PHILADELPHIA Even before the doors of the First Union Center swung open for the U.S. debut of Madonna's Drowned World Tour on Saturday night, Greg Packer knew exactly what he was in for.
Because of the global media attention on the European leg of the tour the pop icon's first in eight years stateside fans had no problem getting a sneak peek. (Click for photos from the show.)
Parker, who made the trek to Philly from Huntington, New York, knew about the cowboy hats, the mechanical bull,
the guitar and all the other tricks Madonna had up her sleeve. No surprises lay ahead for Packer, but frankly, he didn't care.
"This is the U.S. of A., and what happened in Europe doesn't matter," declared Packer, who has been a fan since he heard "Holiday" in 1983.
Indeed, all the reviews, setlists and concert stills under the sun couldn't curb the enthusiasm of those gathered in Philly.
"If you're into Madonna and you're a fan, it shouldn't matter," said Johnny March of Brooklyn, New York a fan since he laid his eyes on Madonna's "Sex" book in 1992.
The spoiler-rich coverage of the tour did little to dampen spirits outside the First Union Center, where fabulousness was the statement of the day. Jeweled Western shirts and glittering baby-Ts twisted and bounced as fans, grooving to "Beautiful Stranger," got a dance floor going next to a souvenir stand. Consider it Maddy Gras, with cowboy hats instead of jeweled masks, feathered boas instead of strings of beads, and revelers high on "Borderline" rather than boozy frozen drinks. The surreal feel of the festivities benefited greatly from the culture clash provided by the Philadelphia Phillies baseball game across the street at Veterans Stadium.
Madonna-bes abounded, most going for the hipster cowgirl look, but a few passing themselves off as "Like a Virgin" brides. A couple University of Delaware students sported the denim-and-lace "Dress You Up" look that was popular before they hit kindergarten. "I've been a fan since the age of 5, and at this grand old age of 21 I still enjoy her rebel antics," Jennifer Kroll said.
For those who made the trek to Philly, it was less about the setlist than about simply basking in the Madonna-ness of it all. "She could just stand there and shut up, and I would be happy," said Theresa Svengart, a "Papa Don't Preach"-era convert who came to the show from Sweden by way of Brooklyn.
Fortunately, Madonna offered a lot more than that after the lights went down Saturday night, faithfully deploying the show that wowed 'em on the continent thick with new material and heavy on the theatrics. Backed by curtains of coarse metal pounded into sleek angles, the most famous woman in the world emerged in a cloud of smoke and made a grand vocal entrance with the musically spartan "Drowned World/Substitute for Love."
Over the course of the evening, U.S. fans finally got to meet the five faces of Madonna that had been making the rounds in Europe: punk stylist, geisha avenger, electric cowgirl, Latin songbird and queen pimp. Punk-rock Maddy and her mohawk-topped dancers (including one gamely sporting a Dead Kennedys vest) worked through "Drowned
World/Substitute for Love" and "Impressive Instant" before Madonna strapped on a guitar for "Candy Perfume Girl" and proved she knows at least as many chords as Sum41.
The gleeful mood turned downright giddy as Maddy and co. launched into "Beautiful Stranger," complete with a twirl around a dance pole from the 42-year-old mother of two that was enough to give anyone an Oedipal complex. When she followed with "Ray of Light," the room's elation manifested itself not in a mosh pit but in a glow pit as dozens of small illuminated sticks buzzed in a pack near the back of the crowd.
After a video of "Paradise (Not for Me)" introduced the geisha segment of the show, Madonna (now in flowing, black and red robes) returned to the stage to serve up "Frozen," "Nobody's Perfect," and a portion of "Mer Girl." The pace then picked up considerably, as a high-flying Madonna got all Jet Li on a small army of attackers during "Sky Fits
Heaven," and gunned one down during a reprise of "Mer Girl."
After upping the grim factor further with several minutes of hardcore Japanimation packed with gore, nudity and rape Madonna switched to the breezier pastures of cowgirl country. She strapped on an
acoustic guitar for "I Deserve It," then traded it in for a team of dancers for a glittering hoedown on "Don't Tell Me." After losing some of her excess garments, Madonna launched into a performance of "Human Nature" that included a bit of lasso bondage and a magical moment with a mechanical bull. She offered up "Secret" and "You'll See" before undergoing yet another personality change.
It was farewell gentle cowgirl, hello Latin goddess, as Madonna returned to the stage in black slacks and a backless black dress to deliver "Lo Que Siente la Mujer" (a Spanish-language version of "What It Feels Like for a Girl") from a swirling black leather podium. She then grabbed her guitar again and joined a gaggle of percussionists and dancers for an unplugged flamenco take on "La Isla Bonita."
Finally, Madonna presented her most playful persona Daddy Mack-donna, with her flowing, white fur coat and burgundy velvet fedora. If happiness could bend steel, the First Union Center would have cracked open like a walnut during the opening strains of "Holiday." The mood only intensified as gold confetti rained down during the set closer, "Music."
So there it was, just as advertised: no "Like a Virgin," no "Borderline," no "Into the Groove," no "Like a Prayer," no "Vogue."
"It's a little disappointing, but you can imagine that she wants to play her newer songs, the stuff she's most proud of," Jennifer Kroll said.
The forward-thinking set was just fine with Bruce and Elaine Keyser of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, who've been Madonna followers since "Like a Virgin," and haven't missed a Madonna show in Philly since.
"I'm 54, and I feel like I'm 16," said Bruce, sporting a red Madonna t-shirt, a black leather vest adorned with Madonna pins, and a cowboy hat with an image of the bustier made famous during Maddy's Blond Ambition tour.
"She can still move. She's still got it," Elaine added. "I'll take that hour and 20 minutes and stack her up against anybody. She's just the best."
Madonna setlist, July 21, 2001:
- "Drowned World/Substitute for Love"
- "Impressive Instant"
- "Candy Perfume Girl"
- "Beautiful Stranger"
- "Ray of Light"
- "Paradise (Not for Me)"
- "Nobody's Perfect"
- "Mer Girl"
- "Sky Fits Heaven"
- "Mer Girl" (reprise)
- "I Deserve It"
- "Don't Tell Me"
- "Human Nature"
- "Oh Dear Daddy"
- "You'll See"
- "Lo Que Siente la Mujer"
- "La Isla Bonita"