"Aging is a sin,” Madonna says in a recorded video montage that plays toward the end of her Celebration Tour setlist. "I think the most controversial thing I've ever done is stick around."

You may have heard the venerable, the influential, the tireless and great Madonna say something similar before. And there is no question that Madonna stands alone. She is peerless, particularly in the echelon of stardom that she essentially invented — alongside, arguably, Michael Jackson, to whom she also pays awkward tribute in the show, but I'll get to that in a minute.

We have yet to see, at least in American culture, anyone of her icon status and strata of fame get to the age of 65 and keep going.

You can argue that Cher, at 77, comes close, but for all her popularity and glamour and gay-icon status, Cher was never Madonna. And Cher is not selling out arenas doing a greatest hits tour at 65 — albeit smaller-sized arenas than Beyonce and Taylor Swift these days.

Beyonce and Taylor, if they're lucky, will reach this stage in a couple decades and maybe they, too, will make questionable cosmetic surgery choices and still keep touring.

But for now, there is only Madonna, defying society's norms and assumptions, having recovered from last summer's health scare. And she proved on Tuesday night that she is every bit the icon and commander of a stage that she always was — save for a couple flubs and stumbles, and some pretty obvious stiffness, especially in heels. She's enjoying perhaps a well-earned rest from being a workhorse dancer and singer, and unlike her tours of 15 or 20 years back, she doesn't try to keep up with all the choreo, generally remaining at the center of flurries of high kicks and spinning shirtless men to distract the eye.

Ever the expert curator and hirer of talent, Madonna has brought in the excellent Bob the Drag Queen to serve as emcee of sorts, with Bob woven in to multiple numbers, adding energy and wit, and serving the "Pray Tell" role calling out scores — all "Tens across the board!" naturally — during a terrific "Vogue" tribute to the ballroom scene that inspired the song.

Madonna with Julia Garner at an earlier tour stop. Photo: Kevin Mazur

There was something meta in that number as well, with Beyonce's recent sampling/cover of "Vogue," featured in a remix "Break My Soul," dappled into the number.

The show is full of spectacle and fantastic dancing, as well as the surprise guests of three of Madonna's younger children — David Banda, playing guitar; Mercy James, who just turned 18, playing classical piano and then accompanying her mother on a quiet version of the song "Bad Girl"; and one of the twins, Estere, vogue-ing and duck-walking with the best of them during Vogue.

Madonna is hoisted twice into a floating box that glides high above the stage through the arena — movingly, she sings "Live to Tell" from there as images of artists and others who died during the AIDS epidemic are flashed on multiple projection screens.

And "Like a Prayer," which utilizes a Jesus carousel of sorts — an actual spinning carousel adorned with crosses and filled with male dancers "crucified" in loin cloths — that Madonna sings from the top of, is a gloriously blasphemous throwback to the great Madonna numbers of yore, skewering Catholic iconography.

The final showstopper comes with a wittily conceived parade of Madonnas, dancers in various Madonna drag from every stage of her career — Truth or Dare, A League of Their Own, "Justify My Love," "Material Girl," the "Rain" video, they're all there. In that crowd of avatars, Madonna seems a bit overshadowed by her own numerous images though, and her own costume, a blue veil, doesn't make a ton of sense.

Madonna with one of the hunky Jesuses. Photo: Kevin Mazur

While there is satisfaction in seeing Madonna still going at it, and delivering the hits one after another — which at times, on other tours, she was reluctant to do when she had new music to promote — it's hard to call this a perfect triumph.

During her only real moment of banter — which never, with her, feels unscripted — in the last third of the show, Madonna did some hedging about her own performance, saying, "I do my best," and things like, "I look like trash, right?", fishing for fans to tell her "No, not at all."

She of course doesn't look like trash, but there was a small stumble early on about which she is likely hard on herself, during "Into the Groove." And even the final second of the show was marred by a flub — as Madonna was lowered by a lift beneath the stage, she called out, "Goodnight, Sacramento! — er — I mean, goodnight, San Francisco! Ugh I knew I was going to do that."

She had just played Sacramento over the weekend. Give her a break!

But just back to the Michael Jackson thing. At nearly the close of the show, a montage gets introduced while two stand-ins for Madonna and "Thriller"-era Michael Jackson dance as shadows behind a screen. The montage shows multiple images of Madonna and Michael, at the height of their respective fame moments, being friends and appearing together at a couple of events. This seems intended to remind anyone in the audience under the age of 35 just how famous she was at one time, but it also seems like it's just Madonna's sincere — if self-serving? — tribute to her lost friend, who died fifteen years ago.

It doesn't really fit neatly in the show and its purpose is pretty ambiguous — and is Madonna looking to set aside all the posthumous disgrace that has come to Jackson's story to present this 15-year-later homage in the middle of her greatest-hits set?

It was a bit jarring, and didn't exactly set us up for the fun of the final numbers. But, like a number of bits from the Madame X tour, it felt like something odd that Madonna herself must have insisted on including and no one argued with her.

Maybe that's just the privilege that comes along with being the last one standing. And while committing the sin of aging, perhaps she doesn't want to be accused of the sin of forgetting who she's outlasted.

'Madonna: The Celebration Tour' plays a second night at the Chase Center tonight, Feb. 28. Showtime is listed 8:30 pm but she goes on a little after 10.

Top photo by Kevin Mazur