December 3, 2013
Better than: The Super Bowl halftime show
Many different incarnations of Beyonce performed at the Staples Center last night. There was Beyonce the naughty girl, the “Run the World” dominatrix, Queen Bey, Sasha Fierce and, of course, Beyonce as Mrs. Carter.
But at the core of all this, there was Beyonce as entertainment machine, the engine running her nearly two hour spectacular of a concert.
The show began at 9:15 with a slick concept video portraying the singer as a powdered wig wearing Elizabethan queen. The audience (who had cheered wildly for Beyonce's Pepsi commercial when it was played before the show) was immediately on its feet and shrieking.
Beyonce — this year's most googled person on Earth, take that Mrs. West! — marched onstage wearing a short, white beaded jumpsuit and a lion's mane of blonde curls. She kicked off the night with her Diplo sampling pro-woman anthem “Run the World (Girls)” and then proceeded to tear through the hits “End of Time,” “If I Were a Boy,” “Get Me Bodied,” and more.
Perhaps the challenge of having so many huge songs (30 some Billboard hits) is that it's hard to pack them all into the show. Instead of leaving anything out, Beyonce opted to bulldoze through her catalog, performing truncated versions of many tracks and distilling some (“Countdown,” “I Was Here”) into intros for other songs. It was a quick paced show that at some points left one wanting full fledged versions.
Most everyone got swept up in the spectacle, from the eight-year-old girl in front of us who knew every word, to her mother who teared up a bit when Beyonce performed “1+1” while writhing on top of a grand piano, to the middle aged white dude singing along emphatically to “Irreplaceable,” to the older couple slow dancing on the floor, to the dad taking videos of his enraptured seven-year-old daughter.
With frequent costume and set changes, the show was natural like a Broadway musical is natural, with everything choreographed seemingly down to the minute and moments for audience interaction worked in. While Beyonce's voice sounded hoarse when she spoke to the crowd, her singing was impeccable and her dancing was tight.
A few times Beyonce got into the audience and at one point even jumped on a zipline that flew her, (in a cloud of glitter, natch), to a smaller stage. Here, she strutted around in a truly stunning, fits-like-a-glove sequined blue jumpsuit while performing songs including “Irreplaceable” “Love On Top” and the Destiny's Child classic “Survivor.”
The sound was massive, with her singing at some point getting drowned out by her band, an eight female outfit featuring three backup singers, The Mamas. There were also Beyonce's nine female dancers and “Les Twins,” the elastic-legged French twin brothers Laurent and Larry Bourgeois who, Beyonce noted, are the “only gentlemen” on the tour.
The videos that played during costume changes portrayed Beyonce as a fallen queen, a geisha lecturing about the power of female sensuality, and as “Beyonce Knowles as Mrs. Carter.” Such clips illustrated Beyonce's keenness to play with gender roles and the concept of female power. Sure, she'll strut around as a sequin nipple wearing coquette, a heartbroken housewife and the wife of rap royalty, but, unlike some other pop stars, she seems to have a precise awareness that these are all, in fact, roles.
There was a moment during the show, as she was giving serious bad bitch face to the camera, when she broke character and began smiling and laughing. For all the smoke and mirrors, sequins, dancing, costumes and fireworks, that moment might have been closest to who she actually is — charming.
The show closed with a cover of Whitney Houston's “I Will Always Love You” (which she dedicated to the actor Paul Walker) and then her own ballad “Halo,” which she performed alone onstage, with gusto.
Overheard in the crowd: “Were those sequins, or her actual nipples?”
Personal bias: Destiny's Child fan from way back.
Random notebook dump: “Props to all the women in the crowd wearing floor-length sequin gowns.”
Complete Setlist Below
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Run the World
End of Time
If I Were a Boy
Get Me Bodied
Why Don't You Love Me
Love On Top
Crazy In Love
I Was Here
I Will Always Love You
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