Beyonce tour: So what's the show like?

By Kitty Empire

So what's the show like? Kitty Empire caught Beyonce live in London.

Stardom is rife with analogies that hark back to primeval pursuits. Paparazzi are huntsmen shooting their quarry.

Objects touched by the star are venerated - even a sweaty towel, such as the one with which Beyonce is wiping herself, eliciting greedy screams from the front rows. From metres away you can tell it is very fluffy.

The jury is out on its healing properties - although, as a masterful, stop-start version of Get Me Bodied, from Beyonce's B'Day album (2006), points out tonight, "a little sweat ain't ever hurt nobody".

Nothing in arena pop quite prepares you, however, for the sight of Mrs Beyonce Knowles-Carter in a sparkly purple catsuit, big hair streaming, being whizzed over the surface of the crowd, perched on what is basically an enormous fish hook. It is as though some invisible giant were fly-fishing, casting, with the R&B singer as the bait.

All celebrities dangle themselves, in one form or another, before their public; Knowles just makes the lure uncommonly plain as she travels to the little stage at the rear of the arena between 1+1 and Irreplaceable, over hundreds of open mouths, looking juicy.

This is the third night of her six-night run at London's 20,000-capacity O2 arena, in which the biggest R&B star in the world basically tries on lots of different costumes (and stars in lots of arty short films as she changes those costumes), doing the familiar superstar two-step, between communion and mystery, familiarity and distance, with some tunes thrown in.

But it's how she does that two-step that matters. The art direction on the Mrs Carter Show is nothing short of breathtaking, making awesome, repeated use of silhouette, of great white blocks of video screens, of live dancers interacting with video.

The common-or-garden arena The art direction on the Mrs Carter Show is nothing short of breathtaking...pyrotechnics are all accounted for within the first five minutes - strobes, flames, dry ice, sparks - putting the accent back, somehow, on the light-art, the energy of the performances provided by the all-female band, and the mostly female corps de street dance. Somehow, Beyonce even makes the cliche of glitter cannons new again, by dint of sheer volume and golden shininess.

The recurring theme is regal, Dangerous Liaisons gone bling. The opening sequences suggest a fashion show more than a gig.

These multiple entrances are all about beholding the splendour that is Beyonce, who has infamously banned photographers from her shows and issued pre-approved shots. This "taking control of her brand", she has said, is "for" her daughter, Blue Ivy; it's a control that basically amounts to making sure a very pretty woman always looks pretty, except, perhaps, in the millions of amateur shots now slowing down the internet, in which she occasionally looks like she is concentrating hard.

All this beholding is intercut with occasional rapprochements. On Flaws and All, Beyonce sings about her imperfections, of "being a bitch in the afternoon". She points out the slight give of her unflexed triceps as though it were a bingo wing, as though there was an inch of her athletic frame that was not curated in some way. Then there's the bit on Irreplaceable where she points the microphone at various fans to sing "to the left", an act of which Princess Eugenie was incapable the previous night, but a little girl manages just fine tonight. But for all the hauteur here, Beyonce delivers genuine warmth at close range.

Why Don't You Love Me - fast, funny, delivered almost pugilistically by Be and her male dancers - Les Twins - banishes a mid-set wallow, setting up the most powerful hit: Destiny's Child's Survivor, and Crazy in Love, the song that sent Beyonce stratospheric.

Inserted into this sequence is Grown Woman, the new song, which mostly consists of great beats. The song's set design, of kitsch African backdrops meets The Flintstones in neon, is a bit early MIA, a bit Solange (her younger sister) and all good.

It is a mark of how complicated the relationship between music, performance and commerce is nowadays that up until now, Grown Woman has soundtracked an ad for Pepsi (and another new track, Standing on the Sun, an ad for H&M) raising the question of what exactly is being advertised, and by whom: a song? A drink? A singer? Or a very clever synergy of all three?

Although giraffes and zebras dominate the song's styling, there is a gorilla in the room, too: her missing fifth studio album, supposedly due around now (hence this world tour).

Although the internet has every producer under the sun allegedly working on it, and no less an authority than Gwyneth Paltrow says it's coming soon, the missing Be record shows one of two things: that it isn't ready, for whatever, possibly sinister, reason. Or that the traditional album-tour cycle may be coming to a close, as music becomes of less value than face-time in an enormodrome, and tours pinned to releases become vestiges of some pre-modern era.

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- TimeOut / Observer

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