A Blast of Beyonce

Beyoncé strutted and shimmied  --  and sang  --  at Verizon Center, backed by an all-female band and in front of an audience of mostly women.
Beyoncé strutted and shimmied -- and sang -- at Verizon Center, backed by an all-female band and in front of an audience of mostly women. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 11, 2007

Beyoncé posed triumphantly at the front of the Verizon Center stage on Thursday, her body dripping with silver spangles. Smoke swirled around her. Sparks fell behind her. The music swelled. The audience shrieked.

It had the look and sound of an exultant encore. But Beyoncé was just getting started by making the sort of dramatic, over-the-top entrance about which every aspiring diva dreams.

Her fabulous presence sufficiently acknowledged, the singer got down to the business of singing -- and, yes, dancing. (What, you expected the star of a tour that's being billed as "The Beyoncé Experience" to sit on a stool?) As her band ripped into "Crazy in Love," the brassy song's go-go beat sent Beyoncé twitching and stomping across the stage in stilettos as she belted the love-crossed lyrics with fury. This as no fewer than 15 disco balls twirled overhead and eight dancers swept across the stage and lights flashed -- and so, too, did Beyoncé: Midway through the song, she tore away the bottom of her dress to reveal her inner-most thighs. "The Beyoncé Experience," indeed!

It was pure pop spectacle. And it was brilliant, as was most of the fiery two-hour show that followed.

Almost everything about Beyoncé is explosive: She has an explosive voice, explosive hair, explosive hips and explosive relationship songs with explosive choruses. She's something like Tina Turner without that dangerous edge. (Beyoncé is a little too scripted and polished to be considered a real live wire.)

She's also among the last of the mass-appeal pop stars: Though just 25, Beyoncé has been a superstar for a full decade -- first as the magnetic centerpiece of the soul-pop girl group Destiny's Child, and now as a solo singer and actress. Her résumé is highlighted by eight No. 1 singles and another eight that landed in the Top 10. Who does that anymore?

Befitting Beyoncé's larger-than-life status, the concert here was an exercise in excess: It featured a half-dozen spangly costume changes; 24 musicians, singers and dancers; and a set list that spanned more than three dozen songs. The pacing was relentless, even punishing. Because Beyoncé specializes in mid- and up-tempo material, there wasn't much downshifting -- just a handful of ballads, including the powerhouse "Dangerously in Love," a "Dreamgirls" medley and the melodramatic "Flaws and All," in which Beyoncé offered a litany of her own "imperfections" that her lover embraces unconditionally. (She attempted to illustrate her flaws by flicking the underside of her left arm -- as if having, like, 12 percent body fat is a bad thing.)

Mostly, the songs were fast and faster, powered by a hard-driving rhythm section that featured dueling drummers. But Beyoncé didn't exactly struggle to keep up -- never mind that she was in perpetual motion throughout the set. She pole-danced during "Suga Mama," skulked around the stage during the raging "Ring the Alarm," slinked through the sexualized "Freakum Dress" and belly-danced to the sultry "Baby Boy." A Destiny's Child medley that encompassed 10 of the group's hits -- from the anthemic "Independent Women" to the stuttering kiss-off "No, No, No" -- became a high-impact aerobics workout. On "Get Me Bodied," Beyoncé even got interactive, leading the crowd in a dance routine.

Though Beyoncé owned the spotlight, this being her "Experience" and all, her band co-starred in the show, playing hard and tight behind the singer and vamping expertly for sustained periods whenever Beyoncé left the stage to change. No surprise that a high-grossing arena tour features a talented group of professional musicians; but this one was at least a little bit noteworthy, as all 10 of the musicians were women. "I wanted an all-female band," Beyoncé said. "I'm all about my women. I know the type of songs we need to hear."

Those included affirmative anthems about womanly strength and independence and revenge and romantic ideals, but there were also songs about sex (as in "Naughty Girl," with its musical Donna Summerisms) and supplication ("Cater 2 U"). Not surprisingly, the audience was dominated by women.

At the end of the night, Beyoncé reached for one of her most recent hits, "Irreplaceable," which is about sending the dead weight in a relationship "to the left, to the left." But she allowed the crowd to carry too many of the lyrics and frequently interrupted herself to point out random faces in the crowd. "I see you in the pink shirt," she said. "I see you in the orange shirt with your arms up. I see you holding up the sign that says, 'I love you Beyoncé.' " Given the excitement surrounding her entrance, it wasn't much of an exit.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company