Beyoncé, O2 Arena, London – review

During the show your correspondent was kicked, punched and jostled. The assault was inadvertent: it was the woman next to me mirroring Beyoncé’s dance moves – staccato shakes of the shoulders, sideways body rolls, the “stanky leg”, aka a complex limb routine – all executed with a vigour that defied the confines of the O2 Arena’s seating arrangements. The twisting “marry me or else” hand moves from “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” were particularly hazardous to my safety.

But the bruises were worth it. Beyoncé’s show was a magnificent feat of energy; rarely have so many kilojoules been expended so spectacularly. As she put it in “Get Me Bodied”: “A little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody.” Pause, hair flip, big smile; then on, with perfect timing, to the next move.

The staging was as slick as you’d expect from someone with her resources. It was also highly imaginative, from Beyoncé’s teasingly drawn-out entrance – suddenly materialising at the front of the stage to perform a martial “Run the World (Girls)” – to the myriad of lights criss-crossing the arena in diamond shapes as she sang the assertively matrimonial chorus of “Single Ladies”: “If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it.”

Only one new song was debuted, “Grown Woman”, which jiggered by to an itchy Timbaland-produced beat and African imagery. Old material was neatly altered to keep it fresh, and the ballads were beefed up into meaty emotional melodrama: there were no lapses into the adult-contemporary mush that weighs down her albums.

The music, crisply mixed and very loud, was driven by many gigahertz of computer processing power; yet its source was recognisably human, the singer’s all-female backing band, on two giant podiums behind her. Beyoncé’s singing was amplified as an artful mix of real-time and pre-recorded vocals; her “live” voice was throaty and vibrant, as proved by an a cappella Whitney Houston tribute.

A regal theme recurred. Female dancers cavorted like ladies in waiting, albeit with fewer clothes. Two male identical twins performed kinetic street dance routines, an exotic curiosity in the all-women court of “Queen B”. Meanwhile Beyoncé wore her numerous leotards and bodysuits in the style of a superhero – legs apart, hands on hips, mane of hair stirred by wind machines.

Her “Mrs Carter Show” tour has attracted criticism for meekly adopting her husband Jay-Z’s surname. Beyoncé’s feminist credentials are indeed moot (“1+1” found her lying spread-eagled on a grand piano singing “Make love to me”) but there is a wider context. In the US, black marriages are twice as likely to fail as white ones. Is the powerful black woman the one who can stay a wife?

Beyoncé ended by offering an example of powerful wifeliness – she cut Jay-Z’s rap from her storming rendition of “Crazy in Love”. Evidently I wasn’t the only man left limping from her show.

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