While there’s nothing particularly novel about an artist performing an album in its entirety at a show these days, those perfs are generally staged as exercises in nostalgia – celebrating a distant anniversary of a release or generating a quick paycheck for acts who’ve seen better days, career-wise.
So when Beyonce, who’s undeniably at the top of her game both in terms of creativity and public interest, announced last week that she’d be doing a Gotham stand in which she’d roll out her still-charting “4” album in toto (and at the relatively intimate Roseland Ballroom, to boot), people listened. And they bought tickets – this first night sold out in a lightning-fast 22 seconds.
Despite the relatively tight quarters, Beyonce didn’t pare down her show for the occasion, augmenting her band with full horn and string sections, both of which were given plenty of room to strut their stuff. The singer took a circuitous route to the album at the core of the perf, offering sort of a “This Is Your Life” introduction that kicked off with her take on the Jackson Five’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are” (nodding to her childhood roots) and a rushed-but-righteous medley of Destiny’s Child hits.
Continuing the chronology, she segued into a passel of her earlier solo material, prefacing that swath with a raised-eyebrow recounting of her label’s initial doubts as to her viability as a solo artist – an argument that she didn’t need to refute, but opted to anyway, running through a half-dozen or so female-empowerment anthems like “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and “’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” with the girl-power mood underscored by the presence of an all-female band.
Given the fact that she’d been in perpetual motion for the first 60 minutes she’d been onstage, Beyonce caught something of a lucky break in having opened “4” with the slinky ballad “1 + 1” – which afforded her the chance to take a breather perched atop a grand piano. It also let her showcase a voice that has matured immensely in recent years, developing into a powerful contralto that no longer cracks around the edges of her more ambitious tunes.
Her run through the new album’s tracks was smooth and sultry, but somehow less eventful than the earlier offerings. While she put plenty of heart and hips into renditions of “Run The World” and “Party,” the songs’ hooks just didn’t sink in quite as deeply as in their recorded versions. The beats were certainly more than credible – and Bey sensually drove that point home in the shimmies and shakes she displayed during bass-driven tracks like “Countdown” – but the overall feel of the final moments (the show had no encore) was more processed than it needed to be, with too much slickness and too little soul.