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It was her first Bay Area performance in more than 11 years and only her fourth appearance in the area ever, although the crowd was annoyed that she sang virtually none of the songs that made her famous and nobody really seemed to be asking for their money back. Just being in the same room with her, was enough for most people.

Splashing lights, multiscreen video, outrageous special effects, wild costumes, insane dancers, music and Madonna, an middle-aged mother of two with an unforgettable voice and enough drive to make herself the biggest female pop star in the world.

Easily the summer's most anticipated tour, the Drowned World Tour, which started in Barcelona and ended in Los Angeles, sold out all 29 U.S. shows instantly, regardless of the ridiculous $250 top ticket price ($45 for the nosebleed seats). A cast and crew of 200 travel with the Material Girl, along with 100 tons of equipment, eight semis and a 4,900-square-foot stage. Each days travel bills alone must have exceeded the GNP of most small countries.

The mere 105-minute show was divided into four parts: "Rock 'n' roll punk girl, geisha girl, cyber cowgirl and Spanish girl/ghetto girl." Each of the 22 songs is a set piece, a mini-extravaganza, even though virtually the entire program was drawn from her latest two albums, "Music" and "Ray of Light."

In a show that was more Broadway musical than rock concert, Madonna threw together elements of butoh, electronica, flamenco, country and western, and disco in a spellbinding barrage that never let up. She even brandished a guitar on a few selections, although she barely elevated it above prop status.

Madonna is a phenomenon, not a musician. Part dancer, part singer, part pop visionary, all star, she was the living centerpiece of this extraordinary electronic tableaux, often overwhelmed by all that she had set in motion around her. She spoke very little and emphasized her remoteness from the audience by frequently retreating to a platform at the rear of the stage.

From the carefully cultivated wardrobe to such exciting special effects as the "Crouching Tiger type" tribute where she flew, Peter Pan- style, fighting off dancing ninjas, she made every moment onstage count.

With a gang of 10 dancers and two background vocalists who also danced, Madonna kept the show moving around the stage. She wore a guitar strap that said "F-- off" and a T-shirt that said "Mother" on the front and something stronger on the back. But she looked great and worked her way through a procession of costumes that mixed street with haute couture.

It didn't matter to her legions that she didn't play old favorites. To some they just walked out in awww of what they had just been a part of, but other felt it the Material Girl finally went to far and has lost her root. The difference from a star and an icon is an icon always remembers where they started from and never forgets it. 



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