Madonna launched her first world tour in two years on Sunday, delighting an enthusiastic Los Angeles crowd by hanging herself from a cross, insulting President George W Bush, and dusting off some of the sexy moves that have sustained her career for more than 20 years.
The Confessions tour will keep her on the road for two months in North America, and then resume on July 30 in Wales for a five-week stadium swing through eight European cities. Shows in Japan are also on tap for mid-September.
Madonna spent two hours churning out most of the tunes from her new album, Confessions on a Dancefloor, as well as a few old hits such as Like a Virgin, Ray of Light and Lucky Star.
Giant mirror ball
The meticulously choreographed Vegas-style routine began 50 minutes late when a giant mirror ball was lowered from the ceiling to the end of a catwalk stretching deep into the floor.
Out popped Madonna, in S&M-styled riding gear and whip, singing the new tune Future Lovers as four bare-chested male dancers writhed around with ball gags in their mouths.
Suspended from giant cross
Later on, she donned a crown of thorns and suspended herself from a giant mirrored cross to deliver the ballad Live to Tell. Video screens showed images of third-world poverty and reeled off grim statistics.
During one of her half-dozen costume changes, another video montage juxtaposed images of Bush, members of his administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair with footage of Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Midway through the new song I Love New York, she deviated from the script and made a crude reference to Bush and oral sex.
Beyond that, she barely spoke to the audience, largely focusing on keeping control of a busy nightclub-style stage that boasted 15 dancers, four musicians and three backing vocalists.
A disco segment near the end, where she dressed in a Saturday Night Fever-style white suit to perform Music thrilled the crowd, as did the Like a Virgin routine, when she climbed aboard a carousel-style black leather saddle.
There was no encore, and the lights came up as soon as she had completed a medley of Lucky Star and latest hit single Hung Up while sporting an illuminated white cape with "Dancing Queen" embroidered on the back.
Ticket sales could hit $200m
Billboard magazine has forecast ticket sales could reach the $200m range, making it the most successful tour by a female artist.
Cher holds the record with $192.5m from 273 shows on a "farewell" world tour that began in June 2002 and lasted almost three years, according to Billboard.
Madonna, on the other hand, is scheduled to play fewer than 60 dates on this tour. What catapults her to the top of the leagues is her ticket price, topping out at $380 in most US venues. However, it did not stop her from adding dates to accommodate demand.
I love to see Madge back. Here are some additional photos from the opening of the Confessions Tour.