Review: Beyonce leads fans into ‘Formation’ at the Rose Bowl

Beyoncé’s stockings were snagged, her feet bare, her makeup smeared. Even the singer’s hair, normally blown out into a golden halo by electric fans placed strategically around the stage, lay flat and soggy against her face as she belted out “Freedom” from the Rose Bowl stage. 

It was a clear deviation from the precision and perfection inherent in nearly every performance and public appearance by the singer.  Almost two decades into her career, the 34-year-old has consistently proved her ability to hit every note while dancing — head snapping, hair blowing, booty on overdrive — for hours, never missing a beat, breaking a sweat or breaking character.

But Saturday during her sold-out Formation tour stop in Pasadena, Beyoncé’s passion and rage ruled. Her fierce performance sometimes meant her voice cracked or that her delivery was momentarily out of sync with the band. She belted numbers off her new album  "Lemonade” sans the multiple vocal backing tracks and guest singers and rappers on her album. She let her fury power the two-hour set, delivering her most spontaneous and compelling L.A. show in recent memory.  



Dressed in an all-black bodysuit with bolero hat, she kicked off the show with “Formation,” the fierce single she played at the Super Bowl that riled some viewers when her wardrobe evoked images of the Black Panther party. Beyoncé danced around a huge rotating LED screen while an all-female troupe of dancers shadowed her like a scantily clad army ready to slay.

They moved about in the glow of angry red lighting for her opening numbers, and fire shot from the sides of the stage as she sang songs about reclaiming one’s power -- “Bow Down,” “Sorry” and “Run the World (Girls).” 

The choreography alone of her high-energy set would have destroyed most other artists, but she danced from song to song, wardrobe change to wardrobe change (sequins to tiger prints to red latex) with a seeming ease. 


Fans take pictures outside the Rose Bowl before a Beyoncé concert Saturday.
Fans take pictures outside the Rose Bowl before a Beyoncé concert Saturday.

She headbanged like a rocker during “Don’t Hurt Yourself," gyrated like pole dancer to “Partition,” then alternated between furious bursts of dance and controlled, militarist actions such as saluting and marching. Her loyal troops followed.

Video on the huge, stories-high rotating cube-like screen behind her showed images of Beyoncé at various times trapped in a glass case, shattering said case, burning a house down and literally chewing a razor blade. 

It was in sharp contrast to her demeanor the last time she played the Rose Bowl in 2014 with her high-powered rapper husband, Jay Z.
Back then she spent most of the night literally orbiting round him, doing lap dances, making him the center of attention. This was for their joint On the Run tour, and they performed that night against a backdrop of videos that portrayed the couple as a sort of modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.

But he was essentially nowhere to be seen or heard Saturday as she performed songs such as “Hold Up” off “Lemonade,” an intimate and painful portrait of a woman’s emotional struggles with her husband’s infidelity. Jay Z, who’s been the subject of nonstop cheating rumors, is never named on album as the perpetrator but the implication is clear. 

Piatre Hawkins arrives at the Rose Bowl before the Beyoncé concert on Saturday.
Piatre Hawkins arrives at the Rose Bowl before the Beyoncé concert on Saturday.

Men were utterly absent from her Rose Bowl show — certainly not on stage and barely visible in the nonstop video imagery behind her (at one point Jay Z was shown on screen in footage with their daughter, Blue Ivy).


The audience, however, was as male as it was female. Whenever she handed the mike to fans, regardless of gender, they screamed her lyrics with an almost religious zeal: “Jealous or crazy, jealous or crazy? … I’d rather be crazy!”

Beyoncé looked amazed at times, busting up laughing, surprised by their fervor.

As Saturday showed, her fan base is fierce. Big men stuffed in small “B-Boy” T-shirts, women who braved the Rose Bowl’s grass in six-inch heels, many crying as they sang along to older songs from her catalog, such as 2003’s “Me, Myself and I.” 

Kristen Johnson, left, and Jazmine Singletary pose for a photo before a Beyoncé concert at the Rose Bowl Saturday.
Kristen Johnson, left, and Jazmine Singletary pose for a photo before a Beyoncé concert at the Rose Bowl Saturday.

The strident determination that launched her set morphed into more contemplative moments such as the ballad “1 + 1.” She also segued into sex-drenched numbers such as “Naughty Girl” and Destiny’s Child mash-ups that included bits of “Survivor” and “Bootylicious.”

In a tribute to the late singer Prince, she sang a soulful rendition of his song “The Beautiful Ones.” Afterward, the stage was illuminated in purple, Beyoncé exited and Prince’s own recording of “Purple Rain” played. The audience sang along and lighted up the venue with their phones.
The moving moment set the mood for an emotional close to her show. When she returned to the stage to perform her new track “Freedom,” she did so barefoot, belting out the redemptive gospel-rock number in a pool of ankle-deep water.

She danced furiously, splashing around with her platoon of women onstage. They were quelling the angry heat of her early set with a liberating, celebratory romp in front of 60,000 witnesses. 


Soaking wet and sitting onstage alone, she left the audience with the closing number, “Halo.” She’d been baptized and reborn into a less-perfect version of Queen Bey, allowing a more powerful Beyoncé to arise from that imperfection. 


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