MONTREAL - Celine Dion kicked off the Canadian leg of her "Taking Chances" world tour Friday night with the classic "I Drove All Night" and never left the driver's seat during the two-hour long show.

Hardcore Dionistas - 22,426 strong - packed Montreal's downtown Bell Centre and gave the singer her first thunderous standing ovation of the night before she even opened her mouth. The crowd went wild the moment she appeared on stage.

But despite the tour's title, the concert played it pretty safe.

The staples were there, including "Power of Love", and "My Heart Will Go On," which she did in two versions -- a remix and the one from the soundtrack of the movie "Titanic" that sent audiences lunging for their handkerchiefs.

Dion's stock moves were also on ready display - the fist jabs in the air, the sweep of the arms which makes her look as though she's going to take flight, and the cantering across the stage.

However, the trademark chest-thumping move dubbed "the defibrillator" by comedians and critics wasn't as prominent.

The "Taking Chances World Tour" marks Dion's return to the road after a five-year gig in Las Vegas and Celineophiles were tingling with excitement as they lined up to get into the Bell Centre.

"I've been ready since I bought the tickets last autumn," said Lucette Pelletier of Montreal. "Celine is a great talent."

Pelletier said she admires the hard work that took Dion to megastardom, saying she holds a lot of family values and good judgment that are beloved by Quebecers.

"She talks about Quebec wherever she goes. She is the best ambassador that we have," she said.

Marie-Claudelle Leduc of Huntingdon, Que., said she knows all of the songs on Dion's new "Taking Chances" album by heart and had shivers at the prospect of seeing her live.

"I've known about her since I was small," Leduc said. "My mother listened to her, my grandmother. She's part of Quebec's culture, a legend."

Helene Langlais-Fortin has followed Dion since 1981, when she saw her sing in Quebec City when Dion was 13.

"I am an unconditional fan of Celine since the start," said Langlais-Fortin who plans to see Dion in Quebec City next week and will attend the "Taking Chances" show twice more.

Dion's mother was also front and centre in the audience as was former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

The show, which launched on Valentine's Day, has already played Dubai, Europe, Australia, South Africa and Boston - something that was noted in a video as Dion prepared to take the stage.

However, in the first tear-jerking moment of the evening - 15 minutes in - Dion allowed that Quebec was the place she most longed to be.

"There have been a lot of emotions since the start of this tour but the image I saw most in my head was this night when I came back to this town," she said, promising the 30-song show would "make up for lost time."

Although some people call Dion goofy and schmaltzy and mock her earnestness, there was no doubt that she intended to leave her fans Friday with smiles on their face.

There were only scant moments when she wasn't on the square stage, usually belting out a song with car alarm-triggering intensity in the high energy show.

She sprinkled in some ballads, including "My Love," which brought an extended ovation and another brimming of the tear ducts.

Dion had the crowd in the palm of her hand to the point that when she swaggered over to a corner of the stage during various songs, the crowd in that section rose as one as though on command and reached out.

The concert has several sections, with one focusing on rock and another dubbed passion, where Dion appears amid flamenco dancers sporting a flowing cape that would have Batman envious.

A segment dubbed "fashionista" almost looked Madonna-esque with an outbreak of voguing by Dion's dancers. But that's where the raciness stopped for the songbird of Charlemagne, Que.

There were few false notes in the show, which often had the audience up and dancing in the aisles.

Her interpretation of "Alone" didn't live up to the original and the song still belongs to Ann Wilson of Heart. "It's A Man's World" also seemed a little overdone.

After two encores, Dion had one final treat for fans, who she had readily touched hands with during the show as she worked the stage.

She shunned the disappearing act usually done by big acts and chose instead to leave the stage by walking through the audience and greeting fans - albeit with two mountainous bodyguards close by.

Dion has several shows on her Montreal bill and will appear in a free concert next week on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City to mark the provincial capital's 400th birthday.

The show's next Canadian stop will be in Toronto on Aug. 27.