The lights dimmed at 9:13pm inside Soldier Field and on the massive screen, encompassing the entire end of the field, a series of words appeared one-by-one; "THIS - IS - REAL - LIFE". The screen immediately segued to a film of Jay Z and Beyoncé looking straight ahead showing two respective titles, The Gangster and The Queen. This gorgeous and exquisitely lit video interlude, the first of seven, would appear during set changes throughout the 150-minute show looking like a lost foreign film from the seventies. As the screen began to split, Beyoncé and Jay Z hand-in-hand were four stories high and began their descent on an elevator, with electric crosses on either side, to begin a forty-plus-song set list.
Despite the size of the football stadium, the staging was elaborate and engaging. There was a four-story screen, that would split down the middle to showcase the musicians in a Hollywood Squares fashion and extending into the crowd were extended walkways on both side. If this wasn't enough, the main stage lifted to fly Beyoncé and Jay Z to the midway point of the field. The stadium experience is arduous for the fans and often makes them feel a million miles away, but Jay Z and Beyoncé spent a significant amount of time on the extended portions of the stage that led to the middle of the field, often giving those halfway back the best views in the house. If all the bells and whistles weren't enough to pull one close, then there was the music which was more personal than it has ever been before. The couple took a wrecking ball to their golden rope lifestyle. Some may say it's for show, but watching it in person, it's hard not to view it as an exorcism of their souls, tackling their faults head-on and collaborating not just through this tour, but through life as partners and parents. It's easy to lose oneself in the aura of their celebrity, but throughout several portions of the tour, they were not Beyoncé and Jay Z but rather Beyoncé Knowles and Shawn Carter.
The solo spots, were equally effective including Beyoncé's hypnotic "Naughty Girl", "Ring The Alarm" (where she sat on a chair swinging her head while zealously singing) and "I Care" (featuring some explosive six-string guitar work) while Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'" (performed in a blue jacket on the far side of the stage) and "99 Problems" (which featured a slew of celebrity mug shots including Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Jim Morrison, 50 Cent and Mick Jagger) brought the crowd to their knees. When the other half would reappear, it would seem to take the show to another level. "NICE" was one of the few songs performed from the Carters album and was genuinely effective as the power couple didn't shy away from their swagger but came to a understanding that they're resilient and that despite the tours and tatted passports, they have each other.
The set list was meticulously crafted and the run of "Run This Town", "Mi Gente" and "BLACK EFFECT", the Carters continued to dial-up the crowd to another level. Watching fans, it was hard to not be impacted by the swaying arms, often bundled together in entire rows, going back and forth with the rhythm of the music. While both artists gelled, it was Beyoncé who kept taking it to another level. The look in her eye showed she had something to prove and when she zeroed in on a song or performance, the crowd could feel and followed the intensity.
Jay Z was more exposed than he has ever been onstage. "4:44", "Song Cry" (which feature the entire stadium lit by cell phones), and "The Story of O.J.". On "O.J.", Jay Z stood to the far left of the stage, was motionless and let his lyrics tell the story while the screen showed animated images that were horrifying, disturbing and need to be seen. Inspired by the racist minstrel cartoons of the early 20th century, where many black stereotypes were born and are still sadly felt today, they were unforgiving. Jay lost himself in the performance, and while the show was Beyoncé's, this was the most haunting performance of the evening. At the song's closing, Jay told the crowd; "Only love can conquer hate; we've got to learn to love each other more. Everything is love". This was an eye-opening heart pounding moment the crowd took in and was also the show's most human moment.
Not one to be upstaged, Beyoncé had an out-of-body experience showing a level of vulnerability few could ever imagine sharing on a concert stage. It's been a while since a rock star in a stadium setting has been this open. Many artists became more guarded as their celebrity grew; shielding the fans from what we loved about them to begin with, but Beyoncé is laying it all here as if she's letting 50,000 friends in on her secrets. Late set highlights included "Formation" and "Run the World (Girls)" where she had an army of dancers where she proclaimed her power and independence before Jay came back out to help with the foundation shaking "Crazy in Love" and "Freedom". Before the night was over, the two of them soared above the crowd one more time for "Young Forever", a reworking of the Alphaville hit from 1984 and "Perfect", Ed Sheeran's single which Beyoncé provided vocals for on a special version of the song. Knowles vocals soared throughout the stadium and every single fan echoed her. As they were raised above the crowd, a new series of words appeared; "THIS - IS - REAL - LOVE" and just like that, one of the world's most recognizable couples laid down their lives for 50,000 to take in, be inspired by and translate to their own lives.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
CHICAGO - AUGUST 10-11: Beyoncé performs on the 'On the Run II' tour at Soldier Field Stadium on August 11, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Raven Varona/Parkwood/PictureGroup)
Jay Z and Beyonce 'On the Run II' Concert Review
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