Love is real, this tour is real and yes the King and Queen may have been on rocky terms before, but it only made them stronger. Love can overcome anything, through all the ups and downs and that’s the underlying message mega superstars, JAY-Z and Beyoncé made as they hit Chicago’s Soldier Field Friday night for the first night of their two sold-out performances of their current historic second co-headlining, On The Run II (OTRII) Tour.
Before the duo came out their was cryptic messages and eerie music that continued to pop up on the screen ironically enough reading, “THIS IS REAL LIFE. ON THE RUN II.” The stadium erupting with thunderous applause and shouts from the eagerly excited fans waiting in the crowd for Jay and Bey to emerge, as the message disappeared. Then a cinematic movie began showcasing the tour’s main attractions, The Carters. As the cinema continued, the screen split with the words, “THE GANGSTER,” and “AND THE QUEEN.” The movie showcased JAY-Z and Beyoncé in a truly vulnerable state with various visuals and depictions of the two, their travels through several countries, and family. As the powerful opening visuals continued the words “THE CHASE” appeared, followed by “THE LOVE STORY.” Before the screen then split yet again and showed JAY-Z inside what appeared to be a church, while Beyoncé stood outside with the ocean behind her. Showcasing from when the power couple not that long ago renewed their vows.. The fans went completely insane. As this powerful opening monologue continued to tell this story of the gangster, his girl, their trials, tribulations, and their re-connection. There were so many elements that it felt hard at times to keep up, but it truly captured the audience’s attention, like it was not only a concert, but an actual theatrical masterpiece happening before your very eyes as well. The visuals ending with the screen split down the middle again with Bey on the left side holding twins, Jay holding twins on the right side m and a message that said, “LOVE IS UNIVERSAL.” The screen then announcing, “The Love Story”, before going black, as, The Carters arose at the top of the stage, hand in hand as the moving platform brought them to the center of the stage. The message about love and unity, crystal clear as day and signifying despite their struggles, marital problems and all the troubles they went through as a couple, that there is now a two-are-stronger-than-one solidarity that the kingdom of Shawn Carter and Beyoncé Knowles have gone through to get to where they’re at such a great space now in their marriage.
You could really see this as they descended to the ground opening with JAY-Z’s hit single and title track from his 12th album, Holy Grail, in which the power couple came out decked in matching all white outfits, before Beyoncé lifted her microphone to her mouth to sing the powerful chorus originally sang by Justin Timberlake, while the crowd went absolutely insane rapping and singing along to the very powerful lyrics and chorus. Before so smoothly and perfectly transitioning into their hit collaboration, Part II (On the Run), which the tour is partially named after. The Brooklyn-bred emcee and his wife letting the crowd know they were in for a holy night and one heck of a performance that they would remember for years to come.
Capturing their very loyal audience with a nearly three-hour 40-plus song setlist, which included many elaborate cinematic stage sets, including two separate runways, movable stages, dramatic lighting and a backing band, as well as dancers, and a massive widescreen that played cinematic montages and home videos of the couple with their three children throughout. The duo showed that with the symbolism throughout, it was just as much experience, part live theater, part movie and dance performance, as it was a concert. A Shaksperian like story arc of the power couples actual carefully scripted real life, which resembled a carefully crafted seven-part cinematic movie making it feel much more like an actual experience and real life movie the crowd was as much a part of as well. Especially with how close the duo came to the crowd from the runaways and how much both JAY-Z and Beyoncé jumped out at you from all angles of the huge state-of-the-art screens, it didn’t matter where you sat or stood in the stadium, the duo made everyone from the floor seats to the middle and upperdecks feel apart of the very historic and memorable performance.
What really caught my eye about the performance too was how Jay and Bey both so seamlessly intertwined and transitioned from one song to the next. Whether it was the two collaborating on their many number of hits they performed or their own long list of solo discographies. It was truly remarkable how Jay’s songs so easily flowed into Bey’s or vice versa. As if that was how the songs were supposed to sound all along. There were moments where they meshed the songs and Jay would be rapping a verse from one song as Bey was singing a lyric from another song and it just created this chaotic beauty that was so amazing to watch. Whether it be the male bravado of JAY-Z’s, 99 Problems, while Beyoncé fiercely clapped back with the anger of, Ring The Alarm or Queen Bey scoffing at Jay with Upgrade U, after he wrapped up his guilt omission of, Family Feud, which she ironically sang the chorus for too. The transition from Jay to Bey on his two most vulnerable songs of his career 4:44 and Song Cry to her perched up in what appeared to interestingly be a wedding dress, as she sang her heartbreaking record, Resentment, really finding her truly at her best.
