Live: Beyoncé Wants To Make You (And You, And You) Happy


Roseland Ballroom
Sunday, August 14

Better than: Feeling lousy about yourself.

While waiting for Beyoncé to take the stage at Roseland on Sunday night, the audience at Roseland was treated to a video on loop; among its tableaus was a video of Beyoncé, in a convertible of some sort, looking up at the camera like one might gaze into a sun-visor-attached mirror. She looked content, even with the film all sped-up, even as the city whooshed around her. And why shouldn’t she? It’s not every pop singer out there who can strike out with a record of unrepentantly happy, defiantly club-averse R&B and not only succeed with it, but thrive.

The night was scheduled to be a victory lap of sorts for B’s release of 4—her fourth album, titled after a number that had particular significance to her for a series of numerologically related reasons. (Birthdays, mostly.) It was the first of four shows honoring the album, all at Roseland, all heralded for their intimacy. Perhaps this intimacy is why the show opened with Beyoncé, one of the few newly minted single-name pop stars of the 21st century, running down her biography, touching on those moments where she felt like her destiny as a pop star might be in question, giving musical call-outs to crucial pop songs from her career. (Think of them as footnotes, emphasis on, etc.) Dressed in a silver dress-cum-tankini, she recalled how she loved to sing Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are” and continued into her time with Destiny’s Child, with her running down each instance of people leaving the group, and into her relationship with Jay-Z (represented by her singing “’03 Bonnie And Clyde” and “Crazy In Love”; Jay, as it turned out, was doing some celebrating of his own in Miami last night) and then to her solo career, the Dreamgirls remake and the performance at Barack Obama’s inauguration, the singalongable “Single Ladies” and “Irreplaceable” and, finally, to the precipice of 4.

4 is a record that is very obviously of Beyoncé—it came, she told the crowd late in the evening, after she “searched the world and found [herself].” But this relentless focusing inward did nothing to lessen the way the audience members caught on to, and sang along with, nearly every lyric. The sneer implied by the sparkling kiss-off “Best Thing I Never Had” was replicated by many in attendance; the multiple key changes that built to the climactic moment of “Love On Top” were pushed along by the audience’s eagerness; the Boyz II Men-sampling “Countdown,” which B herself referred to as “experimental” (well, it’s not exactly Neubauten, but still), twinned boasts of self-worth and proclamations of fidelity into a tight knot of romantic ideals. Nobody even felt silly about using Kanye West’s line about “Swagu” on “Party.”

Indeed, abandon is one thing that Beyoncé seems to encourage, at least implicitly. Obviously there’s “Single Ladies” and the YouTube inspirations it spawned, but there’s also the uninhibitedness implied by the way she peppered her opening monologue with bits of her songs; it was straight out of a musical, one of those old barnburners filled with brassy numbers sung by a wiser woman who’s seen it all and who’s ready to dispense wisdom on how to deal with life’s many curveballs. Of course, the setbacks B admits to having dealt with up to this point aren’t exactly Valley Of The Dolls-worthy—a disapproving label here, a tiff with an ex-band-member there. (She doesn’t hit 30 until next month, after all.) But that didn’t lessen the crowd’s enthusiasm to sit at her knee and learn from her, their willingness to agree with her that, yes, no man in her life would be irreplaceable and that, no, any lover who thought to leave her shouldn’t be diagnosed as anything sane. The serenity at her core is borne from a supreme amount of confidence; that it comes off as something generously given is a testament to her prodigious talents as a performer on every level.

Plus, I mean, have you heard her sing? Nobody has pipes like her right now. Not a single person out there. At the very least, we can all learn breath control from her.

Critical bias: “Countdown” is my unimpeachable #1 jam of 2011.

Overheard: “Why you gotta cut?” Hey, welcome to life in general admission, lady!

Random notebook dump: She’s still doing the all-female backing band thing—this time with a harpist!

Set list:
Autobiography medley: I Wanna Be Where You Are / No, No, No / No, No, No (Part 2) / Bug-A-Boo / Bills, Bills, Bills / Say My Name / Independent Women Part I / Bootylicious/ Survivor / ’03 Bonnie And Clyde / Crazy In Love / Dreamgirls / Irreplaceable / Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)
I Care
I Miss You
Best Thing I Never Had
Rather Die Young
Love On Top
End Of Time
Run The World (Girls)
I Was Here