She’s arguably the most popular R&B singer in the world at the moment, so it’s easy to understand why Beyonce Knowles would have the hubris to dub her current concert extravaganza “The Beyonce Experience.” The multimedia presentation, replete with video screens, intricately choreographed dance routines and showers of both sparks and confetti, certainly had plenty of sound and fury — but unlike many similarly structured presentations, there was something significant lurking beneath.
That “something” is Beyonce’s distinctive, decidedly personal spin on topics orbiting female empowerment. Yes, she’s modeled herself on fierce divas of bygone days, but her personality — with a veneer of Southern-belle charm that’s sheer enough to allow the steeliness beneath to show through — isn’t a carbon copy of any of her predecessors.
That persona drove “The Beyonce Experience” for the better part of two hours, flowing through the sexually charged “Freakum Dress” (an apt description for the skin-tight number she was sporting while singing the tune) as well as the jazzier “Naughty Girl.” It also got in the way from time to time, imbuing Knowles with a pushiness that turned back-to-back renditions of “Soldier” and “Survivor” into athletic events rather than artistic expressions.
Lack of subtlety also proved to be the undoing of a passel of melisma-laden ballads — particularly “Dangerously in Love” — that emphasized lung power over litheness. Ms. Knowles did manage to balance those elements beautifully elsewhere in the perf, notably in a medley of Destiny’s Child hits and a version of “Baby Boy” that showcased some Shakira-worthy belly dance moves.
Knowles’ uniformed, all-female backing band — assembled via a series of well-publicized nationwide casting calls — initially conjured up images of the simulated combo depicted in Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” video, but the women (particularly lead guitarist Bibi McGill) demonstrated more than enough sharpness to put accusations of gimmickry in their rear-view mirror.
Although she occasionally had to work a bit to make herself seen and heard amid the sensory overload, Beyonce ultimately did an impressive job of tying together its elements — and proving it’s worthwhile to pay attention to the woman behind the curtain.
“The Beyonce Experience” lands at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sept. 2.