The show behind the biggest scrum for tickets since Willy Wonka threw open his gates is finally about to start...
And that's the thing. As a thank you to longtime fans this is all a bit wonky - audience members aren't here tonight because of how much, or for how long, they've liked Madonna. They're here because they're the luckiest at getting through in competitions, or because they're the friendliest with Madge's people, or because they're the richest when it comes to the touts outside. (Which is why the biggest reception tonight goes to 'Holiday' - because it's the only song that reminds the oldsters in the audience of a time when they were still pop fans in their bedrooms.)
Likewise as a comeback to the British live scene, this five-song set doesn't break any endurance records. Indeed, while it was Madge's backing singers (who along with the live band are not introduced during the set) who played at London's G.A.Y. on Saturday night, Madonna's return to live performance in the UK bears even closer resemblance to the average G.A.Y. headliner: wheeling out half a dozen songs for a baying audience in the week of a single's release.
Thing is, to try and look beyond the hype tonight where Madonna's concerned is like buying a car and kicking the wheels off, while any criticisms can be pretty easily dismissed with the four words "yes, but it's Madonna". And for the five songs when she's on stage, the doubts evaporate: 'Impressive Instant' sees Madonna (it's really her!) appear from under a Union Jack in order to gyrate around on a car bonnet, 'Don't Tell Me' has Mirwais accompanying her on guitar, and 'Music' closes the show with Madge inviting her fans - and by this point everyone's remembered they are fans - to boogie woogie. Then it's over.
From those here in the audience tonight, feelings about the validity of the extravaganza are mixed. Yet, intriguingly, everyone who watches the webcast on MSN will claim the show an unequivocal triumph. Which if nothing else goes to reinforce Madonna's reputation as a thoroughly modern girl.
The single's out now by the way.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday