It was a crowd that came to dance, dressed for a rodeo in the distant future: glittering cowboy hats, silvery fringe, outlandish sunglasses and any other clothing detail that represented “Renaissance,” Beyoncé’s dazzling seventh album and the occasion for her first solo performance. tour in seven years. But as the imperial pop superstar took the stage at the Rogers Center in Toronto on Saturday night for the first North American show of her Renaissance World Tour, she reminded the club-ready audience just who was in charge. Because if they were ready to move, she would make them wait a little longer.
Setting the table for a two-and-a-half-hour performance that was visually spectacular, sonically ambitious and at times tonally confused, Beyoncé, 41 — dressed in a shimmering chain mail mini dress — kicked off the show with a nearly 30-minute stretch. of ballads and deep cuts that recalled her past: an acrobatically sung solo rendition of the 2001 Destiny’s Child song “Dangerously in Love,” some “Flaws and All” from the deluxe edition of her 2007 album “B’Day,” and the sparse, soulful “1+1” from 2011, which she belted out on mirror piano.
It was both a display of her vocal prowess and a curiously traditional way to begin a show centered around an album as conceptually bold and progressive as “Renaissance” — a sprawling, self-referential romp through dance music history, with an emphasis on the contributions of black and queer innovators. Here, instead, was a stop in Beyoncé’s Middle Ages.
As a live entertainer, however, she earned a fresh start. The Renaissance World Tour shows are some of Beyoncé’s first appearances since her dazzling, commanding performance headlining the 2018 Coachella festival (later released as the “Homecoming” concert film and live album), which served as a kind of microphone capstone to her career. until now. It would be vain to repeat that, and hard to get over it. The loose, fluid “Renaissance,” still billed as the first part of a trilogy, represents a new chapter in Beyoncé’s recorded work. And after the show finally found its center and, however belatedly, welcomed the crowd to the Renaissance, it announced her maturity as a performer, too.
The look of the show – as projected in diamond-sharp definition on a panoramic screen – evoked Fritz Lang”Metropolis” via the 1990 dragball documentary “Paris Is Burning.” After a lengthy video introduction, Beyoncé emerged from a chrome cocoon and vamped through a rousing stretch of the first set of “Renaissance” songs; while “Cozy,” most strikingly, a pair of hydraulic robotic arms centered her body in industrial picture frames, like a posthuman Gioconda.
In May, when Beyoncé kicked off the European leg of the Renaissance World Tour, rumors swirled that she might be recovering from a foot injury, as her choreography was a bit more static and less stom-heavy than usual. The Toronto show did nothing to dispel that chatter, but it also showed that it doesn’t matter much. Perhaps due to some limitations, Beyoncé embraced new means of bodily expression. She brought the flavor of ball moves into the show and served face all night, curling her lip like a hungry predator, widening her eyes in mock surprise, cracking her features in exaggerated disgust.
Few seats in the stadium provided a legible view of Beyoncé’s face, of course, although the screen took care of that. She played competently to the cameras that followed her every choreographed move, aware of how she would appear to the majority of the audience and – perhaps just as importantly – in FOMO-induced social media videos. The stage itself was impressive, featuring an arched cutout section of the screen that led to game images, but its full splendor was not visible from many of the side seats, making the band and sometimes the dancers difficult to see.
The screen, however, was the point. Beyoncé’s two solo releases prior to “Renaissance” — her 2013 self-titled album and 2016’s “Lemonade” — were billed as “visual albums,” featuring a fully realized music video for each track. Again playing with the anticipation of her fans, she has yet to release any “Renaissance” videos, giving the previously unseen graphics that filled her vast background added impact, and making them feel more weighty than a convenient way to pass the time between costume changes. . .
Many of the tour’s outfits struck a balance between Beyoncé’s signature styles — megawatt flashes, high-waisted bodies — and the futuristic “Renaissance” curve. She played a couture bee in a Mugler custom by Casey Cadwallader and dazzled in a Gucci corset draped with crystals. But the most memorable look of the night – so instantly iconic that some fans have already tried to replicate it, from photos from the European shows – was a flesh-tone catsuit from Spanish label Loewe, embellished with some suggestively placed, red nails. hands
Throughout the set, Beyoncé wove interpolations of her predecessors’ songs throughout her own, as if to place her music in a larger continuum. The magnificent “I Care” followed in a bit of “River Deep, Mountain High”, in honor of Tina Turner, who died in May. The cheerful reminiscence “Love on Top” contained elements of “Want You Back” by the Jackson 5. Most effective was the “Queens Remix” that she presented of “Break My Soul”, which mixes the “Renaissance” first single with “Vogue ” by Madonna, paying tribute to the mainstream pop star who brought quirky ball culture to the masses before her. (The merchandise on sale at a Renaissance Tour pop-up shop in the days leading up to the show included a portable fan emblazoned with the song title “Heated” for $40. It sold out.)
The show contained moments that sometimes felt conceptually messy and at odds with the sharp vision of the “Renaissance” album, such as bedroom-poster quotes from Albert Einstein and Jim Morrison that filled the screen during video montages. The middle stretch, arriving with a lively “Formation,” featured Beyoncé and her camo-clad dancers riding and occasionally writhing on a prop military vehicle. There was wordless, gestural power in the moment when she and her entourage held their fists in the air, referencing a salute that had upset some easy-to-rank viewers of the 2016 Super Bowl Halftime Show. But if Beyoncé called for some more specific forms of protest or political awareness — especially at a time when drag culture and queer expression are under threat at home and around the world — those became inarticulate.
Beyoncé’s endurance as a world-class performer remained the show’s raison d’être; she is the rare major pop star who prizes live vocal prowess. By the end of the long night — and especially during the smashing closing number, the disco reverie “Summer Renaissance,” when she floated above the crowd like a deity on a shining horse — she reached for the microphone to lend some of the high notes. to her ardent and adoring fans. “Until next time,” she said, keeping the stage banter relatively minimal and to the point. “Drive home safely!”
Even as Beyoncé embraces styles and cultures known for their improvisational looseness, she still strives for perfection—a performance smile always threatening to break through the stinky face. Commanding a stadium-sized audience, she was an introvert wearing the armor of an extrovert. That tension is part of both her limitless charm and her occasional limitations as a performer. And it makes moments of true spontaneity all the more appreciated.
Of course, #RenaissanceWorldTour was trending on Twitter long after the show, but one of the clips that went viral was unplanned. During a rousing performance of her early hit “Diva,” Beyoncé accidentally dropped her sunglasses. She fumbled with them for a second, mouthed the slightest as they fell to the ground, and gave a hearty, shoulder-shrugging laugh before snapping back into the formation of the choreography. For a fleeting moment she did seem human.