There was a giant concert in Philadelphia on Friday, with a half a million people on the Ben Franklin Parkway to see hometown heroes The Roots serve as house band for a star studded slate of chart topping acts.
The next night, the big guns came out.
Literally and figuratively. Beyonce and Jay Z brought their overstuffed, 2 1/2 hour On The Run tour to a sold-out Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia on Saturday.
The most prominent power couple in music - she just landed in the top spot of the Forbes Celebrity 100, he came in at #6 - put on a 44 song hip-hop and pop action-packed extravaganza. It featured high fashion, home movies and lot of hits, not to mention a pistol-packing faux French nouvelle vague film which cast the duo as renegade outlaws and descended into a Tarantino-esque shoot-em-up silliness as it filled up costume-change interstitial space.
The show, which began with “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” - she in fishnet ski mask, he in black leather jacket and shades - even came with a disclaimer. “This Is Not Real Life,” declared the big screen stage backdrop, as the probably 70% female - more Girls Night Out than Date Night - filled up the seats in Phillies’ outfield as darkness fell on a breezy summer evening.
That warning was likely intended to ward off criticism that the film clips irresponsibly glamorizes violence - the words “This is not a gun” also appeared several times when super cool looking Jay or Bey was pointing a six-shooter in the Melina Matsoukas-directed movie.
But the words also served to remind the audience that the musical drama on stage is not to be taken as autobiography. Particularly the parts that seem to hint at marital strife, such as his “Song Cry” and her “Resentment,” which she sang while wearing a white wedding veil, seated on a stage situated in the middle of the crowd. It included the fiercely-sung recently added lyric: “She ain’t even half of me / That b---- will never be me.”
You got that right. Whomever Beyonce was referring to, the assertion that, in diva-world, no competitors can hope to measure up was reasserted throughout the show, in which wife-and-husband often performed together, and alternated seamlessly interwoven two song sets of their own.
She was perfectly fab on her own segments - the vocal showcase “Haunted,” the feminist one-two punch of “Run The World (Girls)” and “Flawless,” the latter including a sample of a 2013 TED talk by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
But in this setting, Qeen Bey was like butter, or bacon - Everything was better with Beyonce on it. As she put it on “Yonce,” from her much celebrated 2013 self titled album: “I sneezed on the beat, and the beat got sicker.”
That was best demonstrated on the songs of her husband’s in which she stood in for a male vocalist heard on the original track. Cases in point: “Young Forever,” the sentimental palliative in which she replaced the wan Mr. Hudson on an encore accompanied by clips of the happy couple with their daughter Blue Ivy. The big screen now told us: “This Is Real Life.”
Better still was “Holy Grail,” Jay Z's hit with Justin Timberlake, with whom he played the South Philadelphia ball park last summer. Timberlake's lines about a star’s relationship with fame (“One day you’re screaming you love me loud, the next day you’re so cold”) were theatrically inhabited and transformed into the words of wife standing toe to toe with her husband, sharing a piece of her mind.
Of course, it wasn’t just the Beyonce show. Jay Z is a supremely confident and highly polished performer capable of holding a stadium full of fans who know his every rhyme by heart in rapt attention. And that’s what he did, pretty much all night, appearing alone on stage backed by a live band hidden from view on a succession on classics from his catalog. “Show Me What You Got,” “Big Pimpin’,” “99 Problems,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”: The rap-along hits just kept coming, and coming.
Assorted quibbles: The between song film grew more aimless as the evening wore on. Didn’t Kanye and Kim already ride through the desert on a motorcycle in the “Bound 2” video? And for all the marketing mileage that the couple get out of their branded image as a grown up musical and marital alliance in an erotically charged relationship - “Drunk In Love” as they put it, in the recent hit that fizzled Saturday - there were few moments of human interaction between the stars themselves or with their adoring audience. Otherwise, a highly entertaining, excitingly staged knockout of a show.