Beyoncé's former drummer may be right: The legendary singer just might be practicing “extreme witchcraft” because she certainly put a spell on the Rose Bowl Saturday night, bewitching the crowd just a little more than her husband, Jay-Z. The show was the first of two stops on Beyoncé and Jay-Z's OTR (On the Run) II tour, the sequel to their 2014 joint trek. Beyoncé’s first Los Angeles date since her epic “Bey-chella” performances at Coachella in April may have been slightly less memorable than those festival dates but the Rose Bowl show was still high-caliber and definitely gave fans their money’s worth.
The Carters pulled out all the stops, including nine costume changes, a bevy of female dancers and a seriously skilled live band. Perhaps both artists chose to forgo some of their biggest hits in favor of songs they sing together. Sure, “Upgrade U” and “Family Feud” are great songs, but some of the solo hits missing from the set list, like “Halo,” “Single Ladies” and “Empire State of Mind,” may be just a little better.
Some of the material also seemed familiar, at least to those who were at Coachella: Beyoncé revived some parts of that set for the tour, such as singing “Drunk in Love” on a riser above the crowd, or her beautiful operatic opening to “I Care,” featuring all her dancers lying on her. This was great for anyone not at Coachella but less so for those who were (which obviously would be a greater number at the L.A. show than in other cities).
Similarly, the duo has only so many songs that feature them both, so aside from some new tracks from their joint Everything Is Love album and a song from Jay-Z's latest, 4:44, many of their most famous duets were retreads from the first On the Run tour. The main difference, however, was unlike the first tour four years ago, this one is post-Lemonade and 4:44, two albums that found the Carters singing (and rapping) about Jay-Z's infidelity. And that subject was definitely addressed, from the beautifully shot video interludes playing while the Carters changed, to the choice of songs from “Sorry,” to the album cut “Resentment,” which Beyoncé dedicated to all the “queens” who have ever been cheated on.
The Carters truly told a story that showed no matter how rich and famous, they face the same struggles we all do. There may have been a video of Jay-Z literally missing the boat that Beyoncé was on, but by the end, they declared on the giant screen, “This is real love” as home videos of them with their families played.
Overall, Beyoncé delivered an electrifying performance that demonstrated how iconic a live performer she truly is, on par with all the greats — from the moves and charisma of Michael Jackson to the voice and soul of Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. Perhaps one of the highest points of the night was the one-two punch of “Formation” and “Run the World (Girls),” which also happened to feature one of Beyoncé's best costumes of the night, a sort of Formation 2.0 shiny, futuristic look. The pair of songs ended with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's speech about feminism, followed by the word “Feminist” powerfully displayed in huge letters across the giant screen.
Indeed, Beyoncé was so captivating that even when she wasn't the one onstage singing, the audience's eyes seemed to be plastered more on her than on Jay-Z. Jay-Z's performance was anything but lackluster — he most certainly is one of the most dynamic rappers around and he definitely gives his all onstage. But ultimately, he's just not the same caliber performer as his wife. Jay-Z's most compelling moments were when he used his art to make a statement: displaying (mostly black) famous mug shots during “99 Problems” or playing clips from his powerful music video to “The Story of O.J.,” which features a Censored Eleven–style cartoon of African-American stereotypes.
The production of the show was incredible: huge LED screens that featured great camerawork, two parallel catwalks complete with a stage that moved atop them and a multistory complex that housed the band high above the stage. Such effort is necessary when putting on a concert as visually stunning as this one at a stadium. However, some of the magic is still lost because of the sheer size of the venue. If you're on the floor, you may be closer to the artists but miss out on a full perspective of the show. If you're in the stands, you can get the full picture but are often watching the screens more than Beyoncé and Jay-Z themselves because no matter how low your seats are, the artists are still pretty small. Not to mention the madness of more than 90,000 Angelenos swarming to the same location at the same time: Everything from the traffic on the streets to traffic inside the stadium was chaotic. Jay-Z may brag on the Carters' latest hit, “Apeshit,” that “I said no to the Super Bowl…tell the NFL we in stadiums too,” but here's to hoping that next time they tour, either solo or together, that they go back to arenas.
The venue notwithstanding, judging by the posts on social media, it appears the City of Angels is still under Beyoncé's spell. The show was ultimately a celebration of love at a time when the world seems to be lacking in that department. Gathering 90,000 people together can sometimes end badly, but at the Carters' show, there was more dancing and dougie-ing than fighting. The love may be real between Beyoncé and Jay-Z, but the love for them and for each other was as well. Now, Los Angeles can say yes, Carters, we have seen a crowd going apeshit, thanks to your brilliance and your unique artistry.
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