A weekend in Atlantic City is little more than a barrage of themes posing as “experiences,” cheap glitter, and shiny place to put your money forever.
Toss in better outfits and some of modern pop’s most indelible hits, and the same could be said for a Beyoncé concert.
A Beyoncé show is a capital-e Event, but book her in an arena in the center of the Atlantic City Boardwalk on a Friday in the summer, and it’s a tourist attraction. Borgata suites were booked, new Freakum Dresses purchased, money lost on Sex & The City slot machine.
“This ain’t a show for you to be cool,” Bey told the crowd at one point last night (July 26) at Boardwalk Hall. “This is a show for you to get lost.”
Walk through any casino in Atlantic City and you will not feel cool. Even the ones that have rebranded in an attempt to appeal more to the young and clubby, namely Harrah’s, define hipness as overpriced bottle service and poolside sets from The Jersey Shore’s DJ Pauly D. But traverse the game rooms and slot machines and one thing is apparent: faces lost in the experience of being there. That, too, was what Bey did to her crowd at one of the first East Coast dates of her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour.
First, though, was the advertising. For the hour leading up to Beyoncé’s 9 p.m. kickoff, concertgoers were shown the strength of the Bey Brand. Her Pepsi ad, an extended version of her H&M ad, her PSA for the charitable Chime For Change initiative, a commercial touting her family’s involvement with Goodwill; these things were applauded nearly as heartily as the Queen Bey herself.
By the time the giant “B” curtain dropped and “Run The World (Girls)” kicked off, the crowd was primed to bow down after an hour spent having Beyoncé’s greatness re-affirmed to them. She could do no wrong, and in terms of her actual live performance, there’s hardly a compliment that hasn’t been said. Beyoncé does not sacrifice technical excellence at the expense of sheer “wow” factor. Her band of intimidatingly badass female musicians, back-up singers and dancers keep up, but is that any surprise? Those who saw her documentary from earlier this year know all too well that she demands the best of her collaborators and employees.
The setlist was a mix of old and new, as a number of more low-key cuts off 4 (“I Miss You,” “I Care”) mixed with early solo hits (“Baby Boy,” “Crazy In Love”) and Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” In two hours, she covered a bit of ground within her own extensive discography, revisiting fan favorites like “Diva” and “Get Me Bodied” with a new flare that never felt overly rehearsed, despite the fact that Bey’s several months into The Mrs. Carter Show.
The way Bey cut into The Jeffersons theme song during “Single Ladies,” or flowed from “I Will Always Love You” right into “Halo,” felt spontaneous, even though most have seen the YouTube clips by now. The Bey Hive knew they were in for fan sing-alongs to “Irreplaceable,” Beyoncé zip-lining across the arena to a small platform, that blue sparkly jumpsuit and an onslaught of diva fans. But when Beyoncé is writhing around on top of a grand piano sensually belting out “1+1,” it doesn’t really matter that you’ve already watched it online. To merely be in Beyoncé’s presence garners bragging rights, much like winning big.
Throughout the show, the only thing that even inched toward the subpar was her impeccably produced but poorly synthesized video content. Beyoncé started in on a number of visual themes she quickly abandoned, most of them very loosely unified under the heading of female empowerment. There was the Rosie the Riveter character she played in the cheeky video preceding the even cheekier routine for “Why Don’t You Love Me?”; it would make more sense were Bey not dressed in a glittery gold gown get-up while repairing wartime planes.
At the very end of the show, Bey finally gave fans a taste of her new material, in the form of her “Grown Woman” routine. The track, previewed in her recent Pepsi ad but not yet released in full, had an accompanying dance routine that was among the best of the show. Tying in with the song’s Afropop feel, dancers were clad in animal-print rompers and pushed animal-print baby carriages, representing the pride Beyoncé takes in her new-found motherhood within the song’s lyrics. It was all set to a video that takes it over the top, though, rivaling something out of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These were small details in the grand scheme of things, but just like the experience of walking through a casino, a Beyoncé show can seem visually overwhelming at times.
Predominantly, there was the royal theme, first seen in the trailer for The Mrs. Carter Show. Bey went Versailles-levels of posh with her powdered wig swag, though thankfully she did not rock any Marie Antoinette-style gowns during the show. (That would be far too Madonna, and Bey’s pop diva of choice to emulate on this tour is most certainly Rhythm Nation era Janet Jackson.) Most of the pre-recorded vignettes that played in the background or while Bey made one of her many costume changes depicted her wearing a crown. It mirrored the regality that a number of Atlantic City casinos attempt with their decor, Caesar’s chief among them. Give us your money and maybe you’ll feel like royalty: Is that not a pillar of the tourism industry? It’s a pillar of the pop music industrial complex, too, but you’ll never find better odds than at a Beyoncé concert.