Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Beyonce, Live at the United Center

Kittens, I can't remember the last time I did something so mainstream and loved it so much. The Beyonce Experience (yes, this concert tour is actually, literally called "The Beyonce Experience") was everything I could have possibly wanted it to be (right down to and including the over-the-top pompousness of the name). Bright, colorful, loud, eager to please, equal parts dance party and inspiration-fest--this was a show for people who want/expect/need a little show in their shows. It was such a relief just to be able to sit back, let the circus do its job, and be entertained. They did all the work so I didn't have to.

I've ungenerously and flippantly referred previously to my "mixed feelings" about Beyonce, when I should've clarified that I'm actually completely fascinated by her as a performer and a leading figure in pop culture. (I can't believe she's been around for about 10 years now. Girl's clearly doing something right, and I don't think she's planning on going anywhere. Unless it's up, up, up.) She's so baldly hungry for power and glory--and that's OK. The great ones have to be, don't they? I'm getting a little sick of the "they're just like us" golden handcuffs we put on our actors and musicians. I mean, the odiousness of celebrities behaving badly is clearly appalling, but I also don't want to be lied to by artists who feel the need to reassure me they "haven't changed" and are "still the same person" they were before they got famous. Um, no, Beyonce's not just like me. Why on earth would it be necessary to my enjoyment of her music or her persona to think that we share some sort of common bond as people? She's a hugely successful, hugely talented pop star living a life completely unimaginable and undesirable to me. And I'm cool with that. Why shouldn't she be a bit of a megalomaniac? Anyway. There was something almost dorky in the abandon with which she was plainly reveling in being the center of so much attention. Yeah, she was quite obviously having fun on stage, but underneath the joy, you could also see the bossy little girl shrieking "mine! mine! mine! all mine!" in her smiles and twirls. She loved sharing the spotlight with her dancers and her foxy female band members because it was her spotlight to share. And hell, when you look at the enormity of the operation she's responsible for--the stage set-up, the crew, the musicians, and all the necessary logistics along the way--you kind of can't begrudge her the pleasure of the spotlight because that's a major load to be carrying, emotionally and financially, on one's shoulders.

And let us not overlook the not insignificant fact that she's eminently worthy of said spotlight because she's really, really fucking good at what she does. On the level of endurance alone, what she's doing is impressive, with the singing and dancing and costume changing and keeping the crowd fired up for two hours straight. And her voice. was. impeccable. All the melisma and showboating might get tiresome after a while, sure, but I was completely blown away (and willing to be blown away) that night by her powerhouse instrument. Because, when it comes down to it, that's really what we all paid all that money for--that voice and those songs and what that voice can do to those songs. The most stunning example of this was probably her performance of "Flaws and All" from the deluxe edition of B-Day. It's one of those "I don't know why you love me, but I love you because you do" songs (in fact, I think those might actually be some of the lyrics), and people went bananas for the fact that she had herself in tears by the end of it. I can't decide whether I feel slightly dirty about this or not, whether there's a tinge of whorishness in the way she contrived to work herself up into this fever pitch of emotion for our viewing/listening pleasure. (I'm just sayin'...it can't have been coincidence or simply good timing that the camera operator for the jumbotron knew to stay focused on her face for a tight closeup during the whole thing; I don't think there was a cutaway to a single full-length or torso shot until the end...when she was embraced by one of her obscenely--and I do mean obscenely--ripped male dancers who descended the staircase behind her wearing angel wings.) But, I also think she could never have found so much success as a singer without her ability to emote like that--to be both the mouthpiece for her audience's insufficiently/ineloquently expressed emotions and a sacrificial lamb, going through those tears night after night in order to bring us to some kind of point of catharsis.

This is all not to mention the big "Irreplaceable" singalong that just about closed the night. Talk about music doing work in people's lives. Of course, people probably would have been singing along regardless, and the organic nature of a spontaneous eruption of group song would have been infinitely more powerful, but B's control freakiness couldn't possibly leave something like that to chance, so it was that faux-graciousness again, not letting us forget that she was granting us permission to belt it out en masse while she looked on approvingly. But, it worked. This anthem of individual agency and self-sufficiency in the face of attempted displacement from the spotlight of one's own life hit its mark and got everyone, in accordance with B's whole musical project concerning "the dynamics of heterosexual relationships in the context of late capitalism" (as Matthew Fluxblog so brilliantly once put it), feeling better about their reasserted emotional net worth as individuals.

After the astonishingly average opening set of paint-by-numbers white boy R&B grooves from Robin Thicke (yes, son of Alan), I was sooo ready to sink my ears into some music with some actual substance, and it felt really good to have it (re)affirmed for me that, yeah, I ignore or discount Beyonce at my own peril and detriment. All in all, an incredibly fun night. Big love to my concertgoing companion Nick for taking those hairpin turns from snark to fan-girl freakout and back again with me without blinking an eye.

(Happy birthday, DS! Miss ya like hell, buddy.)


Nick said...

I loved those hairpin turns :) And I love you... and there's nothing you can do about it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Felus, I love this. I love that you love Beyonce for exactly what she is. You make me want to go shake my ass.

Mad kudos to you.