pull it off night after night without someone getting injured or some equipment malfunctioning. And yet on Saturday night in Atlantic City, the whole daunting extravaganza went off without a hitch (provided you didn't mind waiting until almost 10:30 for her Madgesty to appear).

The venue happened to be the smallest Madonna will perform in during here globe-trotting MDNA tour, and we imagine it's one of the most majestic. Built in 1929 to host giant conventions, the soaring Boardwalk Hall seats about 13,000—to put that in perspective, Madonna recently played a sold-out Yankee stadium far 70,000 fans. So Saturday night's show was relatively intimate, maybe even for Madonna. At one point she pointed to a man in the crowd and said, "I don't understand that T-shirt. 'Vote for Vodka?' Is that a political candidate or are you an alcoholic?" (Guess he should have worn a Lady Gaga T-shirt instead.)

Speaking of Gaga, we hear no Madonna concert is complete these days without the pop star saying something about her thunder-stealing rival. We've been informed that Madonna has repeatedly trash-talked Gaga, accusing her of ripping off "Express Yourself." Before going into "Masterpiece," Madonna told Atlantic City, "I want to dedicate this next song to Lady Gaga. I love her... Imitation is the highest form of flattery. But one day, very soon, we're going to be on stage together. Just you wait." Hm, is that a promise or threat?

Madonna certainly was fierce, as they say—the first half hour of the show basically consists of her and her backup dancers running around with guns, shooting bad guys and unleashing torrents of blood on the screens behind the stage. It was all a little excessive, but criticizing a show like this for "excess" is like complaining about speeding at the Indy 500. Near the beginning, a shabby motel room called "Paradise" appeared onstage, replete with neon sign overhead, and Madonna had a swell time singing "Gang Bang" and grinding on the bed under giant Catholic iconography—and then she had an even better time when an endless stream of masked intruders sneaked into her room and got their asses kicked and popped by Madonna. "Bang bang, shot you dead," Madonna sang. "Shot my lovers in the head."

Some of the video was a little maudlin, but as a whole the production is seductively creepy and impressively slick, with innumerable fabulous costume changes, illuminated pedestals gliding up out of the stage like HAL's brain and dancers materializing out of holes in the stage. As it happens, Moment Factory, the studio that designed some of the effects for the tour, has also produced a psychedelic free 3D light show called "Duality." Commissioned by the non-profit Atlantic City Alliance (ACA), it's projected on the exterior of Boardwalk Hall every half hour after dark; check it out.

The setlist favored mostly new material, though there was a sublimely weird and almost depressing downtempo rendition of "Like A Virgin," a boffo "Like a Prayer," a quasi-marching band riff on "Express Yourself," and a crowd-pleasing "Holiday," which got everyone on their feet even if Madonna had to chastise the audience for their utter lack of rhythm when attempting to clap along. "You grew up on my music and you still don't have rhythm?" she marveled. But given the demographics of the crowd at Boardwalk Hall—where face value ticket prices soared into the $300 range and middle-age aristocrats trekked from as far away as Portugal (and who knows where else) to be with Madonna—the lack of rhythm wasn't all that surprising. They certainly got their money's worth, and when their idol asked, "Do you want to die happy?" they seemed ready to get blown away.

Madonna performs in such cities as Chicago, LA, and Washington, DC in the coming weeks, and returns to NYC for a pair of shows at Madison Square Garden in November.