Gliding down from the pop firmament, then Baltimore, then finally from the Verizon Center ceiling, Sasha Fierce had a tough act to follow last night: her own. 'Twas mere months ago she came to serenade the new President, albeit in her more modest alter ego of plain old platinum-selling Beyonce Knowles from Houston. The tune, to the public chagrin of prior owner Etta James, was "At Last!"
The preeminent pop diva of the iPod Age, singing that song to the nation's first black Chief Executive and First Lady — how do you follow that?
A: You can repeat it — the First Famly, sans POTUS, was in the hizzy for at least part of last night's show — but you can't beat it. So just double down on the glitz, and the hitz.
Done and done. Bombastic, bizarre, and supremely entertaining despite a few sluggish segues, Beyonce's I Am tour surveys the her career from Destiny's Childhood through contemporary Sasha-dom in Vegas-ready style. The thing actually plays like four or five distinct, energetic mini-concerts networked together by a lot of state-of-the-art . . . stuff.
The first of these, an opening salvo of vintage hip-shakers ("Crazy in Love," "Naughty Girl," "Freakum Dress") gave way to an extended set from last year's bisected opus, I Am . . . Sasha Fierce. As on the album, the ballads preceded the club jams. One of the latter, "Radio," found Beyonce's mechanically precise steps shadowed by dancers made up like Oscar stauettes in DJ headphones. Weird. A little creepy, even. But cool.
The groove was provided by a ladies-only band, when it wasn't provided by Memorex. We're not crying fakery; merely pointing out that a lot — too much — of the 125-minute spectacular spectacular consisted of precorded audio and video. Some of it was cute, some of it was weird, all of it was conspiculously filling time during the frequent, long, Fierce-less passages
On a related note, she had what seemed like more costume changes than all the Batman movies put together, not to mention funkier body armor. Beyonce performed one section caparisoned in a butterfly bustier over a leopard-print leotard. John Galliano? Try H.R. Giger.
Well. You were expecting sweatpants and Joni Mitchell covers, perhaps?
Actually, there was a cover of Alanis Morisette's "You Oughtta Know," the hell-hath-no-fury number that was as inevitable in 1995 as "Single Ladies" is now. 'Yonce wrapped it within her own "If I Were a Boy." Later, she sang some of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" during a detour from "Ave Maria."
Despite these tributes to two of the prior decade's chart-topping Independent Women, Queen Bey remains a more guarded and engimatic performer than either of them. Her show seemed designed to feel like a tell-all, even featuring video of a five-year-old Beyonce rehearsing her moves.* But its overall effect was to protect, even enhance, her mystery. A single, radiant smile during "Irreplaceable" (performed on a B-stage at mid-court) felt more genuine than anything that come before.
For the finale, "Halo," the star worked the line at the lip of the stage, coming face-to-face with several fans too busy texting or tweeting or video-phoning the moment to seize the royal hand she offered. Maybe they just didn't believe she could exist in unmediated, unplugged reality. So it seemed appropriate that she left us by descending via platform into the depths of the stage, like a jack folding back into its box.
*The videos also showed us other, possibly fictitious, moments in her history. Like the time she turned into that female robot from Metropolis, then a tiger (but still partially robotic— like a cyborg, I guess, if animals can be cyborg-ized), then started crying. Or the time she found a gold coin bearing her own visage and the incription "Be Fierce" in her bra. Those were both crazy days!