On The Run Tour HBO Special
It couldn't possibly fail. Two of the worlds megastars, arguably the two most famous musicians working today. 75,000 people in Paris, going ballistic. And two days with which to film. It doesn't matter that no-one tuned in back home. Most of America has already attended the concert anyway, as it sprawled its way around stadiums, a zenith existing completely separate from yet confirming the existance of an iron-clad musical industry.
Of course, sometimes these things are lost in the execution. A life-changing live event can turn to an endurable bore when transferred on to the TV screen. All of Eminem's recorded live performances can attest to this. The bass isn't vibrating through your bones. The fanatic energy of the crowd isn't present in your living room. And Beyonce's thigh gap doesn't hold up to slow motion scrutiny. Again, this couldn't possibly happen. If you wander down to your local record store, you will be bombarded with Beyonce DVDs, she's released more than 10 live and compilation discs. Jay-Z also has form, with his stunning Fade To Black performance in 2004 that championed a new era for production values in hip hop videography.
Whether you're a fan of Jay, Bey, or both, this is more than just a co-headliner concert. It's a musical exploration of their relationship, and each performer is subtly entwined within the other, so that when Jay-Z appears on stage alone it feels empty, and when Beyonce is contorting and twisting by herself you can't help but secretly yearn for her man to return to her side. The opening salvo, 03 Bonnie and Clyde (the song that arguably set us down this path), Upgrade U and Crazy In Love are smouldering. Just the two of them; Jay looking like a modern day Andy Warhol, Beyonce resplendant in what little clothing she chooses to cover her unmentionables. Beyonce, the consummate professional, no fuss, total immersion in her craft. Jay-Z STILL sounding like a kid from Brooklyn who can't believe his luck to be performing in front of this crowd in this city in this day and age, a fact he elaborates on more than once during the show. His hunger and breathless interactions with the front row are invigorating, his energy infectious.
In 2008, in an interview with Jonathan Ross, Jay explained the dilemma faced by hip hop performers. He said that whilst bands ply their trade, their grind, by performing hundreds of shows before they manage to hit it big, hip hop artists use mixtapes and underground buzz to create a name for themselves. So when a rapper is signed, he is immediately thrust in to performing, something completely foreign to him. Since learning the art of entertainment from the legendary Big Daddy Kane in the early 90s, Jay-Z has now created the most accessible persona in modern hip hop that he presents on stage. Throughout the entire show he is much more concerned with energy than delivery, with fun than flow. On more than one occasion his lines sound mushed and muddled, as if he is drunkenly slurring or his mind is running so fast his mouth is trying to keep up with him. on U Don't Know, hidden under a black hoodie, he cuts the final syllable off each word. The spectacle is much more important than individual skill right now. He never misses the flow though, and the way he provides the entire run on the Diamonds remix, as well as his blistering hand throwing on PSA and On To The Next One remind you that this is not a man to be trifled with on wax.
Beyonce is one of the few singers in an auto-tuned world who can actually sing. She doesn't shirk away from a backing track, and when she is busy using her body to create stunning imagery during Partition she has no qualms allowing her recorded voice to pick up the slack. That said, when she spits on Yonce, and Nicki joins her for Flawless she is an absolute powerhouse of noise and skill. If you could criticise the first half, you'd suggest she could've shown off her pipes more often, but this is rectified dramatically during the touching run of If I Were A Boy, Ex-Factor, Song Cry, Resentment and Love On Top, a piece designed to both fuel the fires of speculation and solidify the bond that runs deeply through the performance and the tour. There's little doubt of her talent when she provides the hook for Holy Grail, somehow upstaging Justin Timberlakes withering recorded performance, and the way she absolutely owns Forever Young is a work of art. By the time she hits Halo, we're left in no doubt. Even after 2 and a half hours, she is still annihilating every syllable. It's something to behold.
Having witnessed from the outside the maelstrom of negative press the couple has recieved related to their relationship throughout the tour, it's hard to know who profited more from the speculation. Clearly, witnessing them together and on screen, these are two people very much in love. Their playful looks and touches on Drunk In Love, their knowing looks on opener 03 Bonnie and Clyde, even the way she goes HAM over the top of Takeover for Ring The Alarm, it's all the mark of more than a polished, professional performance. The intimate interludes, showing extracts from a rumoured short film based on the myth of the two as gangster fugitives, and the beautiful final few songs.. I mean On The Run is almost like being invited in to post-love cuddling. The at times embarrassing shots of their wedding played whilst Beyonce NAILS the chorus on Forever Young to close the show, and the fact that she wore her wedding dress directly after Song Cry, which immediately difuses all lyrical tension, they all combine to create a picture of pure marital bliss. You can see in your minds eye as they walk off stage together, hand in hand, and go play with daughter Blue Ivy for a few hours before all three fall asleep together in the same bed.
Think I am laying it on a bit too thick? You'd have genuine concern that all this lovey dovey action is a huge love-in mush, something that Robin Thicke might consider a good idea. But it just works perfectly. They begin the show together and they end it as one. Not co-headliners, but Beyonce and Jay-Z, a single entity.
It could have failed. I said it couldn't but it could've been a complete mess. But it wasn't, in fact it's one of the best performances captured on film in the modern era. They have just set the bar.