On The Run with Beyoncé and Jay Z

beyonce-jay-z-on-the-run-tour-boston

Over two years ago, my girlfriend came to me with a crazy dream she had. In it, I was Jay Z. I was still “me,” but I looked like Jay Z and had the platinum-selling rap mogul status of Jay Z. Meanwhile, my girlfriend had assumed the role of Beyoncé. She was still “herself,” but looked like Queen B and carried the empowering feminist aura that comes with being the most influential female artist alive. In her dream, we performed a concert in tandem and then rode off into the sunset on a motorcycle. That’s one hell of a dream.

This was over two years ago. Before Jay Z dropped Magna Carta Holy Grail. Before Beyoncé gifted the world with her self-titled album that seemingly materialized out of thin air. This was before Jay Z and Beyoncé announced they’d be co-headlining what was sure to be the biggest concert event of the summer. Before this promotional poster made its rounds on the Internet:

beyonce-motorcycle

From the moment she saw the King and Queen of Pop riding that motorcycle, my girlfriend was convinced she conceived of this tour in her dream, and her dream had come to life. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just an unbelievable coincidence that pop-culture’s power couple chose to promote their concert in a similar fashion. Either way, I knew my duty as an average to occasionally above-average boyfriend was to score tickets to this concert.

The pre-sale came and went in a matter of seconds. A poor Internet connection at my girlfriend’s apartment loaded the page too slowly. Worse, I forgot to retrieve the promotional code from my inbox ahead of time, and after watching Gmail load at a glacial pace, all the pre-sale seats were gone. But anguish quickly turned to elation. When the general sale went online, it was surprisingly easy to get seats. I didn’t even turn to a virtual scalper.

But tickets are never that easy to get. Not for a concert this big. Not through such a legitimate means. I was fairly convinced these tickets weren’t going to work. Maybe there was a glitch in the computer program and our tickets were being double sold. It wasn’t until I walked through the front gates and into the arena that I truly believed it. We were seeing Beyoncé and Jay Z.

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Despite the long list of concerts I could tout on my music fandom résumé, I had never been to a concert at an outdoor stadium. The bands I listen to tend to book smaller venues, and the larger acts I’ve seen have been inside arenas, like Madison Square Garden. So this was the first time I drove to a stadium, parked my car, and approached the venue with a long trek through a parking lot of anxious, tailgating fans.

Tailgating a concert is different than tailgating a football game, as I discovered. There’s an obvious sense of camaraderie before a football game. Everyone is dressed in the same colors, supporting the same team. But, everyone collects in their own little tailgating communities, cooking their own meals, keeping to themselves.

Outside of MetLife Stadium, there were still little pockets of people, surrounding their cars, and sharing cheap drinks to offset the costs of the inevitably overpriced beverages inside. But everyone still had the same colors. Almost everyone had a t-shirt delineating their allegiance to either Beyoncé (the concert’s hottest fashion choice included t-shirts emblazoned with names of Queen B’s songs from her latest album) or Jay-Z. But nearly every car was on with the stereo turned up, and music from the power couple pumping. There is no opening act for the On The Run Tour. But the fans created their own outside the arena.

With each car I passed, I got a little flavor of how people came to arrive at this show. I heard tracks from Jay Z’s Black Album and Magna Carta. I recognized Beyoncé’s sultry voice on tracks from her latest album and others dating back to her time in Destiny’s Child. This was the appetizer before the main course. Though every collection of people arrived separately, as the music echoed across the concrete and reached the ears of adjacent groups, they’d turn and salute their fellow fan’s selection of songs. It was communal.

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After getting my obligatory pat down and magic wand swiping, my girlfriend and I were informed we went to the wrong gate. We were supposed to enter through the Bud Light Gate, but we were instead standing at the Pepsi Gate (enjoy the free product placement). So we began our second trek of the day to find our seats. But after failing to find a large Pepsi logo, a helpful attendant instructed us to enter through a door labeled “V.I.P.”

Now let’s make something clear: there is not way I could ever be confused with someone important, and there was nothing denoting the tickets I purchased were anything but ordinary tickets. I was convinced again a mistake was made. But she seemed earnest and knowledgeable at her job, so we entered the door labeled “V.I.P.” and expected to be turned away at any moment while hopefully being pointed in the right direction.

Instead, another attendant asked to see our tickets and then allowed us to carry on our way. Another mistake, surely.Then anther scanned our tickets and let us continue. Once the technology confirmed we were in the right place, it began to feel a little more real.

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We were in a location called the Chase Club (continue to enjoy the free advertising, folks). It felt more like a bar in midtown Manhattan than the concession area at a major arena. The “club” offered all the concessions you could possibly want and more in a nicely air-conditioned foyer, with plenty of seating in case you wanted to arrive early and enjoy a nice meal before taking your seats (This is starting to sound like an advertising pamphlet. Damn corporate sponsors!).

This was nicer than anything we expected, anything we could have imagined. It felt like a dream, where we were living out someone else’s concert experience. I had a sneaking suspicion Beyoncé was somehow behind all this.

The food wasn’t complimentary, or even reasonably priced, but hey, there was a bar serving Orange Mango Sangria, so all was forgiven. It was in purchasing this lovely glass of sangria that I learned from my bartender that the previous night’s show did not begin at 8 p.m. as the tickets promised. Instead, the festivities had begun at 9:15. The reason why? Traffic.

