ABU DHABI // More than 22,000 Madonna fans braved the heat last night to see their idol's first performance in the Arab world.
The entertainer, who is known for her daring and extravagant performances, was as controversial as ever as she took to the stage at du Arena on Yas Island.
The 53-year-old singer kicked off the show, the first of two concerts in the capital, to the sound of a chiming church bell and dancers clad in red monks' cloaks.
The five-minute intro was dripping with religious iconography as a massive gold-coloured Catholic thurible, teeming with smoke, swung over the heads of the audience.
Madonna appeared on stage wearing a black veil, gold crown and a skin-tight black catsuit, after pretending to smash a window with a large rifle.
The singer, who was bursting with energy and looking fit as ever, started her set with the upbeat Girl Gone Wild, from her new album, accompanied by male dancers who had thrown off their cloaks and were dancing shirtless.
"All right, Abu Dhabi, are you ready?" she shouted. The audience at that point had been ready for some time as Madonna finally came onstage at 10.40pm - more than 90 minutes late.
The ensuing performance featured gunshots and violent, bloody images on the stage screens. The singer also performed elaborate stunts and acrobatics.
Many fans said they were blown away.
"She's amazing!" said Carol Lopez, 23, from the Philippines. "I love the fact that she is still making concerts like this after so many years."
The months leading up to the concerts had been dominated by questions of whether it would be too hot for a concert of this calibre. Temperatures have been reaching the mid-40s in recent weeks.
Madonna made mention of it.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's too damn hot!" she said. "But we're going to have some fun anyway."
Many people were fanning their faces, but took it in their stride. "Yeah, it's pretty warm, but then I did expect this, so it's not a big deal," said Ayesha Deepak, 35, from India.
A cooling dome with mist had been erected by the event's organisers for revellers to keep cool, but some fans said it was not working for them.
"The mist is not very cold. I can hardly feel it," said Fiona, 16, who lives in Dubai.
The delay to the start caused comment on social media such as twitter from disgruntled fans, including Samantha Dancy, who tweeted: "1 hour and a quarter Madonna - the boos are only going to get louder - it's very sweaty out here!"
Boos and cat whistles rippled through the arena, getting louder and louder, as impatient fans were subjected to more than an hour of Michael Jackson songs while waiting for Madonna to appear.
The show marked the latest expansion to du Arena, formerly Yas Arena. Although there was an increase from one to four entrances for fans, queues were still an issue for those with general admission tickets.
Tarek Ghanem, from Jordan, queued for almost an hour. "I was expecting it to run smoother than this," he said.
Inside the venue, fans were lounging about on the newly laid grassy areas that had replaced the previous gravel.
A new central public plaza had shops selling Madonna merchandise - the Dh150 T-shirts being the most popular, according to the sales staff at the counter.
Abdullah, a 25-year-old fan who had come from Bahrain to see the concert, said he had been "so excited for months" to see Madonna since he bought a ticket online in February when they went on sale.
"I was one of the few lucky ones who managed to get a ticket online," he said.
There were surprisingly few people carrying banners at the concert, but some, including Azza Yahia, 33, from Lebanon, and Lamya Tawfik, 35, from Egypt, were dressed in full Madonna gear.
"We're big fans of Madonna," said Azza, who had even painted the singer's famous black beauty spot on her face.
Sales staff were meandering through the venue selling cold towelettes for Dh15 each, and a few air-conditioning machines blowing cold air attracted some people trying to cool down.
Water bottles were sold as a two-for-one deal for Dh10 at seven stations scattered throughout the venue and many people were wandering around cradling four or more bottles.
However, one of the booths had an electricity problem, so the water was warm, and the water booth at the general admission entrance had run out by 8.30pm.
All the pieces in the elaborate stage set-up, including lighting, sound equipment and 120 technicians, had been flown to Abu Dhabi in three Boeing 747s.
The tour is the singer's first performance in the Middle East during her 30-year career, and was the second concert of her 86-date tour, during which she will perform in more than 30 countries.
The set list included a few of her famous songs, such as Like a Virgin, Papa Don't Preach, Vogue and Express Yourself, but was dominated by new songs, including Turn Up The Radio and I'm Addicted.
Extra tickets for the first concert, which the promoters said sold out within hours, were released this week. The promoters said the venue adjustments had created more space.
Some people were outside the entrances selling tickets for as little as Dh80. "I just have to get rid of them," said one.
Tickets are still available for her show tonight.