Maybe only Beyoncé could make the most intense moment of a show as massive as her Wednesday night tour opener at Miami’s Marlins Park – sky-tipping video imagery, fireworks, shooting flames, phalanxes of fierce dancers – the one where she’s sitting alone in a pool of water singing to a vortex of 38,000 screaming fans. Beyoncé magnifies her emotions and her persona to perfectly staged, larger-than-life size – and people love it.
“This is a special night for me and I’m so grateful to share it with y’all,” Beyoncé told the crowd early on, before singing “Flawless,” while flames shot into the air, blasting the field with heat, a musical Daenerys unleashing show-stopping dragons.
In “Lemonade,” her just-released album, Beyoncé brilliantly turned pain and betrayal in her marriage into art. The Formation Tour show is laced with songs and Southern Gothic imagery from the hour-long “visual album” video for “Lemonade,” and powered by the rage that runs through the project. But Wednesday’s concert ran a gamut of emotions– anger, defiance, sex, self-empowerment and celebration –impeccably choreographed and staged for overpowering impact. (Although husband Jay Z, who inspired it all, only appeared in snatches of video.) It was a masterfully constructed pop concert – with elements of pop opera and billboard sized performance art. (Disciplined on every level, too – in contrast to some other pop divas, Beyoncé started right on time. Or maybe she just couldn’t wait to get onstage for the first show of this sold out stadium tour.)
“Miami, Florida, if you came to slay, say I slay!” Beyoncé proclaimed at the show’s start, right before driving into “Formation” at the head of a flying wedge of stomping dancers. “If you’re proud of where you come from say I slay!!” She did the slaying for everyone there.
The stage was dominated by an enormous, towering square structure for video, that rotated and split, plus a long platform out onto the stadium field, so that the show literally projected up and out.
Photo: Jordan Levin
Not only was the tower visually spectacular – but it made Beyoncé visible to the huge crowd, perfect for sharing photos. At one point video showed her stalking the edge of the stage, as adoring fans snapped pictures, so even those far away could take photos of people taking photos of Beyoncé. The star looked in fantastic shape; lusciously sculpted in a series of elaborate leotard costumes with exaggerated shoulders: white lace, red vinyl, black straps, gold glitter, sex on the bottom, power on top. Her superb squad of dancers matched her in ferocity and commitment.
The tour merchandise included T-shirts that read “Boycott Beyoncé,” a dig at the backlash she received from a Miami police union over a Black Panthers-inspired moment in her February Super Bowl appearance and “Black Lives Matter” references in the video for “Formation.” But this concert was focused not on black power, but female strength – or “Bey Power”. “Formation” was followed by the sound of Brenda Lee’s syrupy 1960 hit “I’m Sorry,” which Beyoncé answered with her own ragingly unapologetic “Sorry” from “Lemonade” – “I ain’t sorry, hell no!” followed by a jumping, stomping “We Run the World (Girls).” The segment finishes with video of naked women walking through a field, like goddesses striding the earth.
Pain follows power – video of Beyoncé breaking glass, sliding a razor over her lip. The tower splits to reveal a diagonal line of dancers suspended reaching into the air, and Beyoncé singing “Hold Up,” rage at her cheating husband thrumming beneath langorous pleading “they don’t love you like I love you.”
(Husband Jay Z, rumored and speculated as the source for all this pain, was present – the two certainly enjoy visting Miami – but did not appear on stage.) But hurt doesn’t last long – she’s off to redemption with “All Night,” voice veering between sweet, soaring highs and gritty, bluesy proclamation about the power of love.
But she soon moves on to sex and celebration – this was a Beyoncé concert, after all – power strutting with the dancers on “Diva,” a masterful twerking demonstration in “Bootylicious.” She sang “Drunk in Love” alone on the platform in the middle of the crowd, wailing with passion, the women in the audience singing hysterically along; on her way back to the stage, Beyoncé squatted on her high heels, sidling and writhing sideways, seducing her way down the ramp. (Later, during “Party,” she dropped down in the center of the stage with her dancers, flashing her knees wide open as the video behind her showed a spiraling tunnel.)
She even did “Single Ladies,” with two dancers, just like the video, sending the audience shrieking, becoming even more hysterical when Beyoncé brought two women up onstage, who did the famous choreography wildly and well. There were several 80’s references: a recording of the late Prince‘s “Purple Rain” during a break which turned into an impromptu singalong, a bit of “Nasty Girl” from Prince protégés Vanity 6 and Beyoncé singing Annie Lennox’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” in the middle of her own “Sweet Dreams.”
But the finale was the simplest, gutsiest and most surprising sequence of the night. Beyoncé and her dancers in the midst of the crowd on a platform now filled with water, defiantly, then exuberantly stomping, kicking, splashing showers into the air, Beyoncé blues-howling “Freedom! Freedom!” until all of them stand, heads thrown back, yelling “God! God!” She’s resurrected and reborn. It was a spectacularly powerful moment. They raised their fists for “Survivor,” to screams from the crowd.
But then the dancers left Beyoncé alone, sitting, bare legs out in the water, vulnerably human, as she thanked the audience, her family, and yes, her husband. Real fireworks blasted as Beyoncé sang the soaring “Halo,” her image towering over the woman who’d summoned up this storm.
Miami producer DJ Khaled opened the show with special guests including Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Future and Trick Daddy.
Beyoncé’s The Formation Tour
Opening Night in Miami
April 27, 2016
Bow Down / Tom Ford
Run the World (Girls)
Baby Boy / Standing on the Sun
Me, Myself and I
Don’t Hurt Yourself
(with elements of “Freakum Dress”)
Ring the Alarm
Lost Yo Mind / I Been On / Independent Woman / Naughty Girl
Feeling Myself (Nicki Minaj cover)
Drunk in Love (with elements of “Swimming Pools”)
Hip Hop Star
(Recording of Prince singing Purple Rain)
Crazy in Love (2014 Remix) (with elements of “Bootylicious”)
Die With You
Survivor (Destiny’s Child song)
End of Time / Grown Woman (Mashup)
(Unless otherwise noted, photos by Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup for Parkwood Enterainment)