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Here’s an indisputable, scientific fact: Beyonce Knowles can sing — only spell that verb with an “a” instead of an “i” and you’ll have an instant sense of what her Staples Center stop sounded like on July 1.
Queen Bey — or Mrs. Jay-Z, as she seemingly likes to be thought of these days — tore through her Los Angeles set with the ferocity of a grown woman who has something to prove. Behind her: a full line of female musicians, including two saxophone players, three background singers, double keyboardists and a fierce drummer. To her side, more than a half dozen backup dancers (she had no trouble keeping up) to round out the colorful spectacle that is the Beyonce show — which is to say, The Mrs. Carter Show tour.
Indeed, where many of her pop peers go for pizzazz by way of aerial tricks and lap dances, Beyonce didn’t need to rely on gimmicky props to entertain a crowd of 18,000. When she sings a hit like 2008’s “If I Were A Boy,” it doesn’t sound like someone just pressed “play” on a CD. To the contrary, her mashup of that very song with The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” gave new life to a 5-year-old hit, with not a singalong track in sight.
You could say the same of songs like “Baby Boy” and “Naughty Girl,” the latter of which Beyonce performed from atop a baby grand piano while slithering in a glittery purple one-piece — pitch perfect, naturally. In that bodysuit — one of at least six costume changes, each accompanied by a video interlude — she also zipped across the arena to deliver another crowd-pleaser, “Irreplaceable,” which was followed in due haste by the undeniable “Love on Top,” Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor,” her duet with Mr. Carter, “Crazy In Love” (Hova was not seen in the house, however), the anthemic “Single Ladies” and, to close out the set, her latest maybe-single, “Grown Woman.”
A thrilling climax, no doubt, but it sure took a while to get there — so much so that you might think Beyonce is still feeling stung by the tepid reaction to her latest album, 2011’s 4 — perhaps still determined to prove the naysayers wrong. How else does one explain the inclusion of no fewer than seven tracks off that album — among them “Run the World (Girls),” “I Care” and “End of Time” — in the span of a two-hour set? Bey sounded terrific on all, of course, but with a pre-Fourth of July, ready-to-party audience angling to groove in the aisles, rather than sway with their hands to the heavens, overall it missed the mark.
That’s not to say that Bey didn’t try her damnedest to win the crowd over with an equal dose of sex appeal and good old-fashioned hyping. At one point, she declared, “I’m from the dirty South, and in the South we get dirty,” in her flirtiest tone. At another, she instructed the thousands surrounding her to let go of their baggage. “My job is to make you forget all the drama,” she said.
Instead, Beyonce reminded all in attendance why she sits at the top of the R&B heap: unequaled showmanship and those killer vocals, best demonstrated during the encore’s one-two punch of the song Whitney Houston made famous, “I Will Always Love You,” followed by “Halo,” Beyonce’s own Top 5 hit from 2009. In the end, it was a stellar send-off, but even a singer at the top of her game could use an occasional refresher in giving the people what they want.
Run the World (Girls)
End of Time
Flaws and All
If I Were a Boy
Get Me Bodied
I Miss You
Why Don’t You Love Me
Love on Top
Crazy in Love
Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
I Will Always Love You
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