From a private show in Dubai and its official opening in Stockholm to its Canadian dates last week, most of the globe has gotten at least a glimpse, from afar, of Beyoncé on the Renaissance World Tour — her first in nearly five years. Last night, the United States got its first in-person peek at the vibrancy of Club Renaissance with an opening show at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Center.
Four words immediately come to mind in trying to do justice to the show: Daring. Elastic. Silvery. Very.
With the wealth of knock-off mirror-ball cowboy hats and barely-there sequined outfits in the crowd to the wide staging of Club Renaissance and its accoutrements — flying horses, group costumes, pianos for Bey to sit on — nearly everything was reflectively silver. Everything. From its epic concept videos between changeovers and its athletic dancers to a sound system that pulsated crisply with each deep house reverberation, Club Renaissance never missed a beat. Over-the-top, yet still elegantly refined, pretty much everything surrounding the show’s vocal and visual centerpiece was exquisitely executed and bolder for it.
The only thing more very than all of the technology and vigorous dance moves of Club Renaissance was Beyoncé herself. As a singer, she proved to be righteously elastic with trills to thrill and vocal runs that ran fluidly atop every different musical interlude (and there were many sharp turns and frantic rhythms in which to contend). As a performer and as a curator-producer, her sonic choices and visual cues were often daring. Ballsy even.
Who has the cojones to start a stadium show with the word “Club” at its top – and continue on for SIX songs – with ballads and really slow bangers?
Rising from the stage floor wearing short black spangles and fringe, Beyoncé’s voice snaked through a Bond theme-like take on the Destiny’s Child track “Dangerously in Love” before slow-waltzing into an atmospheric, emotional “Flaws and All.” Repeating and re-punctuating vocal phrases, Bey went for classic jazz dynamism and R&B barnstorming when approaching these sinewy ballads. In concentrating on the drone cameras before her (for the sake of the stage’s wide video screens), every sideways glance was magnified. Seated atop a piano for a quiet “1+1,” Bey’s “baby-baby-baby” vamp there set her up for the mighty rolling soul of “I’m Going Down” (equal parts Rose Royce and Mary J. Blige), followed by her minor chord-heavy, avant-piano-filled slowdown of “River Deep, Mountain High,” the latter a tribute to the late, great Tina Turner.
After the balladry of segment one’s “Opening Act” (the show is broken into six segments), the mood shifted and Beyoncé and company were ready to party, albeit robotically. Removing herself from “Metropolis”-inspired, metallic fem-bot gear, the vocalist jaggedly cut through fresh robo-R&B versions of “Renaissance” material such as “I’m That Girl,” “Cozy” and “Alien Superstar.” By doing so – and with adventurous choreography utilizing mechanical framing to mirror the songs’ lyrics – Beyoncé recontextualized her most recent album as something stranger, freer and more audacious in its live setting than in its studio renditions. For good measure, Bey also threw in elements of the odd-hop “Apeshit” from her Carters album with husband Jay-Z, and a stretch of Hova’s “Lift Off” cut with Kanye West.
Listening for what Beyoncé laced into each song and interpolated throughout each track became something of a spectator sport during this “Motherboard” segment. The brassy, hand-clapped disco of “Cuff It” mixed into thumpers such as “Energy” and “Break My Soul,” interspersing crowd-thrilling covers such as Teena Marie’s “Ooh La La,” the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body,” Robin S’s “Show Me Love” and – for real pop-house punctuation – Madonna’s “Vogue.”
The “Opulence” segment found an angrier-vibing Bey in wide-brimmed hats and glitzy camo gear riding atop a futuristic tank (yes, a silver one) with dancing daughter Blu Ivy Carter in tow. Remixed for militaristically rhythmic regimentation with surprisingly sweet harmonies, “Run the World (Girls),” “Black Parade” and the star’s remix version of Meghan Thee Stallion “Savage” were crafted as one long, mellow-harshing riff.
That segment’s rough feel made the next shift, “Anointed,” all the nicer. Starting off with a processional coat of many colors, this segment found her in peak vocal form, and her band at its most fluidly musical. The slow-to-fast gospel pop of “Church Girl,” the cosmopolitan quiet storm of “Rather Die Young” (you could hear her heart breaking when she sang “Boy, you’ll be the death of me”), the ever-ascending “Love on Top” (with its hat tipped to “I Want You Back” from the Jackson 5) — perfection. When Bey sang elastically through an insistent, aggressive “Crazy in Love,” with its catwalk choreography, it was the tart cherry on an already delicious sundae.
When an oversized disco ball moved through mid-air for the creamy, drifting balladry of “Plastic Off the Sofa” and an overheated, swirlingly romantic mash-up of “Virgo’s Groove” and “Naughty Girl” (the latter with a caramelly chunk of “Say My Name” at its center), Beyoncé readied her crowd for an old school, tickling house music finale. With the star dressed in bee-bug yellow-and-black gear for this last “Mind Control” segment, the party rolled on hard with spare, bone-rattling percussion and bitchy swagger (“I’m just as petty as you are,” she roared during “Heated”), some Kraftwerk-ian soul (on the rough-edged “America Has a Problem”) and her lowest-voiced sing-speak (“Pure/Honey”). This transpired before yet another costume change (yes, a shiny silvery one) and her mount atop an arena-traveling flying horse for the syncopated, heavenly Giorgio Moroder epiphany of “Summer Renaissance.”
Two and a half hours after its start, Beyoncé turned off the strobe lights on Club Renaissance, and the party that started off with surprise tenderness and welcome poignancy ended with a loud and lovely bang of glorious disco communion.
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