Thu, 18 May 2023 at 12:26 am BST
She came, she sang, she conquered. Beyoncé’s world tour descended on British shores like an imperial force, the US superstar, her stormtrooper band and squadron of machine drilled dancers transforming Cardiff Principality Stadium into an afro-futurist funkadelic space disco bent to the will of an invading alien superpower. People of Earth, your new ruler has come to make you dance.
OK, I might be getting carried away, but it is the kind of show you get carried away by.
We’ve seen plenty of multimedia rock extravaganzas and state of the art pop spectaculars, but this was something else: a sci-fi stadium-scale superclub, the greatest disco in the known universe. The stage was huge, the screen was vast, even the circular secondary stage seemed to occupy half the stadium floor. Everything was supersized, including Beyoncé’s voice, front and centre all night, fluid, flexible, emotional, exultant.
Indeed, her extravaganza had a deceptively, perhaps mischievously slow start, in which the only special effect was Beyoncé’s almost absurdly powerhouse singing, as she rose in a glittery gown from a trap door to melt hearts with three sensuous deep-cut ballads in a row. There was a huge teleprompter scrolling lyrics in the middle of the stadium, as if the star was too high and mighty to even deign to learn her own songs. She still sang the hell out of them.
But this intimate chanteuese opening was just a tease. Once the sprightly beat of I’m That Girl kicked in, the production became relentless, Beyoncé reappearing in the first of many silvery sci-fi costumes (think Barbarella meets Black Panther at a Star Trek convention) to lead the devoted through two and a half hours of sweaty, joyous, funny, outrageous and mindbending dance fever.
There were dancing robot arms, space rockets, indoor fireworks, a giant mirrorball and a flying horse, all playing second fiddle to that pyrotechnical voice. All night, the groove barely faltered, the spectacle never dimmed, and the woman at its centre kept blasting away with a vocal power that seemed positively superhuman, smiling to herself as if in private delight at her own abilities.
The set had been trimmed (by half a dozen songs) from the opening show in Stockholm earlier this week, probably wisely. You can have too much of a good thing. But it still felt like an out-of-this-world marathon danceathon with all the bells and whistles money can buy. At one point, she commandeered a silver tank to drive between a giant pair of splayed robot legs before finally making her exit flying overhead on a wire whilst 50,000 awestruck revellers roared below.
To be fair, none of this should come as a surprise. At 41, after 25 years on top, Beyoncé is arguably the reigning superstar of popular music, combining the pop daring of Madonna with the breath-taking vocal ability of Whitney Houston and the funky bandleader swagger of James Brown, marshalled with a regal command all her own.
Far from taking the safe option of a greatest hits set, her first tour in seven years focussed almost exclusively on last year’s dazzling retro futurist dance album, Renaissance, bypassing many of her biggest hits (no Halo or Single Ladies), with nary a glance back at her Destiny’s Child years. This might seem a bold choice for a mainstream populist crowdpleasing concert, but this showbusiness veteran is beyond pandering to whims other than her own.
She’s something extra special, and she knows it, and she makes damn sure her audience knows it too.