Beyoncé, DJ Khaled
September 22, 2016
When Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour thundered into NRG Stadium back in May, her new album Lemonade was only a couple of weeks old. Announced hot on the heels of her eyebrow-raising Super Bowl appearance, the pop diva was embarking on her biggest, most ambitious tour yet, booking stadiums for the first time as a solo act. A scant five months ago, her homecoming performance at NRG had the edge of an artist with something to prove — that she was big enough, serious enough, just plain good enough—to slay the largest stages in the world.
Consider that mission accomplished. The Formation Tour has been a stunning success on every level, musically, technically and financially. Thursday night’s return date on Kirby Drive was pure victory lap, an emphatic curtain call for Beyoncé’s family and friends in the city that loves her best.
There would be no major surprises during the show—hell, it was just here. None were needed. Anticipation still ran high amongst the throngs of women streaming into the stadium from all sides. There were plenty of men in attendance, too, but Beyoncé speaks to women (particularly young, black women) in a way that few other musicians ever have. The Big Game might be set to take over NRG in February, but to many of the fans dressed to kill way up there in the cheap seats ($77!) on Thursday, this was the Super Bowl.
Accordingly, Queen Bey showed up with her game face on. DJ Khaled (we the best) kept the single ladies dancing in the aisles as the cavernous venue gradually filled to the brim, even bringing out Bun B for a couple of numbers. Both men are stars, but even combined, they couldn’t touch the blinding wattage of the headliner.
It’s uncertain at this point that anyone can. When Beyoncé finally appeared, wearing a regal snarl for set opener “Formation,” she was raised up through the stage floor by a pneumatic lift. She may as well have been carried aloft by the screams from the sold-out crowd. Sitting in the 16th row, they were deafening. The only thing louder was the bowel-loosening bass that was such a physical presence that it threatened to take corporeal form during a ferocious opening suite of “Sorry,” “Kitty Kat,” and “Bow Down.” Outfitted in a purple latex bodysuit emblazoned with a black panther, the singer was projected 80 feet high on the eye-popping, revolving, LED monolith dominating the stage. The towering visage felt entirely appropriate. She has grown so iconic that Beyoncé’s image dwarfs even herself.
Once that impressively militant opening set concluded with “Run the World (Girls),” the singer’s attire and demeanor softened up considerably. Older chestnut “Baby Boy” inspired a loud singalong, with Beyoncé finally smiling as she belted it out in a lacy, rococo bodysuit — another in a string of costume changes highlighting her fabulous legs. When the song was over, her live band vamped as the star gushed about being back in her hometown, even shouting out her father, with whom she has not always seen eye-to-eye.
“This is my favorite place in the world to be, is home,” Beyoncé said. “You can’t take the Houston out of me. I rep it everywhere I go.”
That led into “Me, Myself and I,” the first ballad of the night. If sounded as if the whole city was singing with her as tens of thousands of voices cascaded down from the stadium’s rafters. It was a sweet, charming moment, and it was as disarming as she would get all night. Soon, she was channeling Axl Rose, James Brown, Madonna, Michael Jackson and, well, Beyoncé all at once during a dazzling, pyrotechnic production of “Ring the Alarm” and “Diva.” Bolstered by headbanging guitar, the music was monumentally crushing, with lights from outer space and bass from the Mariana Trench.
The concert skipped from one spectacular setpiece to another, slowing down only briefly for miasmatic balladry and costume changes. It wasn’t exactly the same setlist as on her May tour stop, but it wasn’t far off, either. Full of flames, trapdoors, trapezes, strobes and confetti, the show’s unparalleled technical production was so staggering that Beyoncé’s coterie of 18 backup dancers almost felt like an afterthought. In the heart of her city, the singer put millions of dollars’ worth of stage dressing to work transporting us to another world, run indisputably by girls and presided over by a blond-haired, black princess of iron will. It’s a vision threatening to some, but so overwhelmingly spectacular that at least one straight white man in the crowd was ready to move there immediately.
Now in its final legs, the Formation World Tour offered more than a concert. It was a public celebration of power, the likes of which has never been undertaken by a black woman in America before. There were moments of softness and motherly femininity, certainly. But never vulnerability. Thursday night served as a message to Houston that Beyoncé — or her onstage persona, at least — has simply grown too big and too strong for that. Get used to it.
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Personal Bias: I’m a survivor.
The Crowd: A gigantic and ecstatic female majority.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Daaaamn, look at them shoes!”
Random Notebook Dump: I have seen Ministry. I have seen Cannibal Corpse. I have even seen Skrillex. But Beyoncé is now officially the loudest thing I have ever heard.