Beyonce returns to stage in familiar form
BEYONCE gave birth to her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, on January 7, and is now between albums and tours. From a distance, her four-night run of shows, through Monday at Revel, on the Boardwalk, seemed to be functioning like an advertisement for the grand opening of a $2.4 billion casino, hotel and luxury shopping cosmos.
It was a little unclear what she was going to do for Friday night’s show, her first postnatal gig.
She didn’t hit the stage until 10, after the unannounced opening act, Luke James, a young R&B singer with a gym build and a pretty falsetto. The signals had been mixed in an official video made in the rehearsal period before her gigs. In it her choreographer, Frank Gatson Jr, tells the camera: “I think this show has the potential of being probably one of the greatest shows we’ve done.” Beyonce herself seems more realistic.
“I don’t want to have to disappear from the stage too many times,” she instructs her crew during a meeting.
So: a reduced, low-concept show, to break slowly into shape again? No. She’s moving at the same speed as before. The show lasted two hours and allowed a dip in the middle for ballads, but it otherwise ran rampant, functioning as an almost continuous high point through songs that were each events in themselves, among them Freakum Dress; Run the World (Girls); Resentment; Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It); Halo; Countdown; and 1(PLUS)1, which she sang while kneeling on top of a piano.
Beyonce first appeared in a silhouette, focusing on her middle section, which is back in action. In fact, she changed costumes five times. (The look was “modern showgirl,” as her designer Tamara Russo, put it to People magazine, with a lot of crystals, fringe and bare midriff.) There were maybe a half-dozen interstitial parts involving Super 8-like, grainy colour videos, or dancers moving in various styles to an abstracted bit of melody, or modest light shows. With her all-female band and 10 dancers, she performed with serious stamina and rigor; all that made it different from her stadium shows were a lack of stunts, pyro and staging tricks – which couldn’t be pulled off in the Revel’s 5,500-seat Ovation Hall and fewer costumes.
She had already written the script for this: in Run the World, from last year’s album, 4, she sang, We’re smart enough to make these millions/ strong enough to bear the children/ then get back to business. (Not surprisingly, these shows are titled “Back to Business.”) Beyonce can seem transparent, open, impromptu. She has a fastreacting face, and she opens her eyes wide to look astonished, touched or grateful. (She did this especially during Flaws and All, which she dedicated to her fans: I don’t know why you love me/And that’s why I love you.) Then she makes some of the most thorough and gold-plated declarations of self-worth ever rendered in pop. There’s nothing not to love about me, she sang (in Why Don’t You Love Me), without needing to make a joke out of it.
In passing, she demonstrates respect. “Harnessing the power of your body requires responsibility,” she philosophised in a voice-over for one of the in-between films, full of vague dominance-and-submission language and visuals; it was a lead-in to Naughty Girl, an older track that begins with a sample of Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby.
One tribute accomplished.
Another came later, before Halo, with a bit of I Will Always Love You, evoking Whitney Houston. Beyonce really hasn’t been away from audiences long, but long enough that she has to catch up with business like this.
Another home-video sequence with a voice-over arrived toward the concert’s end. “When I leave this world,” her voice intoned, “I’ll leave no regrets.” We saw hand-held footage of Beyonce biking and whale-watching.
“I will leave my mark, so everyone will know I was here.” For about a second, the film showed her holding Blue Ivy; the audience screamed, as if it had been told a secret.