Madonna Lights Up New York's Roxy

Onetime 'boy toy' Madonna mesmerizes mostly gay crowd.

It took superstar Madonna just one song, "Sky Fits Heaven," to make it clear that she is back, ready to dominate the 1998 music scene with a state-of-the-moment modern sound that should truly bring electronic music to the masses.

In her first club appearance in years, she took the stage of New York City's Roxy nightclub Saturday night and

performed three songs off her upcoming electronic pop album Ray of

Light (Mar. 3), to the 2,750 fans lucky enough to score a ticket to the relatively exclusive event.

"It's been a long time since I performed in a club," said Madonna. "And I've got to say -- it feels pretty fucking good!"

Arriving on-stage at close to 2 a.m., Madonna wore a long black

billowy coat, which she shed to reveal a black dress -- the same striking outfit she wears in her new video for "Frozen," the first single off Ray of Light. With her long blond hair crimped and loose, Madonna was a mystic pre-Raphaelite siren.

It's a new look to unveil the Material Girl's foray into ambient

techno pop music. The three songs she performed off Ray of

Light -- "Sky Fits Heaven" "Shanti," and the title track "Ray of Light" --

showcased a new voice and style for the '80s icon.

With Ray of Light producer William Orbit playing keyboards

on-stage next to Madonna, the singer's brave venture into techno paid off.

She sang with a strong, forceful voice, but occasionally delivered lines in a hushed whisper, revealing a bit of sweet vulnerability that

only worked to charm the audience.

Orbit produced all of the music, which was kept to mostly minimal electronic

beats. Madonna's new sound weds pop melodies to techno beats, and it's a winner, from "Shanti," which features Sanskrit lyrics to the disco rhythms of "Ray of Light." At times her voice sounded mysteriously ethereal, almost Bjork-ish.

"I think it's good she's back performing in front of the people," said

Donna Fairclock, a New Yorker who attended the event. "It's the best place

to showcase her new stuff. Her fans are her most loyal, but they also are

the most honest."

The audience, primarily exuberant gay men -- some holding up old

T-shirts from past tours -- gave her a real homecoming welcome; energetic, positive and downright adoring, it was a fond nod to the days when

Madonna used to perform at the Roxy more than seven years ago.

"The crowd was electrified to have her so close," said New York resident Bill Sgroi, 36.

It truly was a performance for her fans, many of whom arrived at the Roxy

at the unfashionable club hour of 9 p.m. just to position themselves in

front of stage. "Nobody usually gets out of bed until 11 p.m. -- this is amazing," commented

Ned Schenck, 28, publisher of Pavement, a gay culture magazine, as he wryly looked about

as people spilled into the club shortly before 10 p.m.

Although the club operated

as it would any Saturday night, the mood there before Madonna went on

stage was pure anticipation, with rumors circulating as to

when Madonna would come on-stage, (some said 3 a.m., some said she had canceled) and

what she was expected to play, (one song, the entire new album).

Although tickets went on sale for the Valentine's Event, billed with a

"Special Guest Performer," less than two weeks ago, the rumor that Madonna

would be playing caused a last-minute flurry of ticket hunting, with New

York radio station Z100 giving away tickets just days before the

event. The Roxy received last-minute calls from the celebrity set; a

spokesperson for the club said that Barbara Streisand's publicist and the

Prince of Brunei had phoned the club looking for tickets.

Surprisingly, the day of the show 100 hundred tickets were available at the door for those

with a Roxy VIP club pass.

Roxy Special Events Manager Andy Griggs was ecstatic to have Madonna playing the club. "I spoke with her manager 15 minutes before

she went on, and I said 'She can't possibly put her foot wrong this

evening because these are Madonna fanatics.' They didn't know what

to expect -- they were just glad that she was there and she was performing

after all this time."

"So she gets on the stage," Griggs continued, "and she realized after 15 seconds, 'I've got

'em.' And then she totally relaxed and went into a very confident mode."

"Oh, this is my guitar solo," Madonna said at one

point when Orbit delivered a sampled guitar riff via his synth.

She leaned down to touch and slap hands with those

pushing up against the front of the stage, danced with seductive abandon and above all, looked shyly and

unequivocally pleased that she was the guest of honor.

"Thank you all for coming to my coming out party," she said with a smile at the conclusion of her short but sweet set.

It was clearly Madonna's night to shine, and shine she did. [Mon., Feb. 16, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]