Towards the end of their sold-out concert Friday night at Minute Maid Park, Beyoncé and Jay-Z temporarily vacated the main stage in deep center field for a smaller bandstand in the midst of the floor seats, where they were quickly besieged by hysterical fans armed with smartphone cameras. Hova wore an all-white cotton suit and a black ski cap pulled back on his head like a kind of gangsta yarmulke, while Queen Bey rocked a black leather-and-fishnet bodysuit featuring a 16-foot stars-and-stripes-print train, designed by Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, that billowed behind her as she and her husband performed a cover of “Forever Young.”
Towards the end of the song, J & B (as they’re called in the tour publicity material) turned around, put their arms around each other, and, along with the rapt audience, silently watched the monumental triptych of video screens behind the main stage, which were playing home movies of their impossibly adorable 2-year-old daughter Blue Ivy cavorting with mom and dad—laying on J's back while he does push-ups, frolicking on the beach with B, plinking away at the piano.
Although obviously highly choreographed and rehearsed in city after city over the course of their On the Run summer tour, the moment still packed an emotional punch—just two proud parents in love with each other and the daughter they created. If it weren’t for the high-octane, often racy set they had just played, the moment might have come across as saccharine. Instead, it felt authentic, offering the tiniest glimpse, however stage-managed, behind the curtain of this fantasy couple’s life. It was Sonny and Cher updated for the 21st century, but the star here was Blue Ivy, who, even as a toddler, managed to upstage her famous parents. It was the only time in the show when the audience took their eyes off J & B.
The rest of the evening belonged to the grown-ups, and they took full advantage of it, burning through a jumbo set of hit records that reminded you how long both of them have been in the business—J released his first album, Reasonable Doubt, in 1996, the same year Destiny’s Child was formed—and how much great music they’ve produced in that time. There was no filler in the set—nearly every song hit, and hit hard. J & B joined together on about half of the songs, and did the rest solo, but the energy level remained sky-high.
Anyone who doubted that Jay could command the stage as well as Beyoncé was in for a surprise—both are natural-born performers, in their element with a mic in their hand and a stage to prowl. The pneumatic-bodied Bey danced her way through cuts from her recent self-titled album—“Bow Down,” “Pretty Hurts,” “Drunk in Love”—while Jay took the stage to spit blistering versions of classics like “99 Problems,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” and “Ni**as in Paris,” as well as “Tom Ford” off his recent Magna Carta Holy Grail. On “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” J changed the words of his famous boast “Best rapper alive” to “Best rapper ever.” His performance showed why that claim can't easily be dismissed
Unsurprisingly, some of the loudest applause was reserved for J’s “Big Pimpin',’” his hit 2000 single featuring Houston legends UGK. J gave a classy shout-out to Bun B, who was in the audience, and the late Pimp C, with J pointing towards the sky when saying his name. But if Bun was in the audience, couldn’t J have invited him on stage to rap his own lyrics? Or was the concert simply too tightly choreographed to allow any spontaneity?
The concert’s real draw, of course, was the chance to see J & B together on stage. The duo kicked things off with “’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” their first collaboration, which includes a forecast from J of things to come: “Cuz mami’s a rider, and I’m a roller / Put us together, how they gonna stop both us?” They followed that up with even more famous collabs—“Crazy in Love,” “Naughty Girl,” “Upgrade You”—but it was “Bonnie & Clyde” that set the tone, both lyrically and visually. The entire concert was accompanied by video clips from Run—the Tarantino-esque tour promo video starring Sean Penn, Don Cheadle, and other family friends.
At the end of the show, J & B took their curtain calls (J: “Give it up for Mrs. Carter!”; B: “Give it up for Mr. Carter!”) and walked offstage together, hand in hand. How is anyone gonna stop both of them?