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Oh yeah, this is still New Jersey, and for all the stereotypes that I rail against as untrue, traffic is not one of them. Traffic is my state’s greatest export behind only trashy reality television stars and obnoxious governors. The view from the Chase Club (still pains me to write that) provided a perfect view of the throngs of cars that were inching closer to the concert. But Bey and Jay are a humble and forgiving royal family, and they would wait until all their subjects were present and accounted for. But hey, I’m not complaining, just more time for sangria.

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Beyoncé and Jay Z walk on stage like they’re royalty. They’re in no rush, no hurry to perform. They just stand on stage and soak in the screams, the cheers, and the applause. They opened with “’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” but I felt like the concert didn’t truly start until Beyoncé performed a signature dance move from her “Single Ladies” video during their next song that the festivities began.

Giant video boards on either side of the stage transform the stars from dancing specs to the larger-than-life stars that they are. The video boards created artificial flaws in the images, as if the images were being shot with old-timey film, as if to say this night, this moment, needs to be documented for future generations to witness.

After the opening songs, Jay and Bey shared the stage sparingly. There was an obvious contrast in the roles they played that night. Jay Z was the interactive portion of the proceedings. Mr. Carter invited you to sing and dance, to swing your arms to-and-fro and, of course, throw up the ROC.

But if Jay Z was a performance, Beyoncé was an experience. Sure people danced and sang, but you didn’t want to take your eyes off the stage for a second. You didn’t want to miss a single moment of her perfectly choreographed numbers. You didn’t want to miss a single lyric or spoken word interlude that would compel you to get up and leave the arena all together to begin fighting some injustice. That’s what it feels like to watch Beyoncé in her element.

But something lost in all of this is that Beyoncé can flat out sing. For all the showmanship, the flamboyant costumes, the dance moves executed with military precision, Queen B has also mastered the most important art in her chosen career path, singing. Overlooked in a culture that demands flash before substance, we sometimes forget that “performing” artists are expected to be talented singers too. We come to a concert, excited for the performance, and forget that we’re expecting music.

Beyoncé didn’t forget. In case anyone did, she certainly reminded them Sunday night.

This isn’t a video from the On The Run tour, but when Beyoncé broke out “Why Don’t You Love Me,” all I could do was sit back and just enjoy the ride. It was easy to see through the flashing lights and gang of backup dancers that Beyoncé was vocally on another level. It was like watching Lionel Messi carve up a defense on a soccer pitch, or Kendrick Lamar’s mastering of the English language in ways I could have never imagined. Beyoncé has built her persona on iconic music videos, but that glitz and glamour is built on one of the best voices of our generation.

***

Now, I experienced this concert differently than any concert I’d seen before. The tickets I purchased were in the first row of our section. I still don’t know what magic I worked when purchasing these tickets, but the Ticketmaster gods were smiling on me that day (last bit of free advertising, I swear). A seat in any other row would surely place you behind someone who’s chosen to stand, which would then compel you to stand in order to see the festivities. In the front row, you only stand on your own terms, which happened plenty of times, especially when Jay commanded his audience to “bounce” or brush off the dirt that had accumulated on their shoulders. But the ability to sit and enjoy the show gave rise to my new invention, “The Chair Dance,” in which you dance along to your favorite songs, while also reclining in a comfortably seated position. It might be the best thing I share with you in this space.

While spastically moving to the beats of “99 Problems” and  “Flawless,” I noticed my girlfriend was experiencing the concert in a different fashion. She was stoic. She sat, literally, on the edge of her seat for the entire concert, never taking her eyes of the stage. She’d occasionally acknowledge my presence, like when I’d insist of brushing the dirt off her shoulders as well (ladies are indeed pimps too). She didn’t have time for dancing or singing along. She didn’t want to be distracted, because she didn’t want to miss a moment. She wanted to take in every perfectly sung lyric and every flawless succession visual art.

Maybe we’ve been doing concerts wrong this whole time. Maybe the silent, stoic girl, who dreamed about this night over two years ago, understood everything that was happening better than the rest of us. She was certainly in the minority, if not almost entirely alone, for the way she viewed the concert last night. But she certainly didn’t enjoy it any less.

beyonce-lights

As the night wound to a close, Jay Z and Beyoncé stepped onto the elevated stage in the middle of the crowd and asked the audience to transform their phones into miniature spotlights. Then they performed “Young Forever” while watching a montage of their home videos, an average mother and father, playing with their new born child. The images were innocent and genuine, like they didn’t know they’d be shown one day to an audience of thousands, like everything else they do.

And before we knew it, the show as over. The house lights were back on, and it was time to leave. Back through the Chase Club, we never believed we should be in to begin with. Back through the packing lot, where the music was replaced by the groan of engines and an endless stream of tail lights that continued over the horizon.

The concert seemed like a distant memory, like when you awake in the morning and can only vaguely recall the previous night’s dream, like my girlfriend’s dream from two year’s prior that led us to this very concert.

Even now, the night feels like a dream. But I was sure to snag a relic to remind myself this was all very real.

beyonce-poster

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