Beyoncé & Jay-Z’s OTR II: A Billion Dollars On Stage Puts On A Show For The Ages

I don’t envy Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

Well maybe I do, but that would be for obvious reasons.

Promo photo for The Carters current OTR II Tour, which made its stop in Chicago this weekend.

But what I don’t envy is that the Carters – perhaps the most famous black American couple aside from the Obamas – will feel immense pressure to try to top this year’s On The Run II Tour with whatever comes next for them – either together or separately.

Assuming their marriage doesn’t need another jolt of infidelity to inspire both to not only put out their most critically acclaimed solo works (her Lemonade and his 4:44) and their first joint album as the Carters (Everything Is Love), but to create a show of the magnitude and magnificence that Chicago witnessed Saturday night at Soldier Field, Beyoncé and Jay-Z may be up to the task. 

But it will be tough to top a show with the magnanimity of a U2 concert, the fierceness of a Madonna one and the drama of four daytime soaps all wrapped into one mega-event.

Saturday night’s OTR II stop – probably not unlike all the others – had everything money could buy for its structural setup:  the ginormous, five-story-high, HD video screen that spanned the width of the football field, two large runway stages with built-in treadmills that jetted out to midfield and which doubled as tracks for a large mechanical riser stage that moved up, down and along its tracks, and a four-story, Hollywood Squares-like, compartmentalized structure for the band members and dancers – not the dozens of glamorous ones that alternately shared the stage with Beyoncé, but the performance art dancers who got solo turns throughout the show.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z during their current OTR II concert tour.

Perhaps music’s royal couple couldn’t do any less.  They didn’t stack up more than a billion bones in combined net worth by lacking work ethic, an ethic that was not only evident in their two-and-half-hour performance last night, but also in the two-decades-plus of collective musical works by each artist.

That ethic was on ample display Saturday night, in the form of the 42 or 43 (depending upon how you count) song set list that was as much a testimony to their lasting marriage as it was to their longevity in the tough music biz.

Interspersed between long song sets were at least five video montages of the power couple in various dramatic silent motion pictures, with several homemade ones featuring their three kids, Blue Ivy, Rumi and Sir.  The earliest videos got the loudest, almost deafening applause, with the later ones getting a much more subdued response.  That’s likely because the last few came during times of exasperation for the mostly amped crowd who likely felt a sense of relief by the time the couple got to the end of the event – relief not due to boredom, but fatigue.

Even for youngsters, it’s hard to keep up three hours of going absolutely apeshit (to borrow a current song title) – the three hours including a 30-minute opening-act stint for hip-hop’s top hype-man DJ Khaled (by the way, who knew he actually had some dope DJ-ing skills as he rolled through more than a dozen crowd-pleasing classics by various artists interspersed with his own hits, including the latest “No Brainer”?).  Missing from Saturday’s concert, however, was local hero Chance The Rapper, who apparently made an appearance with Khaled at Friday night’s show.

But this crowd – a mixture of young and old – was undaunted by the night’s marathon event and provided the answer to Beyoncé’s musical question about going apeshit many times over – and in spades.

Beginning with “Holy Grail,” from Jay’s similarly titled 2013 album, and continuing through “Part II (On The Run)” and the duo’s first-ever collaboration “03 Bonnie & Clyde,” the audience provided ample evidence of just what it means to go “Apesh*t,” as the Carters’ latest single from their joint Everything Is Love album suggests.

Cover art for the Beyoncé and Jay-Z joint album, Everything Is Love, released June 16, 2018.

That album, Everything Is Love – despite the fact that only three of its nine tracks made it to the OTR II set list – served as the foundational theme for this show.

“Love” – particularly the one shared between Bey & Jay – was the message throughout the show.  If it wasn’t evident in the gazes the two megastars gave each other at various poignant moments – like when they first walked out on stage hand-in-hand, it was repeated in various messages printed in large white letters against black backdrops on the huge screen.

But love of self and others – or the need thereof – was a recurring theme as well. Some of the various video interludes touched on the expected political hot buttons of black oppression or self-annihilation.  And songs like “Black Effect” (The Carters), “Freedom” (Beyoncé) and “The Story Of O.J.” (Jay-Z) effectively delivered their intended messages of racial inequity.

“The Story Of O.J.” was particularly compelling, not only for its messages about the state of affairs for African men in America, but for the famous animated video that accompanied Jay’s performance on the large screen.  It was one of the many visually stimulating aspects of the show.

Others included Jay’s performance of “99 Problems,” during which a montage of mug shots from various celebrities – black and white – graced the large screen, now split into various segments.  Among the celebrities were the late David Bowie, the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (which drew loud applause), Angela Davis, Meek Mill, P. Diddy, and Jane Fonda (yes, that Jane Fonda – who was arrested in 1970 for allegedly smuggling drugs, but more accurately – in her words – for being on then-President Nixon’s enemy list).

These mug shot photos of activist Angela Davis and Jane Fonda, both from the 1970s, were part of a montage shown during Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” on Saturday, August 11, 2018.

The video backdrop gave the song from Jay-Z’s Black Album much more depth than it had before. 

But nothing perhaps was more visually striking than Beyoncé – as expected – who underwent at least ten costume changes.  Actually, in fairness to the women, both artists went through different outfits quicker than Serena Williams racks up points at Grand Slam tennis tournaments.

