She kept her fans waiting for almost two hours but when Madonna finally turned up on stage for her first ever performance in the Gulf in Abu Dhabi, it seemed all was forgiven as the 22,000 plus capacity du Arena ruptured with deafening screams on Sunday night.
And five minutes into the opening sequence, it quickly became clear the controversial entertainer was in no mood to tone down her routine.
Scheduled to kick off at 9pm, the lights on stage finally dimmed at 10:40pm to the sound of chiming church bells as a large censer swung in the middle of the stage.
Dancers dressed in monk cloaks then appeared against the backdrop of a giant crucifix.
Madonna, 53, made her entrance in black skintights wearing a crown and broke into Girl Gone Wild from her new album MDNA, also the name of the tour. Male dancers wearing high heels and topless then joined her.
“It’s too damn hot,” she shouted at one point. “But we’re going to have fun any way.”
With temperatures touching 36 degrees Celsius inside the newly refurbished arena, Madonna’s late arrival led to a few rounds of boos earlier in the evening as fans became impatient and as the crowd swelled around the stage. This reporter witnessed three different fights break out with fisticuffs being exchanged in one case.
The singer didn’t acknowledge the lateness, but asked the crowd if they were having fun. “You better be because we’re sweating our a***** off,” she joked.
Featuring a major production, with a massive transforming stage, the show was undoubtedly the biggest and most extravagant organiser Flash Entertainment has ever hosted. tabloid! had earlier asked the company if Madonna would tone down her performance to suit cultural sensitivities  in the Emirates. Flash did not want to comment.
Besides featuring violent images of blood splattered on the screen during a performance of Revolver and Gang Bang, there were lots of religious iconographies, sexy dance moves and potentially contentious audio-visual content never before seen in a UAE public performance.
The performance also featured the stage debut of Madonna’s 11-year-old son Rocco , from her marriage with British director Guy Ritchie. Her boyfriend Brahim Zaibat, 24, also made several appearances and danced with her alone for a version of her 1992 song Erotica. Madonna’s 15-year-old daughter Lourdes, highly anticipated to join the dancers, did not make an appearance during the two-hour show.
“When I bought the album, it made me question if Madonna was still at the forefront. But this concert really proved she was. And the Lady Gaga bit was the icing on the cake,” said Bruce Jones, a Dubai resident from Canada.
Jones was referring to Madonna’s rendition of the Lady Gaga hit Born This Way , which she performed alongside her own song Express Yourself. Critics have noted the similarities between the two songs and accused Gaga of copying. Madonna followed the mash-up with another song She’s Not Me, as an apparent dig at the much younger star.
“She kept us waiting but it was worth the wait,” said Armando Raoul, 28, from Brazil. “But I think for those not familiar with the new album MDNA, you wouldn’t know a lot of the songs.
“I really like that she brought out her son. He looked like he enjoyed himself.”Reem, who only offered one name, said the performance was obviously targeted at a different crowd: “I think it was mostly for the younger audience she wants. And I think a lot of the older fans might have felt a little short-changed.”
Juliana Navaro, from the Philippines, was impressed with the costumes. “All the clothes were really nice, except maybe the last one, Celebration, where it looked a bit like a Beats headphone advertisement,” she said.
For Indian fan Anjana Deepak, who paid Dh1,095 to see the concert, it was worth every dirham.
“Her Drowned tour is one of my favourite concerts ever and I would definitely tie tonight’s with that. It’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.”
*Madonna performs for a second night tonight. Tickets are available at thinkflash.ae