BB&T Center, Sunrise
You could divide Beyoncé's performance at the BB&T Center into two parts: the beginning of the night, when everyone was getting up to pee, and the end of the night, when everyone looked like they had to pee but were not running to the bathroom.
The evening started out with endless promos for everything Bey is slinging -- Goodwill donations, girl power with Hillary Clinton, Pepsi, her very own perfume, H&M... Did we miss anything? Probably. The diva is keeping busy putting her mug on everything short of a Beyoncé-inspired Depends line.
The fans never swayed in their devotion, but the first half of her actual performance played out like a Lifetime holiday movie, slow and sappy. But by about halfway through, it was clear the audience was going home hoarse and happy.
Instead of running you through the night, a show you might have already seen, here is a biting breakdown of her Mrs. Carter World Tour show, Wiki style.
The problem with going to see someone at this point in her career -- beyond a novice, but not quite a classic -- is this: The set list relies a little too heavily on stuff no one but the singer gives a crap about.
Last night, there were too many tunes off of Beyoncé's last album, 4. It was top-heavy, with the saddest, slowest tunes weighing down the early part of the set. There was enough snooze appeal that it inspired us to sample the entire food court menu.
But Beyoncé knew when to throw down her cards without losing the game. She waited till about a third of the way in with "I Care" to demonstrate her vocal chops. It was quite a display of panty-dropping chord rocking. But then again, Bey is an experienced lip-syncer, so you start to wonder. It seemed she was singing the bulk of her songs live, but "Love on Top" really sounded prerecorded.
As things went from "OK, cool, Beyoncé" to "Right on, Bey!," she floated out to the other side of the arena to a remote stage. She looked fabulous in a flattering, sparkling blue dress, but it was a slow float rather than a miraculous movement into the crowd.
She then sang "Irreplaceable" to the audience. You'd think, with the title, that it'd be a sweet thing to croon with your fans, but really the song is about your being very replaceable. That made it appear like she was insulting the crowd. They didn't notice. They were too busy screeching "to the left" into Bey's mic.
These huge arena shows, with about ten costume changes, require interludes. So stars create cheesy videos to screen in between every third song. Usually, there's like a narrative -- Britney Spears had a whole femme fatale video series where she was a spy or something totally believable like that. But Beyoncé, oddly, had no story to tell. It did seem, though -- and we're just going to put this out there -- that the entire night was devoted to her sonic influences.
Remember seeing Madonna perform "Vogue" in 1990 at the VMAs? Beyoncé bit heavily off of the same Marie Antoinette, pre-French Revolution garb and bravado, adding in more than suggestive booty dancers. In a video intro set in the period, the singer is wearing an elaborate gown with white face. She says the words: "seduction, mysterious, exclusive," announcing, "Tonight, I choose you" before heading into "Naughty Girl." Very Madge. There was a whole Tina Turner to a T part during "Why Don't You Love Me." She did it straight, from the dress, the "Proud Mary" moves, the call and response of Ike and Tina. You could also hear moments of Michael Jackson, like the all-lady band singing "Off the Wall" at the end of the night.
Most impressively, Beyoncé sang the Dolly Parton-penned and Whitney Houston popularized "I Will Always Love You," leading into "Halo." "Scream so loud, Whitney can hear me," Bey yelled into the mic. Everyone with a beating heart got choked up. She's not quite at the level of these other songstresses (MJ included), but she's on her way.
There was also something very Paul Simon about the whole thing, with beats that really were influenced by Graceland (or maybe just Africa). It's more fun to think about Bey as a Paul Simon fan than anything else.
Surprisingly, there were more gays than at a Gaga show at the BB&T Center last night. And not just all the big crews of young queer dudes either but plenty of ladies waving hands in the air with their girlfriends. The environment was definitely loving and open. There were also plenty of couples, families, and ladies with clingy bejeweled outfits.
Beyoncé definitely let the crowd croak into her mic, but at one point during "Crazy in Love," a dude in the front row upstaged Beyoncé with his vocal prowess. She quickly pulled back the mic to her own mouth. No one, not even a ticket-paying customer, can touch her butt or outsing her.
The dancers were good, but their moves were what was impressive. There was a lot of tension in the choreography. They seemed to be playing with the visual volume with their bodies. Their movements went from fast forward to slow motion in a moment, and back.
The night mixed her shameless self-promotion, immense talent, and incredibly aggressive and perhaps not well-enough-checked vision. The final video of the night was like a trailer to her HBO special, Life Is But a Dream, and she said clearly "I do whatever I want" during "Grown Woman." And that's right. Beyoncé's creating her own dream life, doing it her way, and the fans are coming with her whether they like her new music or not.