But Beyoncé dazzled us with colorful designer gowns (don’t ask me to name them), skimpy body-revealing two-pieces, and other ensembles that only she could pull off.  

Perhaps the most dramatic was the bright apricot-colored dress she wore for “Resentment,” the ballad from her second solo album, 2006’s B’Day.  She performed the song solo at the end of one of the projected runways at midfield, and by the time it ended you almost felt that she had just directed the song at Jay-Z – with its messages of infidelity – even though it predated their marriage by two years, and predated Lemonade by ten.

Among Beyoncé’s other great – and highly anticipated – moments were “Formation,” “Run The World (Girls),” and “Flawless,” all celebrations of her self-love, her femininity and her feminism.  As Beyoncé clearly recognizes and her fans truly appreciate, all women – and women of color in particular – need to feel like they “woke up like this” on occasion, whether they have Queen Bey’s genes (and her considerable resources) or not.

Even with all of its great moments, Saturday’s show still had its trouble spots, including during the performances of “Deja Vu” (another duet) and “Show Me What You Got” (Jay solo), both of which were distorted by over-amplified bass.

The night could have succeeded with one or two fewer distracting video interludes as well, but they likely served their purposes – to give the dynamic duo a chance to change into yet another costume, or give them much-needed breaks (this was, after all, their second of two three-hour performances on consecutive nights).

But the dullness of those moments were more than made up for by crowd-pleasing anthems like “Drunk In Love” (both Bey & Jay), “Crazy In Love” (again both), and “Niggas In Paris” (Jay-Z), which seemed to get the loudest crowd responses (yes, even The Carters’ recent beef-target Kanye’s “that shit cray” lines on “Paris” were included in the song’s backing track).

Oh, and the show’s closer, “Apesh*t”?  Well, that was fire also!

Performed four hours after the show’s announced 7:30 start time, “Apesh*t” compelled the still-amped but clearly exhausted crowd to do just that, go apeshit crazy.  Almost on cue, the audience immediately stood to its feet one last time and mustered enough energy to do their best moves to the song’s staccato trap beat.

And when Beyoncé shouted “we made it!” at the end of The Carters’ latest anthem, it served as a mark of accomplishment not only for her and billionaire hubby, but for the 60,000 people in attendance who’d just made it through their marathon performance.

Alas, given the show’s enormous success as well as their own, one couldn’t help but feel like Beyoncé had also just made the understatement of the year.

DJRob

Extra:

If you haven’t seen the OTR II Tour and it’s coming to a city near you, do yourself a favor (assuming you’re a Bey & Jay fan of course) and catch it.  I decided at the last-minute to go and I got my tickets reasonably priced through a resale at Ticketmaster (I even met the people – three beautiful girls who loved selfies, I might add – who sold it to me; they were seated next to me at the concert).

You won’t be disappointed.

Set List:

  1. “Holy Grail” – Jay-Z
  2. “Part II (On The Run)” – Jay-Z
  3. “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde” – Jay-Z ft. Beyoncé
  4. “Summer” – The Carters 
  5. “Drunk in Love” – Beyoncé ft. Jay- Z
  6. “Diva” – Beyoncé 
  7. “Clique” – Jay-Z (Kanye West ft. Big Sean & Jay-Z cover)
  8. “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” – Jay-Z
  9. “On To The Next One” – Jay-Z
  10. “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit” – Jay-Z
  11. “Flawless (remix)” – Beyoncé 
  12. “Feeling Myself“ – Beyoncé
  13. “Naughty Girl” – Beyoncé
  14. “Big Pimpin’” – Jay-Z 
  15. “Nice” – The Carters 
  16. (Jamaica video interlude)
  17. “Run This Town” – Jay-Z (Jay-Z/Rihanna cover)
  18. “Baby Boy” – Beyoncé (Beyoncé ft. Sean Paul cover)
  19. “Mi Gente” – Beyoncé (cover)
  20. “Black Effect” – The Carters 
  21. “Countdown” – Beyoncé 
  22. “Sorry” – Beyoncé 
  23. (Bar Fight video interlude)
  24. “99 Problems” – Jay-Z 
  25. “Ring The Alarm” – Beyoncé 
  26. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” – Beyoncé 
  27. “I Care” – Beyoncé 
  28. “Song Cry” – Jay-Z 
  29. “Resentment” – Beyoncé 
  30. (Running interlude)
  31. “Family Feud” – Jay-Z 
  32. “Upgrade U” Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z
  33. “Niggas in Paris” Jay-Z (Jay-Z & Kanye West cover)
  34. “Beach is Better” – Jay-Z 
  35. “Formation” – Beyoncé 
  36. “Run The World (Girls)” – Beyoncé 
  37. “Public Service Announcement” – Jay-Z
  38. (interlude – ballet dancer on moving runway)
  39. “The Story Of O.J.” – Jay-Z 
  40. “Deja Vu” – Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z
  41. “Show Me What You Got” – Jay-Z 
  42. “Crazy In Love” – Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z 
  43. “Freedom” – Beyoncé 
  44. “U Don’t Know” -Jay-Z
  45. (Baptism interlude)
  46. “Young Forever”/ “Perfect” (Ed Sheeran cover) – medley by Jay-Z/Beyoncé
  47. “Apesh*t” – The Carters

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