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Beyoncé w/Luke James
Ovation At Revel
Saturday, May 26
Better than: Slacking off.
This weekend’s four Beyoncé shows at the Revel Resort in Atlantic City—a multibillion-dollar casino that’s trying to bring the high-roller feel of New Vegas to the Jersey Shore’s most famous boardwalk—have been dubbed “Back To Business”; these are the singer’s first concerts since the birth of her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, earlier this year. Saturday’s installment—during which B tore through much of her catalog, honored a few women who paved the way for her success, and thanked her fans, some of whom came from as far as South Africa and Hawaii, over and over and over again—showed just how serious she was about picking up her career exactly where she’d left it pre-maternity leave.
The night started off with “End Of Time,” the militaristic yet ethereal paean to fidelity off her most recent album, 4. “Say you’ll never let me go,” a choir commands over a triple-time drumbeat, and as far as opening statements are concerned it was a convincing one; the small size of the venue and exclusivity of the gig (these four shows are the only post-motherhood ones she’s announced so far) also helped, as much of this audience was ready to eat out of the palm of her hand.
And there was quite a bit of give and take. The people in attendance gave her flowers (some were helped along by the opening act, the buttery-smooth New Orleans soul singer Luke James, bestowing roses on the front row as he exited the stage); during a pause in the action, they sang the chorus of “Love On Top” and even (to varying success) tried its endlessly modulating key-change while Beyoncé watched with bemusement and delight; they lustily took to a section-vs.-section “sing the ‘to the left’ part in ‘Irreplaceable'” competition. She was equally gracious, grasping outreached hands and tossing one person a slightly used towel and thanking everyone in attendance. (She also, at one point, blew kisses to Michelle, Sasha, and Malia Obama, who were sitting in the front row of a box to the right of the stage; their arrival shortly before Beyoncé took the stage primed the pump for the audience to be really, really excited.)
Beyoncé has only been performing solo since 2003, but her back catalog is full of dancefloor-fillers like “Crazy In Love” and “Diva”; 4, which was seen as something of a commercial disppointment upon release, has spawned the throwbacky “Love On Top,” which reached the top of the R&B charts, as well as the joyous, critic-beloved “Countdown.” Last year, when she celebrated the release of 4 with a string of shows at Roseland, the presentation of her catalog was pretty straightforward: The oldies were presented in wholly recognizable form (whether snippets or full-length renditions) while 4 was played front-to-back. This time, though, B tweaked a few things: the intro to “Countdown” chopped up Beyoncé’s ululations and moans, its Boyz II Men sample, and the opening drum crack while scenes from its hypercolored video flashed on the screens; “If I Were A Boy” had its rhythms reworked so the Goo Goo Dolls’ sweeping adult-alt ballad “Iris” could fit inside; the sinuous “Naughty Girl” had its source material laid bare at the outset, when a sample of the groans and coos from “Love To Love You Baby” was laid over it; “Halo” was topped with the first verse from “I Will Always Love You” (the crowd sighed in unison when Beyoncé sang the opening “If… I) and given an explosive coda that showed how even the most basically structured song by one of pop’s most template-hewing songwriters (OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder) could be turned into something glorious with the right singer.
And then there was “Why Do You Love Me,” the stankface tour de force bonus track from I Am… Sasha Fierce in which Beyoncé reminds a dude that she’s pretty much the greatest thing around and his choice to not be with her is an entirely foolish one. It’s one of the best songs in her catalog, being as it is a four-minute summation of why she’s one of pop’s premier stylists right now; her vocals are equal parts pleading and snarling, the twitchy disco-funk beat gets hips shaking, and the declarations of confused self-love throughout can cause the listener to both root for her and realize that they’ve been in similar situations. Live, she threw herself into the track, from tsk-tsk-tsk opening to impassioned ending; after that, the song’s frenetic beat got transformed into an extended outro that showcased her band’s prowess in such a convincing way, she took off her shoes to dance along with it.
To close out the show, Beyoncé dusted off the Fosse-inspired choreography for “Single Ladies,” the “you snooze you lose” anthem for all those women who have been done wrong by commitment-phobic lovers. Sure, as a video that offered glimpses at Blue Ivy and Jay-Z alluded to, she’s a happily married mother, but as was made evident by the way she led the audience in that video’s hand gestures and declarations of self-love, she’s enough of a businesswoman to know that her undeniable pipes and knack for tweaking musical basics into something indelibly hers combine to make her a vessel for people working out their issues, whether they’re borne from men who won’t “put a ring on it” or just from the itch that can only be scratched by dancing to a really, really good beat.
Critical bias: Spent Saturday morning cleaning my house with “Why Don’t You Love Me” on repeat. Did not drink a martini while doing so, alas.
Overheard: “Look at those dancers. She must have been at the Sufjan show at Prospect Park!”—my companion, when three dancers wearing tents came out to do a brief spinning-top routine
Random notebook dump: Beyoncé is one of the few artists out there who’s audacious enough to drop confetti not during the encore, or even the finale, but during the eighth song in her set. (“Party,” of course.) This morning as I was going over my notes a few pieces fluttered out of my notebook, and I couldn’t help but smile.
End Of Time
Love On Top
Get Me Bodied
Crazy In Love
Love To Love You Baby/Naughty Girl
Dance For You
1 + 1
I Miss You
If I Were A Boy/Iris
Flaws And All
Run The World (Girls)
Why Don’t You Love Me?
I Was Here/I Will Always Love You/Halo
Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)