This fan gets to the bottom of Drowned World Tour's appeal

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Why are we compelled to pay as much as $253 for a chance to see Madonna up-close on her Drowned World Tour? She's the cure for the Attention Deficit Generation. We don't know what she's going to do next. A shape-shifter of the highest degree, Madonna can be so many things at once, but not one of those is boring. And she doesn't dwell in the past. Out of 22 songs in this multimedia extravaganza, only two are from back in the day. She moves forward, always.

Tonight at 9, viewers on HBO will get an eyeful of Madonna live on tour, but they'll only get a taste of what it's like to see the entire package, which the lucky among us did Aug. 10 in Washington. Madonna is a take-no-prisoners diva who puts on not so much a concert experience as an extra-sensory overload that's part high-tech circus theatrics, part Broadway, part modern dance and part performance-art fashion show. All of it delivered with her typical audacity. If that's not worth a couple of Benjamins, I don't know what is.

Here, then, to parallel her show's format, is Madonna: Highlights of an Experience in Five Acts.

* Act 1: Dry ice escapes from the stage. Yes, finally! Madonna arrives on a silver platform -- punked out in plaid. Mad Max meets Courtney Love when she rocks out on her Gibson Les Paul guitar. Who knew she could play? Apparently she's been taking lessons for eight months.

Austin Powers pops up on the video screen. "Beautiful Stranger" cues up and the love-in incites all sorts of eye-popping contortions.

* Act 2: Japan-animaniac Madonna goes feudal futuristic in her rendition of vengeful comfort girl. She pitter-patters around under her exquisite red and black kimono designed by Arianne Phillips and Jean-Paul Gaultier, then takes to the air in flying sequences, Hong Kong style. Her kimono's sleeves unfold as a black banner across the stage.

* Act 3: Madonna proves that she's wilder than the Wild West -- "making up" an "impromptu" song about getting back at an abusive father (confusing most of the audience), shooting a cowhand on stage and riding a mechanical bull. Traveling as a line-dancing pack, she and her dancers rouse audiences on either side of the stage with yee-haw enthusiasm. Someone tells us to sit down. He has to know you can dance at a concert. Get into the groove already!

* Act 4: A "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" instrumental sets the mood for a sensuous tango number. Madonna, who can't get enough of that guitar, does an acoustic version of "La Isla Bonita" and a Spanish version of "What it Feels Like For a Girl" ("Lo Que Siente La Mujer"). Most of us pick up that it's the same song in a different language.

* Act 5: "Holiday" makes the '80s mongers happy, but "Music" as the encore is by far the best workout of the night, the endorphin-filled sendoff for fans. Ghetto girl Madonna marches from side to side with her steadfast backup singers, vets Donna De Lory and Niki Haris waving to the fans, riling up the masses and ditching her purple hat to the front row, causing a mini-stampede for possession. If I had known she was going to give up that hat, there'd have been one more body on the pile!

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