United Center, Chicago
Friday, December 13, 2013
The fact that Beyonce sold out the United Center for the second time on The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour was instantly usurped by the completely unexpected release of her self-titled fifth album on iTunes earlier in the day. Maybe it came from the whimsical spirit of Friday the 13th or perhaps it was part of a larger plan to demonstrate just how far the lifelong singer has come in terms of controlling her career, but Chicago fans were indeed the first to celebrate “a very proud day for me,” as the singer softly stated at the top of the 100 minute night. Considering the self-titled project was so unbelievably fresh, Beyonce didn’t work many of 14 audio tracks or 17 music videos into the already established show, but she did tighten the set list considerably from her first sell out over the summer.
Rather than wading through tons of tunes from 2011’s 4 during the front half, the superstar wisely trimmed down to just the highlight reel, opening triumphantly with the ode to empowerment “Run The World (Girls)” and the brass-drenched funker “End Of Time.” From there, it was a brisk and breezy trip through all her solo pop and R&B powerhouses, from a mash-up of “If I Were A Boy” with The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” to channeling the ghost of Donna Summer though “Naughty Girl” or giving Earth, Wind & Fire some serious old school soul competition during “Why Don’t You Love Me.”
Though all of the above was performed in front of Las Vegas-level production marvels and complicated choreography (in high heels no less), Beyonce also verified just how sturdily her voice holds up amidst the vulnerability of just a piano during the seductive “1+1.” After a quick zip-line flight over the audience to the “Bey Stage” in the back of the arena, she kept that stripped down vibe alive with the acoustic sing-a-long “Irreplaceable,” the retro dance groove “Love On Top” and an all too short but nonetheless exultant section from Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.”
Upon her return to the traditional stage, the charging rhythms unfurled at a furious pace with the throbbing “Crazy In Love” laying the groundwork for the even more animated finger waver “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).” Although the follow-up finale “Grown Woman” was not nearly as familiar as a mere bonus video track on the current collection, it found Beyonce exploring an ambitious Afrobeat direction with some of the night’s brightest array of costumes, lighting and confetti.
For her encore, Beyonce once again dialed down the frills to perform the fellow new cut “XO” for the very first time in public, which was greeted with sheer euphoria from fans who quickly joined the mid-tempo ballad’s call and response connection. The piece was also a stylistic compliment to the standard closer “Halo,” now expanded to include an improvisational outro that found Beyonce’s vocal strength sounding even bolder than when she began the increasingly entertaining evening, which concurrently kicked off another attention commanding chapter of an already extraordinary career.
– Andy Argyrakis
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