Beyoncé at Croke Park: A stunning spectacle of total musical control

Politics takes a back seat as spectacle rules the world during Beyoncé’s only Irish date on the Formation tour

Beyoncé finishes her concert in Croke Park, Dublin with her smash hit 'Halo'. Video: Joyce O'Carroll

Artist: Beyonce

Venue: Croke Park

Date Reviewed: July 9th, 2016

If Beyoncé’s phalanx of women came charging your way, you’d likely throw down your weapons and head for the hills. They march on to stage in Formation, in perfect lock like centurions going to battle, and set a Croke Park stadium that has been simmering in the sun on fire.

Behind them, a giant four-screen cube pivots while fireworks crash overhead and a red-drenched stage outfit led by General B tells us all to Bow Down, before letting us know that the new world order is that Girls Run the World. Watching this show, we don’t doubt it for a moment. When she comes back on stage with Baby Boy it almost comes as a relief that the ice blue lights seem to be taking things down a fever or two.

This is an immense show of almost relentless spectacle. Politics takes a back seat tonight. Unlike other shows this week from Beyoncé, there are almost no mentions of Black Lives Matters or the increasingly fraught situation in the US. But the overriding message is clear as a bell. “If you’re a woman you’re born strong,” says Beyoncé by way of introduction to Me, Myself and I. “There’s no such thing as a weak woman.”

Weak is not a word you would ever use within hearing distance of the Houston singer. Her dancers, 19 at full complement, work relentlessly hard, through choreography that never seems to repeat itself, And yet Beyoncé seems to be working at double time.

If there are flaws, they are mostly that the size of the show allows no room for spontaneity, and Beyoncé is not one to relinquish control even for a moment. Press photographers are not allowed work during this show. Instead images are approved and chosen by her team and given to the media. The Irish Times has chosen not to use them.

When her excellent all-female band make their presence felt beyond the backing tracks, the results are so much stronger. Yet the band and singers are relegated to the wings of the stage, with a degree of musicality sacrificed for theatricality. This seems like a mistake, especially when lead guitarist Francesca Simone is allowed to run riot, and delivers the sort of stadium-shocking solo that even Prince may have raised an eyebrow in appreciation of.

The tracks though are still handled with brilliant dexterity, especially the not too frequent hits. Runnin’ sends chills running up the neck. Independent Woman is loaded for just a few lines before an artful segue into Diva. Crazy Right Now might be the highlight of the evening, dragged down and made slow and menacing, while Beyoncé and her corps almost slither out of boxes. Voice crackling with distortion, she breaks and pops into the straight-ahead tempo and the Hogan Stand roof gets a rattle to its core. Bootylicious gets the briefest of turns, the message seeming crude now that Bey has moved on to bigger and better things.

The entire package is dizzingly slick, though the Croke Park crowd manage to make things run late by cheering so hard she can’t hear herself sing on 1+1. It’s a neat intervention in an otherwise unstoppable show. It all comes to a final, fabulous end, with the troop of dancers ankle deep in a flooded solo stage, flames scratching the sky and Beyoncé showing the octaves who’s boss on Halo.

Bow down indeed.

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