Maybe it was the way the thing was put together: Alternating straight-ahead DJ sets by electro-house duo Do N' Dudes with tiny, two-song sets by six different Portland bands was ostensibly a democratic idea. But the DJs sometimes attracted more heat to the dance floor than the live bands in the adjoining room.

The crowds were assembled to invoke Madge's spirit and burn up her multi-platinum songbook. Maybe I was expecting some ironic '80s-era headbands or more cone-shaped bras in the mix (thank you to the goateed guy in homemade cardboard Gaultier), but the whole thing was underpowered and mildly disappointing.

There were two exceptions: Sexton Blake's two-man band, done up in geek-chic drag, pumped out big volume on a seriously rock "Borderline," and monster-mouthed Haley Weiner led Gay Deceivers (and guests) in a hyper-vogued, shirts-'n'-skins amateur dance-off to "Into the Groove." The Deceivers, by the way, were the only band to offer a hint of Madonna's meta-theatrical sexuality, and they did it with a big heart and cute T-shirts to boot.

The rest of the night was suspicious, if intermittently intriguing. A trio of girls called the World Court (featuring sometime WW contributor Claire L. Evans) held lit tea-lights in their hands while harmonizing brutally on "Ray of Light." And the Online Romance offered a wistful, guitar-flecked "La Isla Bonita," though it was strange to hear the song twice in one night (the Deceivers had camped up the same tune only an hour earlier).

The nightmare-inducing performance of the night, however, belonged to Old Lady Brigade—featuring Mirah, Tara Jane O'Neil, and Hooliganship at the keys. A clatch of bra-and-panties-sporting girls enacted vaguely sexual pseudo-choreography while a sort of lead singer sighed the lyrics to "Erotica." Then the group exploded into a gyrating, overblown "Express Yourself," in which the entire band was upstaged by one demon-possessed gentleman.

Writhing like some septuagenarian Sissyboy whose false-tit stuffings and junk constantly threatened to jump out of his bizarre costume as he flailed onstage, the old dude was yanked around on a leash by a petite Asian dancer and, at one point, got so excited he toppled off his chair. Madonna, you were so right: Life is a mystery.

Photo: Two of many Madonnas vogueing it up at Holocene, taken by Brian Lee.