Neither rain nor heat nor the fact that some guy evidently bit off another guy’s fingertip the night before could stay Jay Z and Beyonce from the swift completion of their appointed rounds Sunday at the Rose Bowl, where the married superstars braved the elements to deliver the second of two performances near the end of their shared On the Run tour.
In fact, there wasn't much swift about it: With more than 40 songs spread over 2 1/2 hours, Sunday’s concert relied as much on scale as on skill to demonstrate the couple’s power.
“We got a million of these,” said Jay Z following his run through “Holy Grail” (with Beyonce filling in for Justin Timberlake), and at that point in the hit-stuffed show -- after “Dirt off Your Shoulder,” after “Baby Boy,” after both “Crazy in Love” and “Drunk in Love” -- you felt inclined to trust that number.
Taking in the extravaganza, I had about a million thoughts. Here are five of them.
1. Jay Z may end up with the last laugh regarding “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” the generally underwhelming studio album he put out last year. Though it felt like a disappointment at the time -- a minor artistic work hyped into a pseudo-event thanks to a novel marketing assist from a smartphone company -- several of its songs sounded great at the Rose Bowl, as though the rapper had designed them with the dimensions of a stadium in mind.
“Tom Ford” filled the cavernous space with a throbbing beat that Jay Z slowed down “for all the weed smokers”; another track, with an unprintable title, seemed to ricochet off every available surface. Even “Part II (On the Run),” the syrupy duet with Beyonce that gave this tour its name, took on new urgency as tens of thousands of people sang along.
2. Beyonce’s legendarily devoted fans have stuck close to her through any number of stylistic experiments, from the springy dancehall of “Baby Boy” to the percussive funk of “Get Me Bodied” to her unfortunate reimagining of “Ave Maria.” But are they drawing the line at fuzzed-out electro-goth? I was surprised Sunday to see the crowd’s attention drift noticeably during “Haunted,” a sexy-spooky dirge from last year’s “Beyonce” album; this, it seemed, was when many people decided to have a seat and upload some shots to Instagram.
Still, the mild reception to “Haunted” hardly dissuaded the singer from trying out other sounds, not least the grunge guitar she used on quite a few occasions, including an Alanis Morissette-ish remake of her touchy-feely pop tune “If I Were a Boy.” Taken along with the fierce headbanging she did in “Ring the Alarm,” it was enough to make you wonder if Beyonce might be doing more to save rock than any rock star.
3. Mrs. Carter is a great actor; Mr. Carter, not so much. In addition to appearing onstage, the two showed up countless times in expertly produced video clips that looked like trailers for a French New Wave-style reboot of “Bonnie and Clyde.” But where Beyonce was convincing in even the most out-of-character scenes -- as when she told a bank customer not to be a hero during an armed robbery -- Jay Z rarely put across anything other than his usual steely bravado.
4. Moving a stadium audience requires movement, which is no doubt why Beyonce spent much of the show emphasizing her up-tempo material (and the choreography that accompanied it). But several times Sunday she also reminded listeners of what an incredible singer she can be, as in a stately rendition of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” and a version of “Why Don’t You Love Me?” that had a long call-and-response bit complete with yodeling. For “Resentment,” a relatively obscure cut from her “B’Day” album, Beyonce dispensed with movement altogether, belting out the vintage-style soul number while seated in a chair.
5. As my colleague Lorraine Ali wrote in her review of Saturday's performance, much of the Jay and Bey show feels like a response to the growing rumors about the supposed unraveling of their marriage. It was hard not to hear the subtext, for instance, in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's recorded intro to Beyonce’s “Flawless,” in which that Nigerian writer punches holes in a belief system that instructs girls to bend their lives toward finding a husband.
For me, though, the most potent symbol of whatever the Carters are going through (even if it’s just the tabloids’ insistence that they’re going through something) came at the very end of the concert, as the two stars did a mash-up of his “Young Forever” and her “Halo.” Standing together on a small secondary stage on the stadium’s floor, they were facing the enormous video screen on the main stage, which flickered with images of what looked like happy moments from their private life: birthday parties and vacations and how-to-walk lessons for their daughter, Blue Ivy.
You’d think at this point on the tour, after more than a dozen shows, the footage would’ve lost some of its pull for the people who actually lived those filmed experiences. But as I watched them watching themselves, they looked as though they couldn’t tear their eyes away.