Beyoncé review, Cardiff: Full-throttle dance moves or not, Bey rides her disco horse into megastardom
Beyoncé is back. Queen Bey has returned to the UK, proving once again that she can dazzle a British audience as effortlessly as she did when she first performed here as the 18-year-old Houston-born diva of Destiny’s Child in 2000. Her last run of solo shows, 2016’s Formation World Tour, sold out in the UK within 30 minutes. On their release in February, tickets for the London dates of Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour saw virtual queues of over 250,000 as the Beyhive swarmed for a shot at seeing their Queen in action.
With her unmatched, melismatic vocals and physical athleticism, Beyoncé, now 41, has long established herself as a peerless performer. Last July, Renaissance marked yet another reinvention for the pop behemoth, as she combined house grooves and pulsating disco beats for her saucy, celebratory seventh album. It was universally acclaimed. Everyone agreed – Beyoncé had done it again. So what is there left to do when the fans, the critics and the artist herself are well aware of her unrivalled star power? The Renaissance World Tour’s answer is simple: just bask in it, baby.
Over two-and-a-half hours, Beyoncé shows this Cardiff crowd that she is as sizzling as ever – only this time, she no longer has to go above and beyond to prove it. But first, a surprise: bucking a near-20-year trend, Beyoncé opens with “Dangerously in Love”, the title track from her 2003 debut instead of long-time opener “Crazy In Love”, her booty-shaking classic from the same record. Tonight, she glides swan-like to the front of the stage, looking bridal in a white, sparkle-encrusted Valentino gown, for some good ol’ fashioned crooning. Growling and fierce then buttery and seductive, her voice wraps around the song’s runs with complete ease. Beyoncé in her forties is doing some of the best singing of her life.
When she follows up with “Flaws and All”, a B’Day bonus track from 2006, it becomes clear that this is not a Beyoncé show like any other. Chart-topping anthems like “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and “Halo” are out. Deep cuts are in – whether the casual fans “get it” or not. Most of them aren’t too fussed. They’re a little bewildered, sure, by the presence of lesser-known tracks like “Rather Die Young” and “My Power” but overall, they’re just giddy to be there and happy to be carried by the high-energy of the Beyhive’s most devoted members.
“I feel the lyrics of this song more and more as I mature,” she purrs over the track’s tinkling guitar. Embracing imperfection is a prevailing theme throughout the night. Later, when her mic briefly goes silent mid-line, she continues singing until she’s audible again: no big deal. It’s a far cry from the Beyoncé who famously yelled “somebody’s getting fired!” over a failed lighting cue at a 2009 show.
“1+1” and “I Care” complete Beyoncé’s opening act – and now, with the crowd suitably tingling from her vocal display, the Renaissance begins. “My house of chrome, where I am reborn,” Beyoncé’s voice bellows off-stage. The colour scheme blinks out of a warm golden sunrise and into the dark of the disco club.
A glitterball overhead sends shards of light across the stadium as the electronic screen flashes a pair of metallic robot legs, cheekily spread wide open. She emerges from between them donning a skin-tight chrome leotard. It’s a rebirth of sorts, as Beyoncé bids farewell to the sweet balladeer who opened her show. Now, it’s time to party.
On Renaissance, the songs slip easily into one another. It’s only fitting then, that much of the show follows the order of the album as “I’m That Girl” flows satisfyingly into “Cozy”. The music lends itself to a smoother, groovier style of dance. Less high-kicking and hard stomping; more writhing and sensual. As early as January, there have been rumours that the star is recovering from a foot injury. Though she’s not confirmed any ailment, it’s a possible explanation for her decision to tone down her dancing tonight, most often opting for upper-body choreography only.
At times, it is impossible to ignore the absence of full-out, sweat-dripping moves from a performer who built her name on them. Elsewhere, though, her dance team more than help to pick up the slack. From the return of her long-time collaborators, French breakdancing duo Les Twins, to stars of the Ballroom scene such as Honey Balenciaga, the people on stage with Beyoncé are as at the top of their game as she is. They shake and bounce their “asses and tig ol’ bitties” at Beyoncé’s command through “Church Girl”, strut fiercely down a runway during “Move” and slink their way across the stage as Beyoncé hits the hypnotic light notes of “Virgo’s Groove”.
Audience interaction this evening is limited beyond a few perfunctory quips – and yet the intimacy is palpable. When the crowd joins in with a lyric in “Heated” that name-checks her late dress-making Uncle Jonny, Beyoncé visibly beams with pride. A gay man who dies of an Aids-related illness when Beyoncé was a teen, Johnny was a key inspiration for the sound of Renaissance.
The show ends as the album does, with the Donna Summer-infused tonic “Summer Renaissance”. Suspended by ropes, Beyoncé literally rides her disco horse into the distance, leaving in her wake the thousands left marvelling at her musical and visual voyage they’ve been a part of. It’s hardly a surprise; on “Alien Superstar”, Beyoncé already reminded us that she’s one of one, and number one. After tonight, who are we to tell her any different?