The complicated explanation of what Beyoncé and Jay Z's "On the Run" tour is about involves esteem issues, drunk dialing etiquette, feminist theory, art appreciation and a deep exploration of the roles of hip-hop and R&B superstars in popular culture.
The simple explanation? It was awesome.
And the power couple's first tour together, which filled MetLife Stadium Friday night and returns on Saturday, works on both levels.
This is more than watching two of the world’s biggest stars perform together on one of the world’s biggest stages -- something Jay has done already with Eminem, Kanye West and Justin Timberlake. Something in the chemistry of both Jay and Bey changes when they perform together.
Beyoncé’s impressive dance routines border on militaristic on “Run the World” or even “Single Ladies,” where there’s no doubt who’s in charge. But when she and Jay do “Drunk in Love” and she starts shaking her chest in his face or bends over in front of him during “Show Me What You Got,” there’s also no doubt that doesn’t happen any other time on stage. It’s even more unusual to see Jay look as tender as he does at the end of “Drunk in Love,” kissing on Beyoncé’s neck in a warm embrace.
He snaps out of that quickly, though, plowing into “Public Service Announcement” with as much swagger as ever. After all, nearly everything in the “On the Run” tour moves quickly, with the couple rolling through 42 of their hits in the 2½-hour show, as well as one notable cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor” that Beyoncé slayed. The performance configurations switch seamlessly, with Jay disappearing through a trap door in the floor to make way for Beyoncé and her troupe of eight dancers. And they often support each other in ways we haven’t heard before – not just when Beyoncé takes over the Justin Timberlake part of “Holy Grail” or the Mr. Hudson part in “Young Forever,” but the way “If I Were a Boy” took on some of the heavy metal elements of “99 Problems” or the way “Love on Top” moved into The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” to better segue into Jay’s “Izzo.”
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Simply the performances of these songs were impressive enough, especially Bey’s inspired dancing and delivery of “Flawless” and Jay’s thunderous “U Don’t Know,” complete with flame pots at the back of the stadium so everyone could feel the heat. However, they really did try to put their music in a broader context, using film clips of a “Bonnie and Clyde”-type heist and various other clues to get their message across.
“THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE” read the big screen at the start of the show, with flashes of “NOT REAL” appearing over Beyoncé’s face during film clips where she was shooting at people. “THIS IS REAL LIFE” appeared during a mash-up of “Halo” and “Young Forever,” after a montage of clips that showed footage of the notoriously private couple’s wedding, their matching tattoos and their daughter Blue Ivy’s first steps. And Jay and Bey watched the montage along with the rest of the audience, standing, arms around each other, on a stage in the center of the stadium, occasionally singing or rapping when it was needed but seemingly enjoying watching their life as well.
It may seem like too tidy an ending to all the tumult that came before it, but it’s almost understandable in Jay and Bey’s case. Once you reach the top, isn’t it time to stop running?
SETLIST: ’03 Bonnie & Clyde / Upgrade U / Crazy in Love / Show Me What You Got / Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix) / I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) / Tom Ford / Run the World / Bow Down/I Been On / Flawless / ‘Yonce / Jigga / Dirt Off Your Shoulder / Naughty Girl / Big Pimpin’ / Ring the Alarm / On to the Next One / Clique / Diva / Baby Boy / U Don’t Know / Ghost/Haunted / No Church in the Wild / Drunk in Love / Public Service Announcement / Why Don’t You Love Me? / Holy Grail / —withmeyouknowigotit / Beach Is Better / Partition / Countdown / 99 Problems / If I Were a Boy / Ex Factor / Song Cry / Resentment / Love on Top / Izzo (H.O.V.A.) / In Paris / Single Ladies / Hard Knock Life / Pretty Hurts / Part II (On the Run) / Young Forever / Halo / Lift Off