The O2, London, Monday, April 29
It has to be the worst kept coup ever. For months now, Queen B has been parading her intentions as regards dominion over our sceptred isle: I own you. Bow down, bitches. It’s a done deal before she even issues a royal command. The arena is rippling with hysterical Mexican waves and screams of her name and then, of course: ‘Run The World (Girls)’. Beyoncé’s magnetism and moves transform what’s essentially an MIA album track and make the strutting tribal rhythms of ‘End Of Time’ a moment.
As the night rolls on, though, a paucity of material peeks through. The likes of ‘Get Me Bodied’, ‘Freakum Dress’ and the frankly just bad ‘Naughty Girl’ are not the sort of hits you expect a woman so worshipped to be packing, and there’s only really a small handful of stone-cold killers: ‘Crazy In Love’, ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)’, the sunny, cheesy ‘Love On Top’ and Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’. Of the ballads, the Frank Ocean-penned ‘I Miss You’, delivered with slow burn from under a black fedora on a bar stool, vies for most affecting with ‘If I Were A Boy’, which is laced with the strings used on The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ this evening. Does it matter that, as proper massive tunes go, that’s about it? All pop stars depend to some degree on how well they package the idea of themselves rather than the reality. It’s a question of balance. But Beyoncé has one of the best voices of her generation. She dances like libido on legs. So why does it seem that the abstract idea of her is so dominant?
The pretentious interlude films don’t help, Bey intoning ‘empowering’ yet sorta weak cobblers like: “When you become a woman, you celebrate who you are, and know that sensuality is a gift… this gift gives you power. This power can manipulate, this power can celebrate… what would you do with this power?” Right now Beyoncé, I wish I could use it to get you to shut up and play ‘Single Ladies…’ again. Still, even when she’s talking guff, she’s captivating. When she’s jumping with glee as an overwrought ‘Halo’ closes the show, or when she’s flying through the arena on a wire in a cloud of glitter, you can’t help but watch her. If only it was the case that you couldn’t help but listen, too.