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On The Run – 2 Contrasting Takes On Jay Z and Beyonce’s Mega-Tour

This past Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to have attended Jay Z and Beyonce’s ‘On The Run Tour’ at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA. Aside from sitting in the parking lot for an hour and half after the show and not moving, and then the very slow ride up Route 1 that proceeded, I had a great time. I don’t consider myself a hard-core concert goer, but I’ve certainly been to my fair share over the past 20 years or so, beginning in the late 80s when as a kid tagging along with my older siblings I had the pleasure of seeing the likes of Run DMC, The Fat Boys, Doug E Fresh & Slick Rick, Salt & Pepa, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. In the 90s as a teen I saw Nas, Jay Z, Foxy Brown, Puffy, Bone Thugs & Harmony, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, Lil’ Kim, Cypress Hill, the pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas, & LL Cool J (again), amongst several others. Adult life in the 2000s brought Prince, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg (twice, one time front row), The Game, LL Cool J (again), Kanye West, Jay Z (again), Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, Will Smith (again), et al. my way. And most recently, just last year in the midst of his Good Kid mAAd City run, I watched Kendrick Lamar perform. So again, it’s not that I’m at a concert every month, but I’ve been to a few, so if nothing else I have a solid frame of reference when building an opinion on a given show.

I mention this because in the following paragraphs I’ve built this post in a point by counter point format using the review published on Boston.com on July 2nd, the morning after the show. Here’s a link to the review, and despite my generally not seeing eye to eye with it I do implore you to read it as it was the author’s honest take and was intelligently composed and well-written.  Let me be clear: My intention here is not in any way to bash the author, Emily Wright, an Arts & Entertainment writer for Boston.com, nor to demean her abilities and opinions. I respect her thoughts and as a blogger in my own right, respect the time that she puts into her craft. Again, I only mention my past concert experiences to drive home the point that though I may not be a professional Arts & Entertainment writer by trade, I’m basing my thoughts on 20+ years of shows that I’ve been lucky enough to attend as well as of course, my love of music, which I’m sure Ms. Wright shares as well.

That said, simply put, Emily Wright and I saw the performances differently and have generally contrasting opinions about it. We’ll start with the title of her article, “Beyonce, Jay Z Try To Do Too Much During ‘On the Run’ Tour in Foxborough”. In her introductory paragraph she expands on that notion by stating:

“There’s a lot to the 2-plus hour “On the Run” tour rolling through stadiums this summer. We’re talking a pair of stages, two superstars, pyrotechnics, a faux love story playing out via interstitial videos, and a true love story playing out on stage – and all of that is set to a soundtrack of more than 40 tracks. In short: there was too much going on.”

With no opening act, Jay Z, Beyonce, and Beyonce’s dancers succeeded in keeping the crowd on its feet for 2+ hours. TheJay Z On The Run pyrotechnics and special effect lighting didn’t bother me or distract me from dancing along to their many hits. While I’ll concede that all of the lights (Kanye pun intended) did in fact make it difficult to snap vivid, clear pictures and videos from one’s cell phone camera (for an amateur photographer, there may in fact have been too much going on), I thought the special effects added the kind of flair and electricity befitting two über pop stars such and Bey and Jay.  About the interstitial videos, Ms. Wright goes on to say:

“The tour-themed videos in particular took away from any type of momentum the sold-out concert gained. Focusing on a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde (played by the couple of the evening), the black-and-white clips followed no real story line, making them incredibly hard to follow.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m far from a movie-buff. Beyond comedies, I don’t really check for too many movies and am usually that dude in a group people look at funny when I reveal that I haven’t seen whatever great film is the topic of discussion at the time (Titanic, The Godfather, and Pulp Fiction are 3 that stand out in this context – my retort, I love Dumb and Dumber and own Pootie Tang). But even with my movie deficiencies, I understood not only what was going on in those interstitial videos, but their core function as well. They were an extension of the tour’s promotional trailer (which can be seen below). ‘On The Run’ thematically is exactly what Ms. Wright says it is, “a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde” type love story where Jay Z and Beyonce play some sort of crime boss types, dodging the law, maneuvering their way through situations with rival crime lords, and managing their own relationship amidst all that chaos.

music-jay-z-beyonce-on-the-run-tour-poster

The clips, never longer than a couple of minutes each, followed this general plot. There were scenes where Bey and Jay were in the heat of battle, guns blazing, and others that delved into their love story, such as one where Beyonce is leaving Jay Z a series of messages on his answering machine (yes, an old school answering machine was used in the scene), each one more harsh than the last to showcase her growing frustration at him for not returning her calls. The videos were there to a) loosely develop the “On The Run” narrative, and b) entertain the crowd while the performers changed outfits (which Ms. Wright does in fact acknowledge later in her piece). I italicize loosely in the sentence above because the intent of the videos wasn’t to showcase an all-out full length feature film. Again, the videos were brief, filled in wardrobe changes very well, and followed that loose crime boss / love story angle.

