Jay-Z and Beyonce played to each other as much as they did to the audience on Tuesday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The heralded On the Run II tour was back after an extended break for #Beyday, Beyonce's birthday on Sept. 4, and the place was jumping. Literally. The floor vibrated as exuberant fans jumped up and down, most notably for "[N-word] in Paris," Jay's song with Kanye West, and the show-ending "Ape[expletive]."
The setlist made it so that the married couple could play out its relationship in real time. Of course, when the wife drops a diss album (Lemonade) and the husband responds with a mea culpa (4:44), the only logical conclusion is to do a joint makeup album (Everything is Love) and take that show on the road.
So, there they were: "The Gangster and The Queen." To screams and cheers, they appeared in matching white, holding hands, and performed a two-and-a-half-hour mashup concert. This is a show for any couple that feels as if it's them against the world. From the crowd's reaction, that's every person that ever was.
Here are a few takeaways.
- Jay-Z changed clothes more. Perhaps because it was easier --his was all jackets and hats and necklaces, hers was sparkles and fringe and thigh-high boots -- but it was noticeable. He changed three times before she changed into something more ... sparkly.
- Beyonce ran up the score. Though the first voice fans heard was hers, Jay-Z came out on fire with "Holy Grail." She was cool, mouthing the words along to his songs, but by "Drunk in Love," she saw his intensity and eclipsed it. Once the backup dancers showed up, it was a wrap. But the ebb and flow were mindfully orchestrated: It allowed him to climb to the heartbreak of "Soul Cry," to which he added a verse about their reconciliation.
- Visuals bridged the performance pieces. It was all for them. The audience Tuesday night didn't want or need a break. The short films of the two, who always seemed to be running, also included ones with family and a baptism. The films were filled with subtext but added unnecessary length to the show. But we did get to see daughter Blue Ivy, which is always a good thing.
- Hold up. (See what I did there?) That is, except for the video that played alongside Jay-Z's performance of "The Story of O.J." deep into the 2.5-hour show. It subdued the crowd with its in-your-face racial commentary. Things, suddenly, got very real.
- Well, they showed us. Perhaps. One of the keys to the success of Beyonce is that she performs as if she still has something to prove. That's in contrast to Jay-Z, who is reaping his reward for a career well-played. Especially when the fans rap for him. As he put it after the notes of "[N-word] in Paris" died down, "That [expletive] was beautiful."
- Openers are important. Also beautiful were openers Chloe x Halle and DJ Khaled, who got the crowd moving and handed out one of the Carters' scholarships to an Arlington Boys & Girls Club member. And, surprise, Dallas rapper Yella Beezy can officially say he opened for Beyonce and Jay-Z. The crowd perked up when he started in on his hit, "That's On Me."
Curiously, there were only a few songs from Everything is Love, their most recent output: "Black Effect" and the closer. The presence of one was always felt, even when the other was on stage alone. And when they were together, sometimes you got a Beyonce deep cut such as "Ring the Alarm" sung over the beat from Jay-Z's "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)." Or a merger, such as "I Care" and "4:44" at the same time.
The show was filled with distractions beyond the main attractions. The dancers and the band sometimes inhabited a scaffolding-like, cubed structure and sometimes strutted the dual runways that were at times lit up like one at an airport. The front stage sometimes would be elevated and moved over the heads of the crowd in the pit. This was a spectacle, complete with real flames that could be felt in the seats.
But it was also a celebration of love the hard and famous way. The mashups of songs showed how hard it can be to merge two superstar songs, much less superstar lives.
From the opening words on the screen of "Love Is Universal" to the closing words of "Endless. Love," the Carters took fans along for the ride of their still-in-progress relationship.
Judging by fan response, though, if they ever break up, the fans are going with Beyonce and her heart-rending "Resentment."
Updated at noon, Sept. 12, 2018, to include other show elements.