Madonna performs for 50,000 in TA

At first of 2 gigs, pop queen parades with Israeli flag, declares country "the energy capital of the world."

madonna tel aviv concert 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
madonna tel aviv concert 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Hayarkon Park was transformed into a lavish Las Vegas showroom Tuesday night, as Madonna brought her Sticky&Sweet show to Tel Aviv for the first of two concerts marking the end of her world tour. "Get up out of your seats," she commanded the crowd in the opening song, "Candy Shop," and the sold-out audience of 50,000 happily complied. At one point in the show, Madonna said, "It's been 16 years since I played in Israel. I'm sorry about that, I shouldn't have stayed away so long." "Israel is the energy capital of the world," she continued. "If we can live together in harmony in this place, we can live in peace all over the world." During the electrifying finale, "Give It 2 Me," Madonna grabbed an Israeli flag out of the crowd and paraded with it on stage. By early in the afternoon the area surrounding the park had begun to take on a festive atmosphere, as hundreds of fans of the American icon waited outside the gate for the 5:30 p.m opening, in order to nab prime standing room. "We are going to run straight to the stage," said Uriel, 26, from Ra'anana, who was waiting with a friend. "I didn't sleep last night at all. I'm so excited." Orit, 32, from Holon, brought a pillow with her to ease the burden of the long wait. "We'll stand as long as we have to," she said. It turned out the fans had to wait until 9:22 p.m., when Madonna and crew hit the stage to a sea of lit cellphones, following an innocuous 45-minute electro-dance mashup by DJ Paul Oakenfield. Tour production manager Chris Lamb was right when he told reporters on Monday that Madonna didn't put on a rock concert, she put on a show. Forget the Kabbala, the paparazzi subterfuge, the dinners with politicians and all the other trappings that have dominated her visit here so far. Madonna presented a dazzling display of Broadway-worthy spectacle, with choreography, props and stunning visuals, all creating a sensory explosion. A selection of career peaks led by a sinewy "Vogue," a funked-up "Into the Groove" and a booming "Holiday" put the crowd into the master artist's hands like putty. Despite speculation that he would appear, Justin Timberlake did not duet with Madonna on their hit song "4 Minutes." She proved during her show that she has lost nary a step. In fact, she's gotten even better. Madonna wraps up her worldwide tour with a final concert at Hayarkon Park on Wednesday night. The 51-year-old entertainer claims a special bond with the Jewish state. She's been dabbling in Kabbala for more than a decade and has taken on a Hebrew name, Esther. She's come on private pilgrimages in 2004 and 2007, and has visited the Western Wall since arriving on Sunday. Local radio stations played Madonna songs through Tuesday. On Army Radio, a DJ interrupted a song briefly to quip that "tonight, Aunt Esther is playing at Hayarkon Park." Late on Monday, the diva dined with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, at Madonna's request, Livni spokesman Gil Messing said. Livni "was very impressed with Madonna and found her to be a very interesting person," said Messing, adding that the two decided to keep the content of their conversation private. The opposition leader was one of the many VIPs to attend Madonna's concert last night. Others included British actor Sasha Baron Cohen and Israeli pop star Ninet Tayeb. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to host Madonna at his Jerusalem residence on Friday. Madonna's previous two stops on the current tour, in Romania and Bulgaria, were marred by controversy. In Bulgaria, Orthodox Church officials accused the singer of showing disrespect for Christianity. In Romania, she was booed during her concert for criticizing widespread discrimination against Eastern Europe's Gypsies, also known as Roma. Madonna's performances are a sign that Israel is becoming more attractive as a concert venue. The Pet Shop Boys played Israel in July, pop sensation Lady Gaga was here last month, the rock band Faith No More is playing Tel Aviv on Tuesday night, and the iconic songwriter Leonard Cohen is to perform later this month. AP contributed to this report.