Madonna had a few friends in the house Saturday night.
For the star’s first hometown show in eight years, the Palace of Auburn Hills was packed with more than 17,000 fans.
Madonna’s spectacular Drowned World Tour doesn’t vary a lot from city to city, and the biggest difference at the Palace was the crowd — which, unlike some of the tour’s other audiences, maintained its energy for the duration of the show.
On the first of two nights at the Palace, Madonna reprised the theatrical show that has been challenging audiences all summer. She reaffirmed that she’s quite cognizant of her place in contemporary culture: a 43-year-old superstar who’s not going to whip out the old pop hits just so everybody can sing along. For an artist whose latest recorded work has revealed a new, more serious bent, that would have been too easy.
But don’t think Saturday wasn’t entertaining. The Drowned World show is a genuine spectacle, propelled by Madonna’s smooth, cool energy and a constantly morphing visual presentation.
Between the concert’s opening scene — Madonna on a platform singing the gorgeous Drowned World — and the ebullient encore of Music, there were aerial stunts, a gracefully choreographed martial-arts battle, a punk moment, a country moment, a disco moment …with a little Broadway and Vegas sprinkled in.
The band behind her studiously re-created the haunting textures of her latest two albums, allowing Madonna room to showcase her voice — yes, her voice — which has taken on the buxom huskiness of middle age.
Her revolving cast of dancers — who showed up hours later at the packed, sweaty Club Cobalt in Ferndale for a quick revue — was supple and athletic, lending a muscular elegance to the meticulously crafted extravaganza.
It’s a precisely scripted show — so precise, in fact, that Saturday’s concert was filmed as a backup for Sunday’s live HBO broadcast, ready for producers to push a button and seamlessly segue to the tape in case of technical troubles with the live airing.
And, despite a set list made up mostly of newer material — only four pre-1998 songs landed on the 22-song roster — Saturday night’s crowd stayed on its feet and kept up a lively roar for the hometown girl.
“I’m sure at least half the people in here I either baby-sat for, went to school with or am related to,” she told the crowd between songs.
Still, this wasn’t a fist-pumping, “whooo!” kind of concert. As the show settled into its second movement — the geisha segment, with its Asian imagery and sparse, delicate electronic music — concertgoers were compelled into a kind of dreamy trance.
It was a mood that lasted for much of the show, thrown upside down only at the end, as Madonna and her dancers launched a full-on party for upbeat fare like Holiday and Music.