Thursday, August 18, 2011

Swank Review: Beyonce at Roseland Ballroom


There is nothing like a good live show; bands, background vocals, minimal track play, and a performer who can dance, project energy AND sing live. Usually, the smaller the venue, the better the performance because you get a more stripped down version of the singer, without all the extravagant, sometimes overbearing props and production. With red lights, “Diddy” smoke (we’ll get to him soon) and white accessories (from pianos to saxophones), Beyonce puts on an intimate performance that made even a fan without her album sing along with conviction.

Before entering the Roseland Ballroom, the journey begins in line, which seems to have begun around 1pm and wrapped around 52nd street, crossing both Broadway and Seventh Ave. The homeless and any other tired person in New York had a field day with all the lounge chairs left behind as fans had to leave them on the curb before entering the venue. We enter the ballroom, after getting samples of Beyonce’s new fragrance and a ring flashlight (clearly she is doing Single Ladies as part of her set), head to the ballroom where a DJ is spinning a dope mix of songs that took me back to a time before I was even born! After hitting all the notes to Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do” and pumping my fist to Rob Base “It Takes Two,” the balcony begins to fill up.

The balcony turns out to be a nest of industry professionals and special guests (though the venue was so intimate nearly everyone was special just to even get through the ticket process). First to enter was Mr. Terius “The Dream” Nash,” who was definitely excited to be there. Waving to the crowd, pouring Ciroc, and wearing his ring light (clearly he is proud of the songs he writes; I would too), The Dream proved that even artists can appreciate the talent and power of other artists. With the DJ still spinning (and The Dream still jamming his heart out), the crowd begins yet another roar. Looking over, it’s Diddy walking to the balcony. Blue and white striped polo, shades (of course) and that big Diddy smile, he shows love to the crowd and mingles in with the industry crew. Among the industry crew emerges the man who I think is THE industry, and that is Jimmy Iovine. This is when I realize that this show is about to be amazing; the mere fact that the entire who’s who of music is attending your show in the same night proves that you are a force in entertainment. Jimmy Iovine was enough for me, so after I screamed for him to mentor me “American-Idol” style, in walks Russell Simmons and Ne-Yo.

The balcony is super full now, and the DJ plays this countdown… no, not from Beyonce’s CD, but a countdown as if she is about to come on stage. The crowd goes crazy, but nobody comes on stage… then… “New York State of Mind” comes on, and it just felt as is someone was missing from the crowd… not anymore! In all black everything, here comes Jay-Z and the crowd goes ballistic! Now the crowd is complete and moments later the band enters the stage.

Yes, all of the above happened over the course of three hours, hence the amount of paragraphs needed to truly sum up the experience.

OK, showtime. After a smooth, jazzy sound check by the band (which I hoped lasted longer because it was amazing), the red lights and Diddy smoke go away, and in walks Beyonce, in a metallic leotard (with stomach covered… hmmm will there be pregnancy rumors swirling again??) in full Sasha Fierce mode - though I think Sasha left after the first five minutes. She begins the show with her journey to becoming the star she is. Many of you may be familiar with this part of the set, as she has been doing it since her BDay tour. She starts the set with the Jackson 5’s “I Wanna be Where you Are” and takes us through her years from pre-Destiny’s Child to Destiny’s Child to “Who are those other two new chicks”, to the New Destiny’s Child.

Then begins her set as THE Beyonce, performing Crazy in Love, Single Ladies, and Irreplaceable to name a few. She and her dancers are rockin’ it out, and I notice that there are only three dancers behind her. Aside from wanting to know the words to songs from “4”, my major question of the night was..”Where is the Asian dancer??” I kind of live for her; I think it’s the fact that she has to sew in a curly fro weave, which is pretty amazing.

Beginning her set from the album 4, she starts with 1+1 on top of the piano, belting an emotional arrangement of the song with her beau only 50ft away. She continues with a chronological rundown of her new album, adding runs and notes more powerful that what’s on the original tracks. As someone not familiar with the entire album, I do have a few tracks that I know and love, which happen to be “Sucks to Be You”, “Til the End of Time,” and “I Miss You,”so during her 4 set, I patiently waited for these songs so that I could sing along with the rest of the crowd. Beyonce’s strongest, and what seemed to be the most vocally straining performance was to “Love on Top,” at which she had to have increased octaves at least three times more than on the original track. After the song, she had to take a sip of water, and all she could say was simply. .”Damn.” I think we all felt that way after that one!

After more energetic performances of “Til the End of Time” and “Who Run the World,” (yes, my Asian dancer finally came out!) Beyonce ends the show with an emotional, powerful performance of “I Was Here,” in which she changed the final chorus to “We Were Here.” A fitting end to the show, and after such a powerful performance, there was no need to scream for an encore; the work was finished.

What I appreciated most about the show was that it gave such a personal attribute to Beyonce. In a venue so small in comparison to her level of celebrity and success, you were really able to see how much she truly enjoys her job. From laughing at some of her own dance moves, to even being taken aback when the audience started singing “Countdown” before she could even get “Ten” out of her mouth, she gave us a look inside of the true Beyonce. Sasha Fierce wasn’t in the building except for the first entrance, and it was a pleasure to see her beyond the mask that her fame puts in front of her. I didn’t leave the concert feeling moved or reflective by any sense of depth, but I did leave with a crazy admiration for her craft, and how it influences her musical peers and biggest fans alike.

photos: Quentin D. Washington's small camera

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