I certainly got the gist, and didn’t feel as if the videos fell short or took away from the overall excitement of the show. And ‘the gist’ in my opinion was the desired result. They were there to add to the performances, not overshadow them. As the main attractions, Jay Z and Beyonce not only entertained the crowd with their many hits, but also pushed the crime boss / love story narrative musically with their song selection. ’03 Bonnie & Clyde’ for example kicked off the show (both symbolizing the early stages of Jay Z and Beyonce’s relationship and establishing the concert’s core ‘On The Run’ theme), while tracks like ‘F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit’ and ’99 Problems’ accentuated the ‘boss’ and criminal/danger elements inherent in the story line, ‘Partition’ and ‘Drunk In Love’ pushing the steamy, sexual tones of their love affair, and ‘Song Cry’ and ‘Resentment’ highlighting the pitfalls that their love endured while living in the fast lane. With that in mind, the ‘On The Run’ videos serve its purpose of keeping us entertained between the rounds at the big fight if you will. The performances were the main event while the films were like the sexy ring girl between rounds, reminding us at what point in the fight we’re at. They weren’t too difficult or cumbersome to follow.

Another disagreement I have with Emily Wright’s piece is her contention that, “Folks who bought tickets for the show were there for three things: 1. Beyonce 2. Jay Z and 3. Their love story. They weren’t there to watch a chopped up movie.” Further building on this theme she states:

“The few times that Beyonce and Jay Z actually shared the stage for more than a fleeting moment, there was magic. Thanks to those Jumbotrons, the crowd was offered glimpses of the pair sharing googly-eyed moments (which started in the opener “’03 Bonnie & Clyde”), but for the most part the mushy stuff was kept to a minimum.”

She goes onto to describe the latter stages of the show where over a soundtrack featuring “Part II (On The Run)”, “Forever Young”, and “Halo” (all deeper, emotional tracks) Jay Z and Beyonce brilliantly segue from the ‘On The Run’ videos into what appears to be home video footage of the couple’s most intimate moments, such as wedding pictures, vacation shots on a yacht, pregnant Bey, and moments with the couple’s daughter, little Blue Ivy herself. “That was the stuff we were looking for” contends Emily Wright. And while I don’t disagree entirely; it was certainly heartwarming and interesting to get a glimpse into the private lives of two of the world’s most successful entertainers, I personally would’ve been disappointed if that would’ve been the focus of the show. It was cute, and I’ll concede that to some extent this may be a “Hip Hop thing” or a “Joe Average Guy thing” on my part, but too much of that mushy stuff would’ve turned me off. I thought the amount of mushy Jay and Bey was a) just right, and more importantly b) perfectly placed at the end of the set as both the culmination of an action-packed fictional love story and the transitioning to show’s outro, where Jay and Bey offer a boisterous, genuine thanks to the audience for a great night.

Ms. Wright goes on to describe Beyonce’s dance performances as “sexified perfection” and states that “any woman who can dance her incredible butt off (which we got to see courtesy of a cheek-baring leotard during a barre performance) while singing deserves a medal.” Agreed. I enjoyed the dancing and the scenery. A lot. And I was impressed with Beyonce’s ability to execute her vocals while simultaneously delivering high-energy dance routines. And I’m no choreographer by any means, but a lot of those moves were complex and masterfully executed by Beyonce and her dancers. The first half of the video below captures both the sexualized and technical elements of the show’s dance numbers pretty well, with my personal favorite beginning at around the 1:35 mark where they segue into Jay Z’s ‘On To The Next One’ with robot style moves that are a) much sexier than any robot style moves I’ve seen before and b) mimic the soundtrack of a shotgun being built piece by piece, loaded, and fired. It’s dope, check it out below:

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Emily Wright closes out the review by indicating she would’ve preferred less dancing, and more singing, recapping some of Jay Z’s highlights, and concluding that while she’s still a fan of Beyonce and Jay Z, she can’t say the same for the show itself, but loved the home movies. Beyonce did sing very well at the concert. Her cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” was a highlight for me (and contributed to the love gone wrong angle). Jay Z was definitely entertaining, though I was a bit disappointed that there was nothing in the set from his classic debut record, ‘Reasonable Doubt’ – still widely regarded as his best work to date despite his many successful releases since. And you know my take on the home videos.

Another undertone of the author’s piece is that the show’s main attraction was Beyonce, with Jay Z as a feature. I certainly felt the same way, and given that Beyonce’s the one with the most recent album out, that makes sense. She performed a lot of tracks from ‘Beyonce’, released in December of 2013. While some of my favorite moments of the show were Jay Z’s, such as his performances of “IZZO (H.O.V.A.)” and the moment he yelled out “Boston Strong!” to close out a segment, Beyonce was definitely the main attraction.
All in all, as I mentioned earlier Ms. Wright and I were at the same show but saw it through two different lenses. I have no qualms with her general take that she would’ve preferred more moments about their real life relationship and a generally less amped tone from Beyonce, with more singing, less dancing. And I can certainly understand that with that being her desire for the show, the fictional story line told in part through the video clips along with all the fancy lighting and pyro would be a negative. I personally see Beyonce’s draw as more performer / entertainer than pure singer, and that’s not to take away from her vocal ability. Since her Destiny’s Child days however, dancing has been a major part of her act, and it’s worked for her, so from my standpoint not only did I not mind it, I expected it.

Ultimately, it speaks to the diversity within Jay and Bey’s vast fan bases as well as the variance within their respective catalogs that two people would watch the performance wanting to see two different types of shows. I didn’t mind the fiction, pyro, dancing, or that the mushy stuff was kept to a minimum. As such, I thought the show was great, not my favorite ever (that’s a tie between Prince’s 2007 tour and the ‘Up In Smoke’ tour with Snoop, Dre, Em, & Cube back in 2001), but as a fan of Jay and Bey, I had a great time. Conversely, as a fan of Jay and Bey, Ms. Wright left the show disappointed. That’s just show business I guess. You can’t please everybody.

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