Towards the end of the second night of Beyonce’s four-show Memorial Day weekend stand at the Revel casino and resort in Atlantic City on Saturday, as the hits were getting bigger and bigger, the singer and her 11 member all-female band turned their attention to a feminist club banger called “Run the World (Girls).”
With First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia seated in a box to her left at Revel‘s impressive 5050 capacity Ovation Hall, the pop and R & B world’s ruling Queen Bee declared herself - and her Sisters - to be “Smart enough to make these millions, strong enough to bear the children / And get back to business.”
For Beyonce, these shows at the $2.4 billion new resort whose success is thought to be so crucial to Atlantic City’s economic future were an opportunity to do just that. The 30 year old singer did not tour behind her 2011 album 4, and these are her first performances - she’s due back on stage Sunday and Monday nights - since giving birth in January to Blue Ivy Carter, her daughter with husband Jay-Z, the other half of the foremost power couple in pop music.
Catching her breath and cracking a smile before “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” the final number in a relentlessly entertaining, highly energetic and expertly staged two-hour evening with bipartisan appeal that also brought tweeting out New Jersey governor Chris Christie (who declared everything about the show to be “great”), Beyonce told the largely female super sold-out crowd: “Y’all don’t know how hard I worked. I had to lose 60 pounds. Tonight, I’m going to get chocolate wasted!”
On stage, the evidence of that hard work is everywhere apparent. That goes not just for the singer’s svelte post-baby appearance in a series a barely-there outfits designed to call attention to her physique from the derriere down. Even the black “Freakum Dress” she wore in the song of that name would better be described as a “freakum leotard.”
As a singer, too, the emotional engagement Beyonce - last name: Knowles - brings is similarly absolute. The set list tipped too heavily at times towards bombastic balladry like “I Care” and “I Miss You” while also including plenty of beat-savvy booty-shaking workouts like “We Like To Party” and “Crazy In Love,” on which Jay-Z‘s disembodied pre-recorded voice was heard, but alas he did not appear in the flesh.
Except when she wasn’t actually singing, as in “Dance For You,” in which she led a 10 member dance troupe in a seductive bump ‘n’ grind while three backup vocalists filled in, Beyonce sang everything with earnest commitment and impassioned intensity. Beyonce is no stranger to platitudes. “Time is precious … so love always,” she told the crowd in a prerecorded between-song home movie costume change interlude. And her rock moves on songs like “Freakum Dress,” which find her facing off with a leather-jacketed lead guitarist, tend to be of the screaming-solo-played-on-a-Flying Vee variety.
But she invests everything she does with fervent belief, making a convincing musical argument that even thinking of not giving her the respect that she - and by association, all women - so justly deserves would amount to an irrational defiance of logic. “I got beauty, I got class,“ she sang in “Why Don’t You Love Me?.“ “I got style, I got …“
The show included nods to three forebears. She donned a feathered headress for “Naughty Girl,” which like “Baby Boy” drew energy from reggae dancehall rhythms, and included a sample and a sung snippet of, Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby.” Mid-show, she tore up Lauryn Hill‘s “Ex-Factor.“ And before “Halo,” the show’s penultimate resistance-is-futile power ballad, she turned in a flawless a cappella verse of Whitney Houston’s (and Dolly Parton’s) “I Will Always Love You.”
After that, all was left was the Double Dutch rthythm and “Oh-oh-oh” singalong to “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” followed by a thank you to Revel, where Beyonce is said to have been living and rehearsing in secret for the past three weeks, and which got just the this-is-the-place-to-be buzz out of the booking they were looking for, for the weekend at least. That, and a send off to her fans: “Ladies, love yourselves. Love your bodies.”
As for Ovation Hall, after one visit it seems ready to be Atlantic City’s top large-but-not-too-large concert venue booking big name acts. It’s a purpose built theater, rather than a converted giant ballroom like the Borgata Event Center or airplane hangar-like Mark G. Etess Arena at the Trump Taj Mahal or the rock club vibe of the House of Blues next door.
The sightlines and sound were good, and the lighting and staging - with two large video screens - for a show that’s likely to move into venues as much as four times the size, was uniformly sharp. Probably by design, the bass was literally body quaking. It never overwhelmed the rest of the mix, but I can’t remember feeling such a rumble from head to toe since I stood in front of the speakers at a show by low-end rappers Cypress Hill.
The photo of Beyonce at Ovation Hall is by Robin Harper for Parkwood Entertainment.