DALLAS “I want to thank you for fighting for me, for riding with me,” said Beyonce, just before Flaws and All, her third song Saturday night. “I have the greatest fans.”
The sold-out audience — as it did with little prodding throughout her two-hour set — screamed with all of the passion it could muster.
Wait a second — “fighting” for Beyonce?
Does the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning pop superstar really need her fans to go to bat for her?
The answer, of course, is no, but the very question helped maintain the precisely crafted illusion of intimacy Beyonce sustained throughout her first “Mrs. Carter Show” world tour stop in Dallas (the second North Texas show is set for December).
At 31, Beyonce is one of a handful of people who can bend the zeitgeist to her will, and hasn’t faced too many doubters in the last decade.
Yet, through her songs and her staging, Beyonce strives to be both untouchable pop diva and relatable woman from ‘round the way, feeling and thinking and expressing herself just like you do. She’s the high-profile wife of rap mogul Jay-Z, capable of renting out an entire floor of a hospital to have her first child, but she’s also with the fans chugging $14 beers, standing in general admission and dancing like no one’s watching.
Beyonce isn’t the first pop star to try and have it both ways, and in the early going of the “Mrs. Carter Show,” she uses every trick in the arena show arsenal to knock the audience off its feet. Employing a dozen back-up dancers, and almost as many backing musicians, all of whom are female, Beyonce piles on the flash: high-def LED video screens stretching the length of the stage; pillars of fire; thick smoke cut with restless laser beams and curtains of sparks.
And admittedly, in a moment where every top-tier pop star’s arena show seems built to out-do everyone else’s on the circuit, Beyonce’s set-up actually was impressive — a real technical marvel — if only because it took familiar ingredients and found a way to make them feel fresh.
During the reggae-tinged Baby Boy, the video screens seemed to reflect the women dancing in front of them. Later, during Naughty Girl, a thin strip of the stage was set ablaze, goosing the seductive song with literal heat.
Through it all, Beyonce (who sang live) was a spectacle unto herself, tearing into one athletic piece of choreography after another (and undergoing no less than a half-dozen costume changes).
Yet, in the early going, the eye was more dazzled than the ear. A dull sameness settled over the first dozen songs or so, occasionally spiked with a hit, such as the show opening Run the World (Girls), but more often relying on deeper cuts like I Care and Freakum Dress. It’s an intriguing choice, as it backloaded the set, but those in attendance hardly seemed to care.
The evening really sprang to life when, clad in a sparkly blue bodysuit leaving nothing to the imagination, Beyonce sat atop a grand piano to sing her ballad 1+1.
There, with just piano and horn accompaniment, the Houston-born superstar truly shone, letting her husky soprano rise to the arena’s rafters. Even with several thousand people watching, phones outstretched and recording every moment, the American Airlines Center suddenly felt very close, and very intimate.
Then, as the song crescendoed, Beyonce stepped into a flying rig, and was lifted over the audience onto a smaller, second stage near the back of the main floor.
Just like that, it was back to high-octane razzle dazzle, the humanity overwhelmed by the hugeness required of pop stars who fill up large rooms.
Perhaps the fight Beyonce was describing isn’t external — maybe it’s a war within herself. The tension between revealing everything and giving away nothing is a fascinating one, so long as the audience gets to reap the rewards. It doesn’t seem like Beyonce has yet reconciled just how far she’s willing to go.
But once she does, her music and her concerts have the potential to be absolutely thrilling.