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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Last Night: Beyoncé at Oracle Arena

Posted By on Sat, Jul 11, 2009 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge COLUMBIA RECORDS
  • Columbia Records
Oracle Arena
July 10, 2009

When Beyoncé (aka "Sasha Fierce," her on-stage alter ego) does an arena tour, all the stops are pulled out. The last time she played in Oakland, she was carried out on stage by shirtless minions who scattered rose petals in her path. This time, she came armed with a season's-worth of awesomely angular Thierry Mugler costumes, a hot all-girl band, and an awful lot of hair.

Since this star realizes that the considerable magnetism of huge lights, big sound, and couture costumes still aren't enough to keep short attention spans on lock these days, Beyoncé also prepared surprise thrills in the show. Nothing was bigger and more spectacular as when she emerged from a riser built in the stage and shot up a few stories in the air. She wore a long, gold skirt that went on forever, until it fell away and she was just in a short, almost figure skater-inspired outfit. From there, she literally flew over the crowd in the arena, doing somersaults and striking diva poses as she sang her hit "Baby Boy." It's a technique that's been employed in major shows before, to some extent, but it truly was breathtaking.

The numerous wardrobe changes (nine plus minor alterations, if our count is correct) were made possible by interstitial, cinematic moments of abstract beauty on the screens: Beyoncé as a fembot, tangling with a leopard; Beyoncé as Greek goddess, flipping a cold coin emblazoned with her image; Beyoncé leading an army of men down a New York street, all rendered in black and white.

A short segment of the concert reminded the audience of her silver screen presence as well as her influence as she sang "Listen" from Dreamgirls and Etta James' "At Last" from Cadillac Records, the latter accompanied by video of Beyoncé singing it to the Obamas at the Inauguration. There was also a thankful balance between balladry and danceable numbers. A fun medley of Destiny's Child hits was thrown in for nostalgia (as were video snippets of a five-year-old Beyoncé singing and dancing at home), with some moves that were decidedly more adult than what DC put forth in their late teen years.

As the strains of "Single Ladies" kicked in, the big screens showed a montage of YouTubers of all colors, shapes, and sizes trying to do Beyoncé's Bob Fosse-inspired choreography from the video for several minutes until Beyoncé herself came out with her dancers to do the signature moves.

The show rang on a high, positive note throughout, but she saved some of the most emotional moments until late in the set. She dedicated her current single "Halo" to the memory of Michael Jackson, which followed an amazing instrumental tribute of his songs earlier in the show led by her fierce bassist Divinity Roxx. As a classic picture of him in his fedora filled the screens, she explained that seeing MJ on television as a child was her inspiration to do what she does. She fell to her knees as she sang, "Michael, I can feel your halo. . . I pray your music never fades away."

Bizarrely, she then asked the audience who was celebrating a birthday and then sang "Happy Birthday" before finishing her performance. It was a sweet gesture and one of several times she tried to connect directly with the people in the crowd; just ask Nigel, a beautiful, elated kid to whom she sang "Say My Name." But hearing "Happy Birthday" was still just a little bit strange after pouring her heart out for the King of Pop. We were still in the middle of trying to mop up the puddle of tears.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I couldn't see the entirety of the whole show properly from my seats.

Random detail: She threw a cover of Alanis Morrissette's "You Oughta Know" in the middle of her leather-clad, crotch-grabbing rendition of "If I Were a Boy."

By the way: Beyoncé changed costumes two more times than she did at her last show at Oracle Arena. Impressive!

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Tamara Palmer


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