Since 2007, Beyoncé has had two hit albums, married rap mogul Jay Z, become a mother and performed at the Super Bowl as well as for President Barack Obama. What she hasn’t done since 2007 is play Charlotte (although she brought her “I Am” tour to Greensboro in 2009). No wonder thousands crowded into Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday to witness her spectacular return.
She noted early in the show between “Flaws and All” and “If I Was a Boy” that she noticed the line around the building as she was driving in. What may be the biggest crowd I’ve seen waiting outside the arena (aside from the DNC) shuffled in during opening act, Luke James. James proved a strong, hunky vocalist with impressive range. Female fans outnumbered the guys and were stylishly dressed. Black-and-white stripes were the print of choice.
Beyoncé hit the stage with “Run the World (Girls),” following a Marie Antoinette-style clip. Her look for the “Mrs. Carter” promos resemble Madonna’s 1990 MTV Video Music Awards performance of “Vogue” a lot. The pre-taped dissertation on seduction that introduced the peepshow-themed “Naughty Girl” also recalled Madonna’s live shows, although Beyoncé’s lace, long-sleeve unitard offered more coverage than most of Madge’s old stage clothes.
There were 10 costume changes, ranging from fluid “Charlie’s Angels”-style gowns for “Freakum Dress” to a black-sequined number for “Get Me Bodied,” “Baby Boy” and “Diva” that was like something Eartha Kitt as Catwoman would wear by the pool in the Hamptons.
I’m not exaggerating when I say her return was spectacular. Could Beyoncé create anything but a spectacle? Could she even put on a bad show? Maybe not. Backed by a female 11-piece band, she goes move-for-move with her 10 dancers while never faltering in the vocal department – and without repeating previous tours.
If you’ve seen her before, “The Mrs. Carter Tour” is a completely new show. Yes, she does her signature “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” dances, but the production was fresh, and many of the songs were ones crowds didn’t hear in 2007 and 2009.
In addition to “Freakum Dress,” she added several tracks from 2011’s “4” including “Party,” “1+1,” “I Care,” “I Miss You” and the loads-of-fun Diana Ross-style “Love on Top.” It, “Irreplaceable” (which doesn’t feature her female band as prominently now) and “Survivor” showcased Beyoncé and her dancers (including limber French identical twin brothers Larry and Laurent Bourgeois) performing on a circular catwalk opposite the main stage, where a lucky group of fans got front-row seats for a few songs. Beyoncé sailed there on a wire like a superhero but didn’t try to duplicate the aerial stunt-work that Pink treated crowds to in the same arena this spring.
She’s retired 2007’s Destiny’s Child medley for the lone “Survivor,” during which her eight female dancers posed as backup singers all dressed in sparkling jumpsuits at the center of the floor like the ending scene from “Xanadu” (sans roller skates). Much of “I Am … Sasha Fierce” has been exchanged for new tracks like the jungle-themed “Grown Woman.”
She ended the set on an emotional note, weaving “I Will Always Love You” into her anthem, “Halo.” My mother teared up at the first lines of the Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston song, although the inspiring video that preceded it tugged at heartstrings as well.
Through example, Beyoncé seemed to be urging her fans to work hard and follow through on whatever they might want to achieve. Earlier, she mentioned seeing the young girls standing in line outside as she drove by and thinking about when she was that young girl going to see Janet Jackson and Anita Baker. The comment brought her story full circle, as the crowd sang along with “Halo.”
As usual, there were messages of female empowerment in the music and the videos that ran between sets. My only complaint was the house music that followed a clip for Gucci’s Chimes for Change nonprofit, which promotes education, protection, and justice for girls and women around the world.
The pro-woman clip, which ran before Beyoncé’s set, was followed by Kendrick Lamar chanting “B----, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” The lyrics aren’t that misogynistic, but its placement after an inspiring video about folks like Malala Yousafzai was way off.
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