Beyoncé Kicks Off North American Tour in Toronto: Review – Rolling Stone – Jarastyle

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The North American leg of Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour was already a hit before she ever stepped foot onstage at the Rogers Centre. 

Saturday was the first of two consecutive nights at the Toronto stadium, but the buzz was growing Wednesday with the opening of a pop-up shop selling exclusive tour merch at luxury retailer Holt Renfrew. By the weekend, bars, clubs and tourist attractions were filled with superfans who had traveled from all over America to catch the concert — drawn as much by the prospect of seeing an early tour date as by the lower ticket prices afforded by the relatively weaker Canadian dollar. 

There was a huge queue of people outside the more-than-50,000 capacity venue long before the doors opened. Members of the Beyhive passed the time getting their fits off, wondering aloud if they could find a way to snap an outfit photo without the large pictures of Blue Jays Danny Jansen and Vladimir Guererro Jr. in the background. Fans strutted their towering heels, silvery metallic shorts, cowboy hats, and homemade bumble bee dresses like they were on a concrete runway. There were sequins and mesh in every direction. Beyoncé was abnormally quiet between the release of her album Renaissance last summer and the beginning of the world tour in Sweden, which meant that fans then hadn’t had time to study the aesthetic, trade set lists or learn choreography. This time, they were ready. 

There was no opening act, so ticket holders were encouraged to show up early to avoid missing the beginning of Beyoncé’s set, which was advertised for 8 pm. It was closer to 8:45 when the screen behind the stage, set up on the floor of the arena, changed from a color bar test pattern into a cloudy blue sky display. Individual squares lit up, revealing a picture of the singer, and a Beyoncé chant broke out. The stage revealed the icon on stage in a chainmail dress in front of a piano and microphone, as analog as the Afrofuturist-tinged night would get. 

The response was deafening, but it was a relatively quiet start. Rather than the celebratory house anthems that were to come, she started by showing off her legendary pipes with a mini-set of ballads that started with “Dangerously in Love,” a Destiny’s Child song that later became the title of her debut solo album. She pulled the classic lie-down-on-the-piano move and hit Minnie Ripperton-style high notes in “1+1” and even cracked a slight unrehearsed smile by the audience’s full-blast singalong for “I Care.” If that suggested this would be a career-spanning set, though, it wasn’t. This was a fully-composed two-and-a-half-hour concert experience centered mostly around one album — an unabashedly celebratory, unabashedly queer ode to Black LGBTQ music and culture.

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Those who weren’t quick enough on TikTok’s algorithmic draw to swipe away probably already knew the big set pieces in advance, but Beyoncé’s strength has never been spontaneity. Every bit of music, dance, and stage banter is meticulously manicured and composed. When the wind machine hits her, there’s never a strand of hair out of place. At times, it’s as impressive as it is uncanny. How can a human put on such a perfect performance for 66 shows in a row? She knows it, and she leans into it. At times, she was a cyborg, with extra robot limbs scurrying around her metallic suit. At others, she was the “too classy for this world” title character from her song “Alien Superstar.”

The screen behind her, with its oval middle area where Beyoncé entered and exited, was filled with impeccable visuals throughout, with the same mix of retro disco glam and cyborg future. There was a middle runway where the artist and her backup singers and dancers could strut and vogue for the floor fans. But those without $1,000 or more for those close-up seats still got a show, right up to the nosebleeds. She played as much for the cameras projecting her onto the screens as to the people in the seats, and also to the people watching on TikTok and other social media. That’s why astute audience members were ready with their Beyoncé-branded hand fans, bought in advance at the Renaissance pop-up, and the participatory choreographed moves for “Heated.” 


It wasn’t the always-in-motion marathon fans are sometimes used to from the singer (who’s been performing since she was 15), but it was perhaps her most spectacular. Her singers, dancers, and horn-inflected band all got their moments to shine. Her costumes were immaculate, from disco-inspired gowns to nude leotards with built-in-hands covering her private parts and built-in red nails. “It should cost a billion to look this good,” she sang on “Honey,” and it felt like it actually might have. 

It wasn’t significantly different from the shows Beyoncé has put on in the European leg of the tour. There were no special guests or big surprises, and Beyoncé’s daughter didn’t make the trip to dance on “Black Parade” as she did at some European shows. Maybe fans had already seen the bedazzled robotic horse propelling her into the sky, the hydraulic arms, the metallic bed and pillows she covers herself in on “Cozy,” the bee costume with the self-moving antennae. Maybe they’d already experienced it all secondhand. But it didn’t take away from the feelings in the room: hushed awe, feeling-yourself sexiness, confident swagger, dance-in-the-aisles pride. The only times she dropped her facade were to react to the audience, as in a singalong to one of the rare greatest hits “Love on Top.” The singalong lasted longer than she seemed to expect, with fans hitting all the key changes, and she held out the microphone to keep it going for as long as it could. 

That song segued into a snippet of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” one of many snippets of other artists’ songs that she nodded to throughout the set — from Diana Ross to Lauryn Hill to Kendrick Lamar to her own girl group history in Destiny’s Child. That became even more overt on the Queens remix of “Break My Soul” which shouts-out everyone from Nina Simone to Jill Scott to Grace Jones. It also interpolates Madonna’s “Vogue,” which brought the queer underground ballroom subculture to the mainstream. Beyoncé’s dancers included current ballroom heavyweights Honey Balenciaga and Carlos Basquiat, and they got a chance to shine alongside twerkers and other dance styles towards the end of the show. Subtly or not so subtly, Beyoncé paid reference to the music history that made her, from disco to R&B, soul, Motown, hip-hop and house, then filtered it back through her own lens. Whether or not you saw it coming, it felt big. 

Worrying about spoilers is a relatively new phenomenon for an art form that takes its power from being in the moment, but it’s part of a world that Beyoncé helped create. She turned the listening experience into an all-at-once communal event with her surprise self-titled album drop more than a decade ago, then revolutionized the “turn this on right now” concert livestream with her 2018 Coachella headlining show later immortalized in the Netflix film Homecoming. 


It’s also a world created by the pandemic and inflated ticket prices, with many fans only able to experience big arena shows like this vicariously. (The other current global blockbuster tour, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, isn’t even coming to Canada, which caused talk in parliament and an embarrassing tweet from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking her to come. But this blockbuster night more than made up for it.) Just as Beyoncé has blended her persona and music, she’s now obscuring the physical parameters of live performance. 

At times, it felt like it was as much about the people experiencing it in the stands as the performer on stage — a giant room filled with more than 50,000 people each having the night of their lives.  


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