A song starting with LIKE….
2003 saw Madonna‘s first major live musical performance accessible to the UK public since the Drowned World Tour. The last time fans had been able to see Madonna on stage had been at the Wyndhams Theatre in London’s theatreland a year earlier but the ninth of May 2003 saw her playing a far different sized stage to a very different crowd! For just up Charing Cross Road from the Wyndhams and left into Oxford Street, Madonna found herself playing her first ever instore performance in the UK, twenty one years after her first single was released here.
HMV’s flagship store at Oxford Circus was chosen to be the focus point for Madonna’s major UK promotional event to promote the recently released ‘American Life‘ album. Having previously played a similar type event at Tower Records in the US it didn’t come as quite the surprise it would have had, but it in no way lowered the level of excitement felt by those fans who had been lucky enough to secure one of the precious 500 wristbands made available for the event two days previously when the announcement of the show had mistakenly been put live on madonna.com hours earlier than planned.
The wristbands were all snapped up that same day and those lucky enough to wear them had the fun task of ensuring that their wrist and their wristband didn’t become separated in the intervening period – many fans admitted to showering with their wrist carefully wrapped in plastic to protect the fairly fragile plastic entry tokens!
The day of the show dawned bright and sunny and the excited fans joined the queue formed along the side of the store at the trade entrance away from the hustle and bustle of the shoppers and tourists along Oxford Street. Those shoppers gradually became aware of what was planned to happen inside the store though when the entire front of the store was decked out in Madonna and ‘American Life‘ wrapping.
Fans joining the queue were handed a flyer setting out in no uncertain terms what the days events were to consist of, sadly quashing the hopeful rumours that Madonna was to partake in a signing session. However, few can have been disappointed to discover that this was so Madonna had longer to perform.
The wait for the doors to open passed slowly but the various TV and Radio news crews that went up and down the patient fans kept everyone amused, with endless requests for fan-renditions of the infamous ‘American Life‘ rap. Once the time came for the fans to stream in, the security at the entrance to the shop were well organised, letting the fans trickle in in small numbers, but once inside took the mind-boggling decision not to fill the shop aisles up evenly, but to pour everyone down one aisle before filling the next one, meaning many fans who had queued for far longer than others ended up far behind them. Once it became apparent that trying to reason with the security was pointless everyone just got into the spirit of the event and the excitement mounted. Jo Wiley introduced Madonna saying if we made a big enough noise to make her feel welcome she would come to sing for us and the screams and cheers began.
Madonna emerged, dressed in the standard ‘American Life‘ beret surrounded by her familiar band. Arranging themselves on what must surely have been one of the smallest stages she had ever played on, Madonna broke the ice with a jaunty ‘awright?’ and proceeded to jokily explain that the whole event was purely a cover for her ‘to shop for CDs’. As she launched into her set with current single ‘American Life‘ it dawned on most of the assembled fans that at 5’4” and stood on a stage raised barely a couple of feet off the floor, most of those further back than the first few metres were unlikely to see more than her forehead for the duration of the show.
The crowd’s enthusiasm and excitement was palpable and as the first ‘fuck it’ in the lyrics approached they were unable to hold themselves back and in one voice hollered ‘F*CK IT!’ with gusto. Madonna appeared most amused and was happy to allow the assembled ‘backing singers’ to fill in her ‘f*ck it’s whenever appropriate. The cheers at the end of the song were deafening and the noise from outside the store filtered in from behind. Madonna had a brief chat with the crowd asking where people were from and playfully berating those who had slept overnight – calling them ‘beautiful’ but telling them to ‘put that devotion and dedication into something else in their life’ and that if they ‘wanted to pay tribute’ to her they ‘should take it and use it for something positive’.
Next up was the forthcoming single ‘Hollywood‘ which she prefaced by saying she was getting a reputation for forgetting her own lyrics (a reference to recent performances at TV shows such as Jonathan Ross and CD:UK where she had had to re-record the live performances when she forgot the words).
The set continued on with further ‘American Life’ tracks ‘Nothing Fails’, ‘X-Static Process‘ and ‘Mother And Father‘. Madonna, taking up a guitar for the slower tracks made the mistake of sitting down which prompted mass shouts of ‘STAND UP‘ and ‘STAND ON THE CHAIR‘ from the fans who couldn’t see a thing because of her reduced height. An amusing moment occurred when feedback from someone’s mobile interfered with the sound equipment prompting Madonna to ask everyone to turn theirs off as ‘are you expecting a call right now?!’
After five songs straight from ‘American Life‘ it was time for something a little older and she teased the audience by asking what she should play. A very loud shout for ‘Dress You Up’ right at the front prompted a reply of “I am NOT playing Dress You Up!” as if it was the most ludicrous request she’d ever heard. She played with the crowd in saying she’d sing a song beginning with the work ‘Like’. Screams for ‘Prayer’ and ‘Virgin’ echoed around the store (together with a couple of cheeky shouts for recently leaked ‘Like A Flower‘) but ‘Like A Prayer‘ won out. A certain fan was extremely excited at this as, it being his 25th birthday and ‘Like A Prayer’ being his favourite song of all time, it was the best present he could ever have wished for. He even went to the trouble of having made a banner asking for just such a performance Sans live choir Madonna asked the fans to help her out and a great performance followed.
A lucky fan later managed to persuade Stuart Price to part with the handwritten set list he had had stuck to his keyboard which when examined later showed that the set planned to be performed that day was to include a performance of ‘Like A Virgin’, not ‘Like A Prayer‘. Those at the very front of the queue earlier in the day, however, had apparently heard Madonna and the band rehearsing ‘Like A Prayer’ before the fans had been allowed entry to the store, so perhaps the decision to swap ‘oldies but goodies’ had taken place earlier. Who knows. Life is a mystery…
The set was concluded with a great live performance of recent smash hit ‘‘, dedicated to the fans who had supported her over the past 20 years and like that she was gone, leaving a store full of dazed and happy fans who couldn’t quite believe they had actually seen mega-superstar Madonna performing in the London record shop they usually bought their Madonna releases from! Who’d ever though that would happen? And free! That hadn’t happened with Madonna much up to that point either!
The fans that weren’t busy frantically ripping bits of promotional display from any wall, shelf or ceiling that held them, spilled out into the bright sunshine quite certain they had witnessed something very special and were met with a sea of curious onlookers who had been locked outside the store and a barrage of excited TV news crews.
Thanks to B for the excellent photos.