The most powerful couple in music could have easily just coasted on their names, performing a sparse half-Jay/half-Bey concert before cashing the Roc Nation checks. Instead, over the course of two-and-a-half hours and 42 songs, the Carters opened their joint On the Run tour with a well synchronized cinematic spectacle. Between the visuals, the outfits, the stage setup, the pyrotechnics and the insane setlist, they provided enough hits and eye candy to make the Miami audience forget all about LeBron James opting out of his Heat contract.
Husband and wife might get equal billing here, but make no mistake: This is Beyoncé’s show. She monopolized the heavy-duty set pieces, she wore the jaw-dropping outfits, she delivered the mesmerizing and complex choreography. Perhaps a little too often, it felt like Jay Z was there just to kill time between his wife’s costume changes, but what better way to kill time than have one of the greatest rappers of all time rifle through a few of his biggest tunes.
If there was any letdown to the night’s proceedings, it’s that according to Jigga, Miami’s own Rick Ross was in the stadium yet didn’t take part in “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt.” But that’s a small complaint when compared to what we loved most about the show:
1. The Opening Sequence
The Carters didn’t waste any time before getting to their duets. Instead of saving them for the encore, they came out of the gate with “’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” “Upgrade U” and a “Crazy In Love” vs. “Show Me What You Got” mash-up that set the tone for the evening, the star couple both reinventing their respective catalogs and fusing them together.
2. The Interplay Between the Carters
As opposed to Jay Z’s other split-marquee tours – his jaunts with Justin Timberlake, R. Kelly, and Kanye West – On the Run felt truly collaborative. Beyoncé would perform a couple solo cuts, then Jay would bust out a medley of hits, then they’d share the stage for a “Holy Grail” or “Drunk in Love” before rotating the spotlight again. This interplay resulted in some unforgettable musical moments, like when a punk rock solo rendition of Beyoncé’s “Ring the Alarm” segued seamlessly into Jay’s “On to the Next One” or when a “Naughty Girl” remix morphed into “Big Pimpin’.”
3. The Michael Jackson Tributes
On the fifth anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson, both Jay and Beyoncé made sure to pay tribute to the King of Pop. “Shout out to Michael Jackson,” Jay told the audience a few times throughout the show, while Beyoncé weaved some of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” into her “Love on Top.” Earlier in the day, Beyoncé penned a note in remembrance for MJ on her website.
4. The Side Screens
Due to the sheer size of the venues, stadium concerts are often the most difficult to stage. On the Run skirts that problem with massive side screens that project expertly shot close-ups of Jay and Bey for the upper-deckers. At times it felt like you were watching a concert film, which makes sense given the news that this tour would be the subject of an upcoming HBO series.
5. Beyoncé’s Outfits
42 songs were performed over the course of this concert, and it seemed like Beyoncé wore a different costume for every single one of them. Among the highlights: the concert-opening fishnet ninja mask worn during “’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” the leather romper and thigh-high boots she donned for a stadium rocker version of “If I Was a Boy,” the insane red-sequined jumpsuit on “Ring the Alarm,” the bride garb for “Resentment” and the black-and-white American flag that Bey turned into a long gown for “Young Forever” and “Halo.” She was a one-woman Elle up there.
6. The Setlist
Two-and-a-half hours still wasn’t enough time for the Carters to stuff in all their hits, but the 42 songs Bey and Jay doled out were well curated and spanned both artists’ solo careers: “Hard Knock Life,” a Tina Turner-fied “Why Don’t You Love Me,” a Beyoncé-sung rendition of “Holy Grail” that’d make you wish she replaced Timberlake on the Magna Carta version. Bey skipped over Destiny’s Child completely, opting instead for all her solo hits and a healthy portion of her self-titled LP, plus a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” thrown in for good measure. Jigga fans were probably a little upset that “Haunted” pushed “Can I Get A?” from the setlist, just as #yonce fans were likely disappointed “XO” was out but “Tom Ford” was in, but so it goes. The excess of hits is one of their 99 problems. (That song thankfully made the cut.)
7. The ‘Ye Drop
While much has been made about Kanye’s reluctance to mention Jigga’s name in recent concerts, with West omitting “Jay Z” from his “Blood on the Leaves” verse as recently as Bonnaroo, Jay has no problem mentioning Kanye live. On “Clique,” Jay gleefully delivered “Yeah, I’m talking ‘Ye, yeah I’m talking Rih.” If there is a rift between the two of the biggest rappers in the game – supposedly because Jay didn’t attend West’s wedding – half of the Throne is apparently unaware of it. Jay Z also performed his half of “Niggas in Paris,” and Kanye’s “Hell of a Life” soundtracked one of the many short film interludes.
8. The On the Run Short Films
Used as interludes between tracks, the artfully shot films cast B and J as a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, combining elements of French New Wave, Kill Bill and Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway. Throughout the narrative, we’re reminded that “This Is Not Real Life,” a theme that comes full circle during the grand finale.
9. The “Surfboard” Sweatshirt Infomercial
We’re pretty sure we didn’t hallucinate this: After “Clique” and “Diva,” one of those short films teased, albeit briefly, an infomercial dedicated to the Surfboard sweatshirt that’s currently for sale. It might just be Bey perpetuating the meme, but we’re scouring YouTube in search of this infomercial like the crazies are scouring the On the Run show details in search of Illuminati clues.
10. The Grand Finale
Closing out with a medley of “Young Forever” and “Halo,” the large video screen ceased showing the violent short films and instead devoted the screen time to personal home movies of the Carters with their daughter, Blue Ivy. Jay and Bey had their eyes glued on the screen throughout, watching their family life and soaking up every moment.
In a post-elevator world, it’s refreshing to see these two genuinely enjoying their time together on stage. When the Blue Ivy video concluded, the audience was greeted with the message “This Is Real Life,” a moving juxtaposition to the gangster fantasies of the past 150 minutes. And with that, the concert came to an end. Jay and Bey held hands as they walked offstage. To reinforce the cinematic feel of the evening, end credits rolled on the big screen as “Lift Off” faded out.