Eventually Madonna was left with a core of young turks — King is 29, Pittman is 25, Price is 23 — who backed up her refusal to give the audience a Solid Gold hit parade. “She was completely like, ‘I just wanna f— everything up,’ ” Price says. “A very punk attitude.” In Europe, Price is known for his downtown techno act Les Rhythmes Digitales; he sees running away with the Madonna circus as a winky act of subversion. “I don’t really agree with the principle of musical director. It’s a bit old-school, a bit Whitney Houston,” he says. “If you’ve got a guy standing there pointing at band members telling them what to play, you come up with this kind of Broadway, session-musician sound, and to me that’s just boring.” (“To make a blanket statement that musical directors, per se, are old-school and boring lets me know that a person who says that is not that experienced,” Bearden says. “You can’t make that statement and call yourself a real musician.”)
Music may make the bourgeoisie and the rebel come together, but a truce between these Tories and revolutionaries was trickier to negotiate. “Madonna has a tendency to hire people with strong opinions,” says her stylist and fashion guru, Arianne Phillips. “She doesn’t work with people who are, for lack of a better word, wimps.” At one point, Haris told Mom that the band’s greenness was making her anxious. “I said, ‘I’m not feeling this band. I’m not trusting that they’re strong enough for the show that you want to do.’ But for the show she wanted to do, this is a fine band.” After all, it’s thick with electronic soundscapes, churning vortices of aural data created from sources both orga and mecha. “Right. Noises,” Haris says. “Noises and music are two different things. Eeeeewwwwwwoooooeeeeee — there’s a lot of that going on.” De Lory and Haris lobbied strenuously (and successfully) to climax the show with “Holiday,” the fizzy 1983 romp that launched Madonna’s march to world domination, but King says “that’s the one where I actually fall asleep, because it’s not new.”
Ironically, Madonna’s fetish for freshness drew her into traditional rock territory. She started guitar lessons with Pittman, a Texan who’d previously played with little-known bands like Myra Mains and Prong. (The six-string was a birthday gift from Madonna’s husband, Snatch director Guy Ritchie.) “I don’t see how she ever sleeps, because whatever she does, it seems like she spends a lot of time practicing,” Pittman says. Madonna crammed the rehearsal phase with other adult-ed opportunities — karate, yoga, flying lessons. During a stunt inspired by the treetop dazzle and girl-power rush of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, she floats through the ether on cables. “That’s why Madonna calls me the crazy one,” King says, “because she talks about flying and I say, ‘Okay, why don’t we have you fly?’ It’s an extremely intricate show, and nothing can be off. Because if there is a slight change, not only will it throw Madonna off, but it could cause accidents, and we don’t want that to happen.” It already has. Dancer Ruthy Inchaustegui rolled her ankle in London during a practice run-through of “Music,” and dancer Nito Larioza — the guy who plays the samurai bent on decapitating Madonna — broke his thumb during a martial-arts scene. Luckily every routine has an understudy, but in Larioza’s case, “it’s a big deal because he does so many things with Madonna,” King says. “And there’s one thing that you don’t want to do with Madonna: change up on her. She’s very — I’m sure you’ve heard this — she’s very particular.”
That night after the concert at Earls Court, members of the extended Ciccone family pile into Saint, an underground bar in London’s Covent Garden, to boogie down while a DJ spins the Sugarhill Gang at a sternum-cracking pitch. Even the injured samurai Nito Larioza is on the dance floor, and he’s sporting a two-toned bandage on his thumb — white toward the base, black on top. “They made it special that way for me,” he says. You doubt Madonna had a hand in THAT, of course, but the bandage does happen to mesh nicely with the colors of her geisha robe.