I have no idea the current state of the Carter marriage; up until a few months ago, if there was a lot of speculation about their relationship I was unaware of it or didn’t give it much thought. Even after the TMZ footage was leaked and the quiet hum of the rumor mill became louder, my main concern was how it would impact their tour, which I already had tickets to. Perhaps this tour was some sort of therapy for them – a way to work out their issues on a very public stage. If that is the case, I’m just glad I got to be a witness to it. That’s the most fun that I’ve had a show in a while; Jay Z and Beyoncé did not disappoint with a nearly three hour show that incorporated over 40 songs. Whatever is going on with them personally, professionally they are firing on all cylinders.
I was extremely excited for this show, not because all the hoopla surrounding them, but because I’ve wanting to see Beyoncé for quite some time. I suspected that she would put on a pretty spectacular show and I was very bummed that multiple promises to catch her on her solo tours never came to fruition. In the long run, this was actually the best possible scenario, since seeing her with Jay Z was really the best of both worlds; though I was most excited to see Beyoncé perform, I am actually way more familiar with Jay Z’s body of work. I’d consider myself a bigger fan of Hova than Queen B – while I can rap right along with him on most of his catalog, I honestly don’t know as many Beyoncé songs as you would think. So while I was counting on her to bring the show-stopping dancing and killer vocals, it was nice to know that I would be able to fall into my comfort zone when Jay Z was on stage. This was going to be my third time seeing him perform, so I knew about what to expect from him. Besides, I’m paying to hear her sing the songs, not me, so my questionable knowledge of her lyrics wasn’t that big of a game changer. I was glad to finally be able to cross her off my list; it’s not many artists that I set my sights on that take this long for me to see when they are actively touring. Mrs. Carter has proven to be an elusive target.
The show was at Citizens Bank Park – home of the Phillies – in Philadelphia, which meant I was making a weekend out of the show. For convenience sake, I decided to book myself in the only hotel that was within easy walking distance of the venue; I really didn’t want to be stuck in traffic getting in to or out of the show – nothing dampers the experience of a great show more than sitting in your car for 45 minutes trying to leave an event. The hotel, for their part, recognized that they had a monopoly on this convenience and of course raised their prices for the night of the show; however, when I looked out my room window and saw this, I knew that it was money well spent:
I was so close that I got to listen to the sound check for the show from the comfort of my room, which isn’t too shabby. I did wonder what the non-concert going guests were going to think of all the noise later that evening, but hopefully they just rolled with it. Otherwise they had a long night ahead of them.
Because this was a show for me in a new venue in a new city, I got there on the early side. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get situated, but I got through security remarkably quickly and found my seat location easily. I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with Citizens Bank Park as I had been there just last year for a baseball game, so I was able to navigate pretty easily. I even had some people stop me to ask where the elevators were, so I guess I looked like someone who knew where they were going.
I wasn’t too disappointed to have some time to kill because it presents a great opportunity for some people watching. I wasn’t sure what sort of crowd that Beyoncé and Jay Z would draw; from what I observed it was predominantly a female crowd that was racially pretty diverse and that looked to be primarily in their mid to late twenties. People were treating the show like a night at the club, so there were all sorts of interesting and “unique” ensembles that people put together. I can’t necessarily blame people from trying to wear as little as possible, since it was a pretty warm evening. It wasn’t as steamy as the last time I saw Jay Z, but it was hot enough that I was slightly uncomfortable. I’ve got to stop doing this stuff in July.
The show time was listed on the ticket as 8 pm, but I knew that there was no way that they were coming out until closer to 9; a show like this doesn’t start until it is dark out. It made me chuckle that I overheard people complaining that the show hadn’t started by 8:15. These are people that obviously don’t go to a lot of shows. While I was waiting, I contemplated what this meant:
I never came up with a good answer, except that perhaps we were now all somehow part of the Matrix. I didn’t remember taking any red pills, but they could have hidden pretty much anything in the cannoli pancakes that I had inhaled consumed earlier that morning. If this wasn’t real life, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know that.
The crowd briefly went wild when a video came up on the giant monitors, believing that this was signaling the beginning of the show. It wound up just being a commercial for Beyoncé’s perfume, but it got people into their seats, which was probably the purpose. The arena once again when bananas when some heavily guarded people walked into the arena; from my vantage point I couldn’t really tell who it was – it was hard to distinguish who were the celebrities and who were the entourage – but it looked to be a kid (Jaden Smith was the best guess we could come up with). Thanks to Twitter, we found out that it was comedian Kevin Hart. I sincerely hope that they moved him to a better spot later in the night, since he was all the way in the back of the floor section and I’m skeptical that he could see much of anything. He and I are about the same height and I know how difficult is to see from that location. I forgot to look again later in the night to see if he was still there. Based on how completely bananas the place went when Hart walked in, I wasn’t sure that Citizens Bank Park was structurally prepared for the moment that Jay Z and Beyoncé stepped out on stage.
