We've seen a lot of pop artists at Bridgestone Arena: Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, the usual. But easily — very easily — Beyoncé's was the best performance we've ever seen at the arena. There's Beyoncé herself: a good singer, a good dancer (the only good dancer we've seen, actually) and an established artist with a slew of hits under her belt. There was the band: all women — eight musicians and three backup singers — all killer. There were the dancers: twin brothers and a bunch of other ladies hitting every mark without coming off robotic or overly practiced, and keeping the crowd entertained during B's costume-change interludes. Oh, sweet Mary, the costumes. So many sequins. Shoe changes with every costume change, too. And the production itself is the only one we've ever seen, in any genre of music, to actually justify an expensive ticket price. There was a lot of fire. There were a lot of sparks. There was a second stage built in the middle of the arena that Beyoncé soared to on wires in a rain of glitter confetti. There were elaborate screens and videos and lights and a lot more fire. So much fire. Guys. It was awesome.
That is not to say, however, that Saturday night's concert didn't have a slow start. Getting into the arena took a minute, if only because a vast majority of the audience was women in short, tight dresses and high-heeled shoes trying to gracefully teeter their way inside. Opener Luke James (yeah, Beyoncé had an opener, weird, huh?) played the role of male stripper to the impromptu-bachelorette-party vibe, singing pretty dull R&B songs in a vest with no shirt on underneath. His job was to be moderately handsome, and he succeeded. Then it was waiting. The 2 Chainz house music was a hit; Kings of Leon was not. The wave was started successfully. We spotted Tennessee's own Kid President making his be-suited way through the crowd, followed by a camera crew. There were commercials for various products that all happened to feature Beyoncé. It kind of took forever.
9:40 p.m. and Queen Bey at last. We had kind of cheated (let's just call it due diligence) and checked out set lists for other dates of The Mrs. Carter Show, so we knew she was going to kick it off with "Run the World (Girls)," a Major Lazer-sampling banger of a track, and it paid off. The patient crowd snapped out of it immediately and the party was started. "End of Time," the very next song, featured a curtain of flying sparks behind Beyoncé and her dancers. Seriously, this show looked like it cost about $100,000 only two songs in.
The overall theme for the show, according to the video interludes that played throughout, was basically "look at this fancy shit." Elizabethan and Marie Antoinette imagery was prominent, and there was a "ballerinas are also cool" vibe that permeated the show. Another thing about Beyoncé: She knows how to hold for applause. She stands simultaneously smug and beatific for what feels like just a beat too long, but the love doesn't stop, there's never a wavering of the crowd's cheering.
"If I Were a Boy" in a black sparkly unitard. "Baby Boy" in front of a large video screen that projected images similar to those she utilized at her Super Bowl Half Time performance: shadows, projected backup dancers, mod black-and-white flashes. MORE FIRE. There was "Naughty Girl." There was a Tina Turner-esque short, fringed green dress. While she performed in the middle of the arena (after she ascended across the crowd in a haze of glitter, remember?) we think Kid President got to sing a few lines, along with a gay man whose life just peaked. But then it was floating back over the crowd to the main stage: a "Countdown" countdown, and "Crazy in Love" followed by "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," the best one-two punch of dance songs currently available in the world of popular music. There was the Pan-African Lisa Frank-themed "Grown Woman," and more sparkly confetti explosions over the crowd.
Beyoncé requested a moment of silence for Trayvon Martin that was 99.5 percent complied with; a thoughtful, necessary and jarring moment. She sang the first few lines of "I Will Always Love You," a standard part of the show that now seemed especially poignant, and segued into the show's closer, "Halo."
Few things get the The Spin extra giddy — really even non-extra, regular-amount giddy — like a visit from our favorite unsung heroes of '90s indie rock. "Swirlies" is such a simple name that even though we verified the information, we still worried it might be some other Swirlies — not the veteran Boston noise-pop ensemble we cherish from our youth — opening for Kurt Vile and his Violators Sunday night. However, upon climbing the Mercy Lounge staircase only to walk face-first into a squealing wall of melodic, lysergic bliss that was soon interrupted by a jarring diversion into well-rehearsed racket, mangled chords and an undercurrent of pure cacophony, we knew this was our band. Unfortunately, our tardiness meant that one song is all we got, leaving our appetite for nostalgia whetted but ultimately unfulfilled.
If it was any consolation, headliner Vile oozes more than his share of throwback slacker vibes, as he and the Violators took the stage around 10:30, breaking into our own and likely everyone else's (at least everyone who was in this room) sweet summer jam "Wakin' on a Pretty Day" from this year's Wakin' on a Pretty Daze. Half of Vile's charm is that he's in no hurry to get anywhere anytime soon. The traipsing pace of Vile's fuzzy folk made its way into most of his latest long-player — a yawning, stretching, wake-'n'-bake of a platter heavily featured in the night's set list. However, that same charm had us literally stretching and yawning a little less than halfway in. With minimal changes in tempo, dynamics or even banter (of which there was very little to begin with), the set was blurring into one long, plodding, twinkling lullaby, even if the band's volume — which was somewhere between "Teeth-Rattling" and "Bone-Pulverizing" on the loudness scale — kept us awake.
No traditional singer-songwriter's set would be complete without a solo acoustic interlude, an expectation Vile made good on. Even if he was only getting quieter, it still made for some much-needed diversity, with the packed and attentive audience matching Vile's more hushed tone. One could have heard a beer bottle crack during the stripped-down "Peeping Tomboy," before the band came out to deliver the very stuff we needed. "Freak Train" was a pepped-up, blown-out blast of stoner pop that hit us like a poolside popsicle.
Some folks in the front made way for the rest of us, either unaware or unconcerned that the absence of house music and activities of the guitar tech suggested an eminent encore. (And since we mentioned him, we'll just note that the tech had his work cut out for him, swapping an arsenal of axes in and out on behalf of Vile and his two fellow guitarists all evening.) Vile and the band came back to toss out a couple stripped-down faves — namely "Baby's Arms" and "He's Alright" — before he motored off the stage to greener rooms, and we motored our way on home.
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