Though many will talk about how great Beyoncé was and rightfully so, Jay’s bravado and swagger on such hits, as, Dirt Off Your Shoulder, On To The Next One, Big Pimpin’, Run This Town, N***as In Paris, Public Service Announcement and U Don’t Know, shows he isn’t no run of the mill performer and is a great performer in his own right. Despite what people say, he was somebody huge before marrying Beyoncé and it shows with how much more receptive the crowd seemed to be to his own solo material as it was to Bey’s. Jay even playfully telling the crowd, “He’s the coolest n***a in the room,” when it comes time to bounce as he told the crowd from the very floor to the middle seats and upperdecks to get up and bounce as high as they could when he played his Watch the Throne hit record with homebred Chicago native and longtime collaborator, Kanye West, N***as In Paris, of course sans West.
Even that all said Beyoncé is known as not only arguably the greatest entertainer and performer of this generation, but one of the best of all-time. So it should come as no surprise in her solo transitions which included a lot of inclusiveness that had her accompanied by some form of female dancers and musicians throughout, which underlined the feminist power of such anthems as, Formation and Freedom, that Queen Bey had quite the very stellar performance. Beyoncé even lending a well-deserved spotlight on several occasions during many of her solo numbers to a female solo guitarist, who was part of a very huge 50-person crew of very amazingly talented dancers and musicians that played for both Jay and Bey throughout a lot of the performance. Which also included a full horn section made up of all women.
It was a night that not only celebrated Jay and Beyoncé’s very vulnerable almost real life like Shakespearian story arc, but a narrative on racial inequality and celebrating black culture and feminism as well. This very much seen on the groups record, Black Effect or even as video images of famous mugshots played across the screen, as Jay performed, 99 Problems. It was also very noticeable when Hov gave a very evocative performance of his rare powerful piece of social commentary for his Grammy-nominated track, The Story of O.J., which was accompanied by images of the song’s animated music video that was done in the style of early 20th century silent cartoons rife with racist themes. Which I think surprisingly helped Jay carry and give a more better performance during the show than Beyoncé, who usually gives much better performances. That’s not to say she didn’t have a great performance, but that Jay just seemed to carry more of the vibe and energy of the near three-hour set.
JAY-Z and Beyoncé would show just how powerful their love and unity is now by closing out with the trio of Jay’s Young Forever before transitioning into Bey doing a cover of Ed Sheeran’s, Perfect Duet, collaboration and duet she did with Ed. Finally getting the whole crowd to go Apes***, as they closed with one of the few records on the setlist from their just a few months ago collaboration album, Everything Is Love, they released together, as, The Carters. That, Nice and Black Effect, surprisingly the only records from the album they performed during the whole show. Closing holding hands, the duo ended a very memorable night and historical experience many will remember for the rest of their lives and years to come. So thank you Jay and Bey for the true experience of a lifetime.
Also not to be lost in the shuffle of things is that Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment artists and group, Chloe x Halle delivered a very stellar opening performance that had those that made it early like myself really moving and grooving, as they played all instruments and guitars for much of their own self-produced set. Which included a majority of their records from their mostly critically-acclaimed earlier this year released debut album, The Kids Are Alright. With records such as, the title track, Hi-Lo, Down, Grown and Happy Without Me. DJ Khaled even bringing out homegrown Chicago rappers, Chance the Rapper and Jay’s Roc Nation signed, Vic Mensa out during his opening performance as well. Making an already historic night that much more. So thanks again to Jay, Bey, homegrown concert-crasher, Chance, Vic and Chloe x Halle for such a memorable and historic night that I’m sure myself and several others who attended will remember as not only one of the best concerts or performances we ever attended, but truly great experiences ever in our lifetimes.