Review: Beyoncé overwhelms the senses at Formation Tour spectacle at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium
If more Beyoncé is what the world wants — and judging by the rapturous response to her surprise new album Lemonade, it absolutely is — rest assured, not a ticket-bearing soul will be disappointed by her Formation World Tour.
There is so, so much Beyoncé packed into every facet of this roadshow. An astonishing amount of Beyoncé. A revealing amount of Beyoncé. An overwhelming amount of Beyoncé.
Yes, that’s it: Overwhelming. That’s the right word to describe the impossible spectacle of her concert Friday at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. From her outrageously monolithic stage to a display of flames, fireworks, acrobats and water dancers that would give Cirque du Soleil a run for its money, it was a show designed to overwhelm the senses in service of the 34-year-old singer’s singular talent and vision.
The 40,000-plus BeyHive drones in the crowd, fans who’d spent the past week listening to Lemonade on repeat, many of whom arrived Friday in homemade Beyoncé-themed attire (hey, Ivy Park ain’t cheap), had to taken aback by the enormity of Beyoncé’s stage and her relentlessly enthusiastic performance. If Lemonade is, as Beyoncé said Friday, “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career,” then this tour has to be right behind it. Nothing about the Tampa show, to borrow an opening line from the album, was passed off so cavalier.
The show’s centerpiece attraction — apart from Beyoncé herself — was a mammoth monolith at center stage, an LED tower the size of a house that rotated, projecting film clips and close-ups into the nosebleeds. It’s a U2-level stage prop, the sort of gargantuan attraction that only an artist of Beyoncé’s stature could create for a stadium show. Even if you drove by RayJay for a peek as the tour rehearsed there most of April, you couldn’t have grasped its sheer magnitude.
As clips and images from Lemonade’s visual album flashed across the tower all night, Beyoncé performed about half the album live, starting with that flame-throwing Super Bowl single that gave the tour its name.
“Welcome to the Formation Tour,” she said at the outset. “How y’all feeling tonight? If you’re ready to have a good time tonight, say, ‘I slay!’ If you slay every day, say ‘I slay!’ If you know who you are, say, ‘I slay!’”
A cavalry of dancers — they just kept coming; I counted 14, then 16, then 19, and I’m still not sure I got them all — helped Bey slay every ambitious dance number in the two-hour show. When she trooped down a giant L-shaped catwalk jutting out to midfield on the furious Formation and shape-shifting Sorry, they were right behind her in militaristic formation as the pit exploded in pandemonium. They loosened up for the country-bop stomper Daddy Lessons, jiving freely and square dancing on the runway. On older tunes like the flirty Blow and charismatic Yoncé, there they were on either side, rigidly militaristic in their movements.
It’s appropriate that women dominated Beyoncé’s stage, because so much of her setlist was geared around female empowerment. Run the World (Girls), Me Myself and I, Diva. Despite her head-scratching decision not to play her iconic hit Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It), every other song felt like a call to arms for ladies, particularly a funky and screaming Ring the Alarm and profanely demonic Don’t Hurt Yourself, which saw Bey glowing all red, perched at center stage in a throne that seemed to rise from hell itself.
And while a few feminists might not applaud the troupe’s revealing wardrobe — bodysuits for all, with lots of leg and chest — the way they moved those bodies still felt empowering. Whether she was dropping surfbort-low on Drunk In Love or engaging in striptease gymnastics with a lounge chair on Rocket, Beyoncé was in complete control of her statuesque form. She and her dancers emerged writhing in Barbie-like boxes for a dark, torchy remix of Crazy In Love, before bursting out as the song exploded back to its original neon glory.
While the stage spewed smoke, sparks, flames, confetti and fireworks all night, its most eye-popping effect might’ve been practical. Near the end, Bey and her dancers rode a conveyer belt out to the tip of their catwalk, which had been replaced with a shallow pool of water. During the searing protest song Freedom, the troupe marched and kicked and splashed, spraying water into their faces and those of the crowd. There was more of the same on the old, empowering Destiny’s Child hit Survivor and the zippy End of Time, punctuated by a joyous “Ya-ca-ca-caw!” from Beyoncé at the end.
The night wasn’t all flawless perfection. DJ Khaled’s opening set was a major letdown following his star-studded set in Miami three nights prior, where guests included Future, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and Rick Ross). Instead he brought out protege Kent Jones for one song, half-rapped All I Do Is Win and They Don’t Love You No More, and joined his own DJ to spin a fairly predictable party mix (DMX, Biggie, Drake, Michael Jackson, even Rihanna’s Work, perhaps an eyebrow-raising selection in the presence of the BeyHive).
But Khaled did have one thing in common with the rest of the crowd: He realized he was #blessed to be in Bey’s presence.
“When I got the phone call to be on the Beyoncé tour, I’m not gonna lie, I cried,” he said. “I cried tears of joy.”
Plenty of those were shed Friday, from women and men; black fans and white; BeyHivers straight, gay and trans. When that overwhelming screen showed those Lemonade clips of Bey and Jay, of Bey’s dad and young girlfriends and Blue Ivy and Jay’s granny Hattie (“I was given lemons, and I made lemonade”), it felt like a new level of access to her life. Just as charming was a clip of a 16-year-old Beyoncé mugging for the camera.
“If you ever meet me and I have a little attitude, just slap me,” said ’90s Bey. “Slap me back into shape.”
No need for that on Friday. Here, she blew kisses to fans even when the spotlight wasn’t on her. Here, she radiated genuine joy in each song, beaming so brightly that the expression on her face was visible no matter how far back you sat. Here, she thanked Tampa for serving as her rehearsal headquarters, saying: “I spent the week here, and I had such a good time. I want you to know I love your city.” Here, a plane flew overhead during Run the World (Girls) with a glowing message underneath its wings: “BEYONCÉ FOR PRESIDENT.”
After a spectacle like the Formation World Tour, that idea doesn’t sound so overwhelming.
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— Jay Cridlin. Contributing: Chelsea Tatham.