They did so just before 9pm (told you) and kicked the show off with 03 Bonnie and Clyde, a fitting starting point for a show that imagined the reigning king and queen of hip-hop and pop as modern day gangsters. This was also the song that got tongues wagging about the two being romantically involved, so this really was their origin story. The pair came out both decked out in black, with Beyoncé wearing a fishnet mask for some reason.
The duo stayed on stage together for a few songs, but then mostly took turns being the center of attention. There were also momentary diversions throughout the show – presumably to give the pair a chance to change costumes – that featured short film vignettes of the two, mostly continuing with the “On the Run” theme of the night. I didn’t mind the little breaks, if for no other reason that it gave an old lady like me the chance to sit down every once in a while – because Lord knows that you are not going to be seated when Beyoncé or Jay Z are on stage.
While the duo didn’t share an extraordinary amount of stage time, they did pop up in the background occasionally while the other was performing. Beyoncé, it should be noted, seemed to know all the words to her husband’s songs and often could be seen mouthing right along with him. The song selection often made it feel like the two performers were having a conversation with each other; toward the end of the night they alternated with songs that dealt with betrayal and forgiveness and given all the speculation surrounding their marital union it was hard to not read into that (which is of course what they want you be doing). Perhaps my favorite moment of the night that they shared was when Beyoncé stepped in to sing the Justin Timberlake portion of “Holy Grail.” No disrespect to Mr. Timberlake, but he should be removed from that song and Beyoncé should take over permanently. That song is far more powerful when it is a woman singing it while looking directly into the eyes of her husband, which is what happened Saturday night. The words took on wholly different meanings and emotions in this scenario and the result was magic. JT can keep “Suit and Tie,” but “Holy Grail” is now the property of Queen B. The fact that this song was done right after she performed “Why Don’t You Love Me” only raised the stakes.
While my favorite moments of the show were when the couple were together, their separate performances were nothing to complain about. Being able to see Beyoncé work it in person was spectacular; that woman can DANCE. About halfway through the show, I resolved that I need to start hitting the gym more often because she was such a freaking inspiration. She did some pretty impressive acrobatics on a chair that made me question of the laws of gravity apply to her. She also sounded fantastic, especially on some of the slower songs when she was still and could really belt them out. Her cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” was a highlight, as was “Resentment” – the latter song has been generating a lot of buzz due to her changed lyrics. There isn’t a lot of subtly, since Beyoncé is wearing a wedding veil while performing it. It was amazing, but a little uncomfortable. I wanted to pull her aside and say “you know he can hear you, right?” Not being as familiar with her lyrics, it was a little surprised at how many of her songs deal with darker emotions than I thought – and how on the nose a lot of them are given the recent rumors. This stuff isn’t “Bootylicious,” that’s for sure.
But it wasn’t all sadness and despair over relationships; there were plenty of moments when Beyoncé was the embodiment of female empowerment. Strung together, the songs “Run the World (Girls)” and “Flawless” are kind of anthems and sent a powerful message to the girls in the audience. And really, there is no level of happiness that can encapsulate how I felt seeing Beyoncé live and in person doing the oft imitated, but never duplicated “Single Ladies” dance. It was also clear that Beyoncé was having a lot of fun – the smile on her face during “Love on Top” was infectious.
Jay Z was as solid as I’ve come to expect him to be as he took the audience through his catalog of hits, which also serve as a stroll down memory lane for my adulthood. Since “Show Me What You Got” served as my unofficial theme song for a number of years, I’m always especially thrilled to hear that song and hearing the open chords of “99 Problems” and Dirt Off Your Shoulder” never gets old. I’ve even secretly grown to like “Tom Ford,” a song that I wasn’t too impressed with when it first was released. I don’t think that I’ve ever heard Jay Z perform “Song Cry” before and situated where it was in the setlist, it provided a perfect counterpoint to some of his wife’s song selections.
When I glanced at the clock, I was shocked to see that almost three hours had passed. The duo ended the show together, with a mashup of their individual hits “Young Forever” and “Halo.” During the finale, home videos of the couple and their daughter Blue Ivy (so cute!) played on the screen and the pair turned to watch them as well as they sang. I’m not going to lie – it was kind of a beautiful moment and I was surprised that it affected me. After the home footage montage ended – with them writing “The Carters” in the sand on the beach, the film faded to black with the words “This is real life” – seemingly an answer to my earlier pondering. There was no encore – just a final glimpse of the couple walking of stage, Jay Z’s arm wrapped around Beyoncé.
I had a tremendous time and it was worth every penny that I spent to see the two of them perform together. I’m still processing whether the show will crack my top five of all time, but it is definitely in the conversation. Even without all the drama, all the costume changes, and the slightly overproduced nature of the show, at its heart this concert was about two very talented people who know how to perform. It was certainly a night that I won’t forget any time soon.
The On the Run tour runs through September.