It was an opening that hinted that the kickoff show at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, might strip away the picture-perfect filter that seems to be permanently engaged on the lives of hip-hop’s first power couple. But in spite of a pair of albums – Beyoncé’s betrayal opus Lemonade and Jay-Z’s confessional 4:44 – that shed light on the truth behind those seemingly perfect lifestyles, On the Run II ultimately seemed to focus more on the fairytale than the harsh reality.
Which isn’t to say there wasn’t real insight here. As with the original On the Run tour in 2014, the stars retooled their back catalogues to work seamlessly together. There’s been an awful lot of water, hot and cold, under the bridge since then – the couple have had twins, for one thing, a fact alluded to in the pre-show home movie – as acknowledged by Beyoncé’s raw take on “Sorry” and Jay-Z’s contrite “4:44.” “Y’all stop me when I stop telling the truth,” spat Jay-Z on “Family Feud,” and while amid a barrage of PDA you never quite felt sure you were getting the unvarnished version, the show certainly came close.
But at heart, this was still a stadium show, and a spectacular one at that, featuring an enormous stage set, a floating platform that transported the pair down the length of the venue and a phalanx of imposingly athletic dancers. The Cardiff crowd – more used to seeing hard-hitting rugby tackles at this stadium – was 90 percent female and 100 percent up for it, making this feel more like a sequel to Beychella than a co-headlining gig before a note had even been struck.
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Still, while Beyoncé’s star has soared further than her husband’s since the pair’s last jaunt together, this was a genuine sharing of the spotlight. The couple may have each had their own runway, and Beyoncé most of the staggering, military-scale choreography (most notably on “Formation” and “Run the World (Girls)”). But Jay-Z, surprisingly, topped her for outfit changes (including a bulletproof vest for “99 Problems”) while working the crowd just as hard. His bare-knuckled belligerence on “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” and “Show Me What You Got” won over any doubters in the audience, but the best moments undoubtedly came when the pair were onstage together.
So after a barnstorming “Holy Grail” opener, a smoldering “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” hinted at true reconciliation as it followed a very public kiss on “Part II (On the Run).” The segue from “Naughty Girl” to “Big Pimpin'” rolled things back to the days when the pair seemed like the ultimate fun-loving couple and, much later, a full-bore “Crazy in Love” – the jubilant original take, not the sultry 50 Shades reboot – felt like a second honeymoon as it transformed Cardiff into a seething, joyful mass.
And there was also substance in the sprawling but never dull two-and-a-half hour show. “Ladies, are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough?” demanded Beyoncé before “Me, Myself & I”, seemingly taking aim at errant male behavior beyond her husband’s. Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” similarly spoke truth to power, all the more impactful for being a rare moment of calm within a show that had no fear of battering the crowd into submission.
Indeed, such was the sensory overload that occasionally you felt, as with an all-action blockbuster movie, that you might need to see this tour more than once to catch every nuance. And, as with such movies, a happy ending was inevitable. Dirty laundry having been aired with the minimum of fuss, the finale brought a show of togetherness worthy of any red-carpet photo opportunity.
So, with the couple dressed in black, Beyoncé gave us her own, supremely schmaltzy take on her Ed Sheeran duet “Perfect” in the midst of a gospel-tinged “Young Forever,” in which she played the Mr Hudson role.
“I’m so glad to be onstage with the one I love,” she beamed as Jay-Z looked on affectionately and hailed his “queen” before “This. Is. Real. Love” was seared across those big screens.
So, was this real life? Or still just fantasy? The end credits rolling across the screen as the couple left, arm-in-arm, left viewers with the air of a tidy Hollywood ending. But by then, the entire crowd was having far too much fun to care.
“Part II (On the Run)”
“’03 Bonnie & Clyde”
“Drunk in Love”
“Diva”/”Dirt Off Your Shoulder”
“On to the Next One”
“Run This Town”
“You Don’t Love Me”
“Sorry”/”Me, Myself & I”
“Ring the Alarm”
“Don’t Hurt Yourself”
“No Church in the Wild”
“Niggas in Paris”
“Beach Is Better”
“Run the World (Girls)”
“Public Service Announcement”
“The Story of O.J.”
“Show Me What You Got”
“Crazy in Love”
“U Don’t Know”