A lot has happened since Beyonce and Jay-Z were last “On The Run,” via the inaugural edition of the couple’s joint tour launched in 2014. The two have become billionaires and sometimes vegans, welcomed twins, and made history with Tidal and at Coachella. But there was also that issue of “Becky with the good hair.”
Jay-Z’s confessed infidelity has absurdly morphed into another career high note for both artists, with Beyonce releasing her most complex work to date on 2016’s emotional epoch “Lemonade,” and Jay-Z following that up in 2017 with his apology album “4:44.”
Yet, as the two entered Soldier Field holding hands Friday night during the first of back-to-back shows in Chicago, it was a clear statement of unity, signifying one of the world’s most prominent power couples. That message is also clear on their new collaborative album, “Everything Is Love,” which credits The Carters for the first time.
Few of its tracks have been played on this OTR II tour (just “Apes—,” “Nice” and “Black Effect”). Jay-Z also referenced the album briefly after an evocative performance of his Grammy-nominated track “The Story Of O.J.,” which was accompanied by images from the song’s animated music video, done in the style of early 20th century silent cartoons rife with racist themes.
“Only love can conquer hate; we’ve got to learn to love each other more. Everything is love,” he said to a receptive crowd when the song wrapped. As much as this night was about Jay-Z and Beyonce’s Shakespearian story arc, it was also a narrative about racial inequity. In “Black Effect,” as the couple instructed the crowd to “put your hands up where I can see them,” the double entendre was not missed. In “99 Problems,” Jay-Z accompanied the song with video images of mugshots.
But it was also a night to celebrate black culture and more notably black feminism, courtesy of several video interludes and the nearly 50-person crew of dexterous dancers and musicians. The musical ensemble included a full horn section made up of women and a female solo guitarist who got a well-deserved turn in the spotlight during many of Beyonce’s numbers.
When they weren’t collaborating on numbers, Beyonce and Jay-Z took turns delivering snapshots of their solo hits, all of it adding up to 43 songs carefully curated to evolve like a heated conversation. After the male bravado of “99 Problems,” you could ostensibly feel the anger as Beyonce clapped back with “Ring The Alarm.” When Jay-Z wrapped up his guilt omission in “Family Feud,” Beyonce scoffed with “Upgrade U.” And as Jay-Z says on “4:44,” this still feels like “healing in real time,” you have to wonder just how awkward it is for him to be chastised night after night until the tour wraps in October.
Of the two, Beyonce delivered the stronger performance — as much for her unmatched dance-offs and runway-worthy fashion choices (including a leather corset by Mugler, holographic ensemble by Balmain and Queen-worthy purple cape from Dundas), but also for her gut-wrenching honesty. Though she had the ground shaking during “Drunk In Love” and “Formation,” and had an actual (yet accidental) mic drop during “Run The World (Girls),” she was at her finest on the heartbreaker “Resentment,” sung while sitting on the floor and wearing what looked interestingly like a wedding dress.
Symbolism was just one of the visual cues in this sensory show that was part concert, part live theater, part dance performance, part movie. The setup included movable stages, double runways with built-in treadmills, and a massive widescreen that played cinematic montages and home videos of the couple with their three children.
Chance the Rapper, that often and beloved concert crasher, appeared during opener DJ Khaled’s set. Many people missed all of that excitement, however, stuck outside the venue scrambling to get rid of bags and purses due to Soldier Field’s adherence to NFL “clear bag policy,” which caught them by surprise. A line hundreds-deep waited for over an hour to check items into lockers, while other patrons were tossing bags into bushes hoping they’d be there on the way out from the can’t-miss concert event.
Part II (On The Run)
’03 Bonnie & Clyde
Drunk In Love
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
On To The Next One
Feeling Myself (Nicki Minaj cover)
Run This Town
Mi Gente (J Balvin cover)
Ring The Alarm
Don’t Hurt Yourself
N—-a In Paris
Beach Is Better
Run The World (Girls)
Public Service Announcement
Story of OJ
Show Me What You Got
Crazy In Love
U Don’t Know
Perfect Duet (Ed Sheeran cover featuring Beyonce)